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Labor Day amplifies increase in cargo thefts in 2023

Fictitious pickups more prevalent and pervasive, CargoNet says

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

As it does every year, the upcoming Labor Day holiday brings with it concerns about cargo theft. This year, the spotlight burns a little brighter because shipment theft and pilferage seem to be picking up steam.

According to CargoNet, which tracks reported incidents of cargo theft, about 200 incidents have been reported each month so far in 2023, putting reported incidents on pace to hit 2,400 for the year, well above historical norms. CargoNet sees only a fraction of the actual incidents because most go unreported and are thus unsearchable in databases. Many theft victims are mindful of reputation risk and would rather chalk up the incidents as a cost of doing business.

Traditional thefts, which are defined as goods pilfered while in transit, are up 60% year over year, according to Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at Verisk, which operates CargoNet as one of its products. Nontraditional incidents, which typically involve what are known as fictitious pickups, are up 600% to 700% year to date, according to Lewis.

One of the most prevalent fictitious pickup schemes is known as “shipment misdirection,” in which attackers impersonate a motor carrier to gain authorization to transport a shipment, then hire a legitimate carrier to deliver the shipment to a location the attackers have access to. CargoNet said it has recorded more than 600 attacks or attempts of shipment misdirection since November.

Fictitious pickups are especially challenging because they are difficult to trace and can emanate from overseas where organized criminals ply their trade, Lewis said.

Over Labor Day, which is unique among holidays because carriers are often hauling holiday goods like consumer electronics, CargoNet expects approximately 40 reported incidents. Over the past five years, theft incidents were the highest in 2022 at 44. Over the five-year span, CargoNet recorded 156 thefts with an average cargo value of $151,726. The value of stolen cargoes per incident has more than doubled in 20 years, according to Lewis.

Attackers have shown a preference for stealing items as diverse as solar panels, consumer electronics, energy drinks, motor oil and alcoholic beverages. Not surprisingly, most thefts occur at major supply chain hubs like Southern California, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Memphis and Atlanta.

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.