As thieves shift tactics, diligence becomes a key to preventing cargo theft

 Simply reminding drivers to check the trailer doors to ensure locks and seals haven't been tampered with can go a long way to identify cargo theft quickly. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Simply reminding drivers to check the trailer doors to ensure locks and seals haven't been tampered with can go a long way to identify cargo theft quickly. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The news was everywhere this past week – cargo theft had dropped 15% in 2017. With more trucks, and more freight, than ever on America’s roadways, the report from SensiGuard’s Supply Chain Intelligence Center was welcomed news for all those involved in ensuring safe transport of goods.

While the number of recorded cargo thefts in 2017 declined to 649, the group said, the threat remains, and according to Scott Cornell, transportation business lead and crime and theft specialist with Travelers, may be under-reported. Travelers has a special business unit dedicated to cargo theft, the Special Investigations Group (SIG).

“When it comes to anybody who tells you cargo theft is up or down, I would caution you on going just on the numbers,” he explains. “All those numbers are voluntarily reported…cargo theft is down, but not as much as the numbers say. We think there is some under-reporting going on.”

Cornell explains that some fleets don’t report theft, especially in cases where only a few pallets of goods disappear, something that he says is called “pilfered goods” and has been growing in the past year. From 2014 to 2016, thieves were focusing on “strategic thefts” of cargo. Cornell says this is most commonly seen with fictitious pickups and identify theft. In the past year, though, enforcement personnel have made ground in this regard and thieves have again shifted their tactics.

“Now we’re seeing more of a revision back to straight cargo theft,” Cornell says, where thieves follow tractor-trailers and pilfer the goods. In this case, the thieves simply open the back doors and unload a few boxes or pallets at a time.

“The numbers would say there is a big increase in pilfered thefts, but we believe there is more reporting,” Cornell notes.

The easiest approach to combating this type of theft is for drivers to be aware of their surroundings and conduct a quick walk-around of the vehicle every time they leave it for a few moments. Was the trailer seal or lock broken, for instance? If so, there is a chance the trailer has been compromised. When this is not a common practice, it can be very tricky to track down the thieves and also a reason why a report is not filed, especially for a vehicle that is traveling across multiple states over several days.

“Now the question is, when did those pallets disappear?” Cornell asks. When the driver realizes a pallet has gone missing, it can be difficult to know which jurisdiction to call to report the theft.

“The first thing we teach at Travelers is behaviors,” he adds. “Every time your driver gets back to the truck, walk around to be sure the seal is still intact.”

There has also been some anecdotal evidence that more trailers are being filled and staged for days as warehouse space becomes constrained. While Cornell can’t speak specifically to this, he does say this practice can increase the opportunity for thieves as loaded trailers sit unattended.

Cargo theft is typically covered in most transportation insurance policies, but like any behavior, the more risk there is, the higher the cost in insurance premiums. Drivers conducting walkarounds of their vehicles and fleets not leaving loaded trailers unattended can help reduce those risks.

“Each carrier is going to take its own approach to risk,” Cornell says. Travelers SIG group works with customers to help deal with that risk. “When you have the in-house ability to mitigate risk, you have an advantage. We can respond to cargo theft. Our friends at Reliance Partners are familiar with our ability to retrieve stolen cargo…but our approach is to [prevent] theft from happening.”

Cornell advises any fleet to make sure they have proper insurance coverage for cargo theft and that it covers the cargo you are hauling. If you believe you have been a victim of cargo theft, he says the first step is to call the police. Then, reach out to your insurance provider, or an industry resource. There are companies such as CargoNet that offer programs for carriers to help them deal with theft issues.

Ensure you have all the necessary information for authorities, including serial numbers, VIN numbers, what was inside the truck, driver’s information and contact and descriptions of the vehicle. If you have pictures of the vehicle, that can help speed the process for police looking for a stolen truck and trailer.

It’s difficult to stop cargo theft, but vigilance is one way to reduce the threat to your vehicles. While fewer than 1,000 instances a year may not seem like a big risk to carriers, cargo theft remains a profitable endeavor for thieves and costs businesses more than $30 billion a year. And if your carrier is victimized, it will be a cost that continues to affect your bottom line for years to come through increased premiums and potentially lost customers.

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