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Tackling cargo theft by reducing operational vulnerability

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Since the time of horse-drawn wagons and steam-powered locomotives, the freight hauling industry has had to contend with cargo thieves, who over time have become bolder and frustratingly better organized. It is hard to put a number on cargo theft in the U.S. because not all of the stolen freight gets reported, but it is expected to be north of $15 billion every year in lost revenue.

Thieves come in all shapes and sizes – lone wolves, organized gangs, and even international crime syndicates. With cargo theft being relatively low-risk compared to comparable crimes like breaking into buildings, it is crucial to have deterrents in place that can stop cargo thieves on their tracks.

Apart from the value of the stolen freight, there are unquantifiable issues like the hours wasted due to disruption of delivery and being answerable to the shipper. Companies also take a hit on their reputation, and have to cooperate with lengthy police investigations and fill out insurance-related questionnaires.

Nonetheless, there are many ways that fleets can proactively work to make their cargo more secure. One of the first steps to cargo safety is training personnel to understand risks and ways to mitigate them. Drivers should be provided security training, in which they are educated on protecting the trailers from hijacking and theft, and companies should have a mechanism in place through which drivers can be in constant contact with the back office.

Fleets could go a step further and reinforce background checks of all employees before they come onboard, as organized cargo crimes usually have connections on the inside when they pull off a heist. A regular screening check must be done on employees who work in linchpin nodal points on the supply chain, like drivers, warehouse personnel, and loading dock staff.

Fitting trailers and cargo with the Internet of Things (IoT) devices can help with track-and-trace, which is critical in recovering stolen freight. That aside, warehouses should be fitted with surveillance systems, and efforts taken to make sure the area’s perimeter and sidewalks are well-lit to identify people moving around. Bright spaces are a huge deterrent to thieves and are known to have stopped many potential hijackings.

Understanding the pattern of theft occurrences is vital. For instance, 35 percent of total thefts happen during weekends. So fleets need to be extra careful during those days and probably work on bolstering security around cargo on those days.

Truck stops are a hotspot for cargo theft, as criminals observe driver behavior and tend to steal trailers when drivers leave the cab to eat or use the bathroom. Drivers should be cautioned to always lock the trailers to the tractor as a safety measure, which would make it more difficult for thieves to hijack the cargo.

Though the focal point of averting cargo theft lies with educating drivers, there are cases of thieves who engineer scenarios that help them con shippers at the pickup spot. It usually involves thieves running a fictitious carrier that takes the shipment at the loading dock – with the shipper being utterly oblivious to the pretense. To prevent such concerted attacks, shippers should make sure to research the available carriers in the market and use yardsticks like licensing and reviews to establish legitimacy.

In light of such incidents, it is essential for stakeholders to keep themselves informed of the ways thieves seek to sabotage freight operations, and thus thwart such efforts. In that regard, conducting audits at regular intervals within the organization can help those charged with deterrence to understand vulnerabilities in the supply chain and rectify them before criminals can use them to their advantage. The key is to stay alert at all times – by far the best way to repel cargo thieves and run operations without trouble.