Cargo Theft in the Trucking Industry

While the total number of cargo thefts for the first six months of this year was slightly lower than the number of thefts during the same period last year, according to FreightWatch International Inc., a security firm from Austin, Texas, that deals in the logistics and tracking of cargo thefts, what is on the rise is the number of “deceptive pickups.” Taking cargo loads that are unattended is still a common means of theft, but tricking a driver or cargo company out of a load is becoming more popular among thieves.

Insurance data shows that only about 16 deceptive pickups took place in 2009. In 2010, three incidents were recorded during the first half of the year and a whopping 29 during the last six months. This year, 15 incidents have already occurred, and the year is only half over.

Cargo thefts have been taken to a whole new level. Some thieves pretend to be part of well-known trucking firms, while others set up entirely new fake trucking businesses and use them to gain access to valuable cargo.

Thieves are often masters of the latest technology and use the Internet to poach information from real trucking companies in order to give their bogus firm a more legitimate face. Some thieves are organized enough to set up entire websites for their fake businesses and use these to bid for truck driving jobs in online shipping forums where shippers post loads that they require assistance to deliver. If their bid wins, they can simply waltz into the shipper’s lot, load up the cargo, and drive away, never to be seen again.

Although expert sources differ about the exact dollar amount of cargo thefts, most agree that it is somewhere around the billion-dollar range. Barry Tarnef, a high-ranking risk specialist at Chubb Group, an insurance company based in New Jersey, is reluctant to attempt a specific estimate due to all the speculation floating around. He is sure, however, that the annual cost estimate of cargo theft in the United States can be firmly placed anywhere between $1 and $2 billion dollars.

One leading contributor to the rise in deceptive pickups has been the fragile United States economy. Because the budgets of the majority of shippers have been drastically reduced, many have turned to online cargo brokerage forums to get their loads delivered. These forums are, unfortunately, a Mecca for thieves. Although, in most cases, the forums themselves are legitimate, there have even been cases of fake forums being set up by cargo thieves entirely for the purpose of funneling cargo to their operatives to be stolen.

Many experts recommend that shippers deal exclusively with regular contracting companies instead of farming their loads out on an individual basis, but even this strategy may not be enough. Some thieves have even gone so far as to do all the proper Department of Transportation paperwork for their bogus company as well as secure a cargo insurance policy to show to shippers. Their strategy is to perform a few truck driving jobs correctly to allow the shippers to become comfortable with them. Once a shipper’s guard is down, however, loads will begin to disappear, and then the entire company itself will soon vanish into thin air.

Loads that are most commonly lifted are those that contain valuable commodities. Pharmaceuticals, electronics, apparel, and nonperishable food are among the items most commonly stolen. The theft of metal cargo such as steel, copper, and aluminum has also been on the rise due to a recent rise in the demand for those metals.

To prevent cargo theft, experts are urging trucking companies to increase their vigilance. Loads should include GPS tracking devices and should never be left unguarded.


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