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Cargo theft facts, stats and trends

November 21, 2016

How safe is your cargo from thieves?

Organized theft rings are on the rise, and criminals are using the Internet to find out where loads containing high-value or easy-to-sell merchandise are located and where they’re bound. This report includes cargo-theft facts and trends that can help you determine when and where your loads are most vulnerable and tips to help you avoid theft, during holiday spikes and year round.

Though the precise number of cargo crimes and value of stolen goods is difficult to pinpoint because many incidents go unreported (due to fear of increased insurance rates and reputation-damaging publicity), the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates total loss value is between $15 billion and $30 billion annually.

The average loss value per incident in 2015 was almost $190,000, according to the 881 reports received by CargoNet, a firm that collects and analyzes cargo-theft data. The company recorded 10 thefts worth more than $1 million each. In the first three quarters of 2016, approximately 615 cargo-theft incidents were recorded, according to data from CargoNet and FreightWatch International, a security consulting firm. In the third quarter of 2016 alone, six reported incidents involved cargo worth more than $1 million.

Organized theft rings and sophisticated tactics are on the rise. Criminals are using the Internet to target high-value loads and easy-to-sell merchandise. They learn where manufacturing/distribution hubs for popular black-market goods are located and monitor load boards to find out about current shipments.

This knowledge assists them not only in carrying out typical kinds of cargo theft — unloading a trailer, hitching a truck to an unloaded trailer or driving away with both truck and trailer — but also in perpetrating “strategic cargo theft” that involves carrier business identity theft, fictitious pickups and fraudulent practices.

In an identity-theft scenario, a thief secures and picks up a load by impersonating a legitimate carrier. With a fictitious pickup, a thief usually finds out about a legitimate arrangement between a trucking company and shipper/broker and arrives early with forged paperwork to pick up the load.

Strategic cargo theft is the fastest-growing method of cargo theft and has increased significantly since 2011, according to Traveler’s Insurance, but it still represents only about 10-15 percent of cargo theft in the United States.

Read on to learn about additional trends.

Risky locations

California, Texas, Florida, Georgia and New Jersey, respectively, registered the most cargo thefts reported to CargoNet last year. In the first three quarters of 2016, California and Texas have continued to lead in the number of thefts reported to Freightwatch and CargoNet.

California saw a 40-percent year-over-year increase in cargo thefts in the third quarter, per CargoNet data. San Bernardino County experienced a 229-percent year-over-year increase, while incidents in Los Angeles County decreased 13 percent.

Strategic theft is most common in Southern California and Illinois, according to Travelers Insurance.

The majority of thefts in 2015 happened in unsecured parking areas such as parking lots, truck stops and roadsides. Unsecured parking areas and warehouse and distribution-center locations have been criminals’ top picking grounds in 2016, based on incidents reported to Freightwatch and CargoNet, which also noted theft at secured yards increased by 100 percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2016.


When thieves are most likely to strike

Thieves take advantage of weekends and holidays, when more cargo is at rest and unattended.

In 2015, almost half of cargo thefts reported to CargoNet took place between Friday and Sunday. According to a white paper by Schneider, the majority of incidents happen between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Compared to regular weekends, holiday weekends see theft levels rise as much as 40 percent, according to Freightwatch, which reports organized crime rings are more active during these times. Labor Day through Christmas is considered peak season for cargo theft, with incidents spiking around 40 percent for the entire quarter, per FBI statistics.

Targeted goods

Food and beverages led thieves’ getaway lists in 2015, with 24 percent of incidents involving this kind of cargo, according to Freightwatch. The trend has continued in 2016, with food and drink being the most-stolen product type in all of the first three quarters. Nuts, sodas, juice, tea and water were the most targeted products in the second quarter, according to Freightwatch.

While food and beverages might not seem expensive enough to warrant their popularity, the price point is actually one of many characteristics that make them attractive to criminals. Load values often aren’t high enough to trigger heightened security measures. These items don’t have serial numbers or RFID tags, and it’s not possible to trace them on the internet. Plus, the evidence is consumed – usually quickly.

Electronics and home-and-garden goods, accounting for 15 percent and 12 percent of thefts, respectively, were runners-up for the most-stolen-product title in 2015. They continue to rank high in 2016, and electronics often represent the costliest losses. In the third quarter of 2016, they made up $7.8 million of the $23.7 million in total cargo-theft losses reported to CargoNet.

Freightwatch drew attention this year to the uptick in theft of building and industrial products, pointing out a 263-percent increase in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same quarter in 2015. The firm flagged a correlation between geographical surges in stolen building supplies and states such as Texas where the housing market is growing.

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