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Trucks and drivers targeted for cargo theft, kidnapping and hostage-taking

Truck-borne freight is the most popular target for thieves, according to a new global study by cargo insurer TT Club and supply chain consultant BSI. Trucks and truckers face a variety of threats including firearm-bearing kidnappers and fake ‘police.’

Trucks were the overwhelmingly favorite target of thieves in 84 percent of all incidents globally. Unfortunately, the report “Global Cargo Theft Intelligence Report for 2018” did not provide absolute numerical data.

However, the report does say that there were, on average, 15 “cargo theft incidents” per day, which would imply a global total of about 5,340 global cargo theft incidents.

In a far distant second place was theft from cargo facilities, which accounted for a mere 13 percent of all incidents. Other modalities of freight transport were involved in a tiny fraction of attacks.

Modus Operandi – slash & grab, hijacking and kidnap

The nature of how a theft was carried out showed a much greater diversity in methodology. The nature of attacks tended to vary by location, which reflects a wide variety of factors such as a country’s general lawfulness (or lack thereof), sophistication of law enforcement response, facilities available to the trucking industry, attitudes regarding bribery and so on.

The so-called “Slash and Grab” attack, which is an attack by cutting through curtain-sided trailers or trucks hauling a flatbed trailer with under-tarpaulin cargo, was the primary method of attack. About 27 percent of all incidents around the world were slash and grab attacks. This method of attack is employed in Europe partly because there is a lack of secure truck parking facilities and partly because of a high prevalence of curtain-sided trucks in Europe.

The far more violent vehicle hijacking crimes were, lamentably, in second place and accounted for 16 percent of all attacks.

Central America was noted for firearms-related hijackings and kidnappings. Thieves use firearms to force truck drivers to the side of the road and “commonly” kidnap drivers to take them hostage to delay a police response.

Beware fake policemen

In the Middle East and South Africa, truck drivers have to be wary of fake policemen. It is thought that corrupt police officers supply authentic uniforms to accomplices. The fake police will attempt to carry out hijackings. They will pull trucks over on spurious grounds such as allegedly having a broken tail-light.

Thefts from trucks accounted for 12 percent of attacks, theft from other vehicles accounted for 8 percent of attacks and thefts of vehicles accounted for a further 8 percent of attacks.

As truckers around the world will no doubt testify, they are quite vulnerable on the job. Warehouses and other such facilities, while not being immune to theft, are largely secure when compared to the trucks themselves.

Insecure trucks and opportunistic thieves

Trucks are clearly not secure. About 29 percent of all cargo thefts happened in-transit, about 16 percent happened in rest areas and a further 10 percent happened at unsecured roadside parking.

Thieves appear to be fairly opportunistic in what they will steal as there was no one type of cargo that appeared to be overwhelmingly targeted.

Food and beverages accounted for 15 to 19 percent of all cargo thefts, while alcohol and tobacco accounted for a further 15 percent. Consumer products accounted for 13 percent of all goods stolen. Electronics, apparel (including footwear) and automotive cargoes were each involved in 5 percent of thefts. Other cargoes (including cargoes of an unknown nature) were involved in 42 percent of all thefts.

North and Central America

In North and Central America, the median value of a theft was US$58,500 (all dollar references hereafter are in U.S. dollars).

Cargo thefts are particularly violent in Central America, with truck hijackings used “as a primary tactic.”

It’s a markedly different situation in Canada and the U.S.; thieves in those jurisdictions typically target unattended trucks at insecure locations such as truck stops and gas stations.

In this region, 37 percent of all theft/attacks are hijackings; 25 percent of incidents involve theft of a shipping container or trailer; a further 15 percent involve the theft of a vehicle.

Mexico is the number one country for attacks and accounts for 68 percent of all thefts. The United States is in a far distant second at 23 percent. Other countries account for minimal percentages of thefts/attacks.

Goods and commodities stolen vary and include food and beverages (33 percent); consumer products (19 percent); construction materials (9 percent) and a wide variety of other materials.


The median theft value in Asia was $18,923. The top countries for cargo theft in this region were India (59 percent), followed by China (24 percent) and Indonesia (11 percent).

Thefts from facilities were the overwhelming method of attack, with 43 percent of thefts carried out in this way.

“A significant portion of incidents involve thieves stealing goods directly from facilities in each of these countries.

Supply chain corruption is a major element of thefts in China and India, with corrupt employees removing goods they are transporting or accessing shipments stored in warehouses or logistics facilities. “Thieves generally pilfer small numbers of items but occasionally manage to steal larger quantities of goods,” the report reads.

Poor management practices

Poor management practices contribute to in-facility thefts. The report notes that in India, employees whose jobs are terminated “often” retain keys, which are later used to carry out thefts. Other failures in management include failures to follow security protocols or ensuring doors remain secure.

Other tactics in Asia include in-transit theft, where thieves board a moving truck and then throw goods to accomplices in cars trailing the freight vehicle.

Hijackings of freight vehicles remain a risk in northern India and Indonesia.

Like other regions, the nature of the goods stolen in Asia appears to be opportunistic and includes food and beverages (30 percent); metal (14 percent); electronics (8 percent); and a wide range of other goods.

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