Cargo theft makes headlines each holiday season, driven by increased shipments, high demand and product shortages. Recent data from CargoNet shows cargo theft losses rocketed to $19 million in the first quarter of 2022 in the United States and Canada, a 73% increase over the same period in 2021.
Thieves are evolving their tactics and utilizing technology to target trucks with goods that can easily be sold off-market for a quick dollar. While the majority of the population enjoy long weekends and time off with friends and family, criminals are working around the clock, taking advantage of holiday distractions.
Whether drivers are hauling lumber or this season’s most popular tech gadget, a transportation company must have a thorough and proactive approach to theft prevention, extending far beyond general vigilance to keep customer cargo and company assets safe.
First line of defense
Drivers are the first line of defense against theft. At PGT Trucking, a multiservice transportation firm offering flatbed, dedicated, international and specialized services, drivers are consistently educated on the risks of cargo theft and trained to implement additional safety measures.
“Flatbed commodities are visible to thieves,” said Andrew Erin, PGT Trucking director of safety and risk. “They aren’t hidden inside a closed trailer. Criminals can see exactly what our drivers are hauling and know how much effort it’s going to take to steal that cargo. Our goal is to have the commodity firmly secured so it’s not worth their effort.”
First and foremost, drivers are instructed to never unhook the truck from the trailer, especially when the trailer is loaded. An unhooked trailer is an easy target for thieves, and since some states do not title or register trailers, the stolen equipment can be quickly sold without consequence. The average value of stolen loads was around $172,340 in 2021, according to CargoNet, and estimates point to an even higher value in 2022. PGT maintains a strict, no drop trailer policy, and all loaded trailers must be properly tarped, keeping onlookers from seeing the actual commodity.
Professional drivers must also consider their overnight or weekend parking locations, and they are encouraged to always park in a safe, secured lot, preferably at a company terminal or a location approved by senior staff. Locations with locking gates, cameras and good lighting are essential. Equipment should not be left in vacant lots or truck stops, and drivers are asked to frequently check on their trucks, trailers and cargo to make sure no one has tampered with them.
“We know thieves hate to be seen, so by encouraging our drivers to park their trucks in well-lit, secure locations, we are taking that first step to ensuring our customers’ cargo is safe,” said Erin.
Educating their drivers on “hot” commodities and areas of high theft is also an important part of a cargo safety strategy. “If we have drivers hauling a load into a city with a high rate of cargo theft, we want them to be aware of that risk. As part of the driver’s daily trip planning process, theft prevention measures are discussed with the fleet manager so that we can ensure the safety of our driver and their load,” added Erin.
It’s more than cargo
“In addition to the cargo on the trailers, we stress to our drivers the importance of protecting their securement equipment and their fuel, as we have seen an uptick in the theft of these items,” said Erin.
Cargo tarps, chains, binders and straps all have a high-dollar resale value and are often taken from unsecured trailers and unsuspecting drivers. At PGT, drivers are instructed to remove all equipment from the trailer when parking for the weekend or holiday break, safely storing it in the trucks or their personal vehicles.
“A driver may leave their equipment in what he/she feels is a secure location for a long weekend, only to come back on Monday and find all of their equipment is gone. And the two or three trucks next to theirs all have stolen tarps too,” added Erin.
Additionally, diesel prices continue to hit historic highs, and over the past year have surged more than 75%, a number calculated based on the increase in monthly U.S. diesel retail prices from June 2021 to 2022. This makes it a much more attractive commodity for theft. Drivers can help reduce the risk of fuel theft by keeping their tanks low and filling up only when they’re ready to start driving for the week.
Aided by technology
As criminals find new ways to hijack equipment and cargo, carriers must also continue to adapt their prevention policies. The transportation industry is advancing through the use of technology, utilizing electronic logging devices, GPS tracking, load-matching software and more. In this increasingly tech-driven world, cybercrime becomes a top-rated concern, estimated to globally cost $10.5 trillion per year by 2025. Offenders can access confidential information (business or personal), disable operating systems and commit fraud, all with the intent to track and steal cargo.
Trucking companies need to have strict cybersecurity measures in place, including routine employee and driver training to recognize potential threats. Phishing attacks are a popular tool for criminals to gain access to company information, but with proper training and advanced security mechanisms, these attempts can be deterred. PGT also employs its own IT department, staffed with data loss prevention specialists, to keep their operations safe from virtual crime.
In the event of theft, technology can be utilized by carriers to aid in recovery efforts as well. Through GPS tracking, trucks, trailers and cargo can be more easily located, and this information can be shared with local law enforcement. In-cab camera systems also provide authorities with video evidence, potentially identifying the suspect and recording the crime.
Communication is key
Theft prevention takes a team effort, requiring everyone to remain vigilant against a never-ending threat. Communication is the key to ensuring that everyone in the operation takes the proper steps to secure the cargo and equipment. Carriers must effectively relay information to their drivers, educating them about the risks of theft and the preventative actions to take. Drivers need to routinely check their equipment and notify the company immediately of any suspected activity. Most importantly, carriers should be in communication with their customers, discussing the methods they’re taking to keep the commodity safe.
In addition to high insurance claims, cargo theft also results in a damaged relationship between a carrier and its customer. Shippers are less likely to trust a trucking company when their product goes missing, and just one incident of a cargo claim could prompt a customer to seek transportation services elsewhere. Carriers should work with their business partners to review their proactive theft prevention strategies, alleviating potential shipping concerns.
Everyone wants to enjoy the holiday season, taking time to relax after another year of hard work, but for carriers, they must work harder than ever to combat the increased chance of cargo theft. With a diligent and aggressive approach, trucking companies can deter criminals, keeping their drivers, assets and customers’ cargo safe.