They don’t always take the entire truck, but last September that is exactly what happened when a 53-foot trailer loaded with television sets disappeared from a Michigan truck stop. According to local media reports, the driver parked the truck at around 4 a.m., only to return several hours later to find the entire truck—and its cargo valued at $300,000—gone. Just like that.
It’s audacious, infuriating, and increasingly common. According to CargoNet, the nationally recognized network that tracks cargo theft information, there were 1,285 reported incidents of shipment theft during 2021, with total losses amounting to almost $58 million. Although the number of thefts was down somewhat from the prior year, when pandemic-related supply chain issues made idle containers easy prey for criminals, CargoNet expects theft activity to remain elevated during 2022.
Most theft occurs in truck stops and warehouses/distribution centres
In its “2021 Supply Chain Risk Trends Analysis,” CargoNet revealed a few eye-opening facts about current trends in shipment and cargo theft including:
- The average value of each theft was more than $172,000.
- Truck stops and warehouse/distribution centres are the top targets for criminals.
- 55% of incidents involved the theft of a commercial vehicle such as a semi-tractor, semi-trailer, intermodal chassis, or container.
- “Pilferage” is a common tactic, whereby only a part of a load is stolen. This makes the loss less noticeable,
and more difficult to recover.
- Consumer electronics shipments—especially computers and accessories—continue to be the top target of thieves, with thefts seeing “a significant 34% increase year-over-year.” Household items were the second most stolen category of goods, followed by food and beverage products.
- While California, followed by Texas and Florida lead the nation in reports of shipment and cargo theft, an alarming number of full truckload thefts have been reported across the eastern half of the United States.
As alarming as these statistics certainly are, additional insight by the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA), the agency responsible for developing internationally accepted supply chain security standards, indicates the situation is poised to get worse. For one thing, thieves are becoming more resourceful, more innovative, and taking greater advantage of technology and the many doors it unlocks.
Today’s thieves are increasingly innovative and resourceful
According to Travelers Insurance, thieves have a growing portfolio of technology-based tools to monitor shipment movements and plan their heists. A few methods include:
“Strategic” theft. This refers to theft that relies on deceptive means to “trick” a shipper, carrier, or other legitimate supply chain partner into giving a criminal access to a shipment. Examples of this include:
- “Fictitious pickups” in which thieves rely on cyber breaches to obtain information including delivery and pickup times, and the name of the person scheduled to pick up a particular load.
- Load board/Trucker app monitoring. A thief may spend time looking at shipments posted to trucker apps and load boards as a way to gain insight about particular businesses. Many times, a criminal will rely on “relaxed vigilance” to target shipments posted on a Friday afternoon, or over the weekend.
- False loads. In this instance, a criminal will create a fake shipment and solicit bids for transportation. Once good faith bids are received, criminals use the information obtained about a carrier to identify potential vulnerabilities.
- Double brokering scams. This refers to instances in which a carrier (or an individual claiming to represent a carrier) books a load.
Technology-based theft. This includes instances of “sniffer devices” being detected in shipments. The devices allow criminals to disrupt, or block, GPS devices embedded in shipments as a way to avoid police detection after a load is stolen.
Cyber theft is another preferred option for thieves. They might send a phishing email as a way to embed malware in a company’s technology system. Once inside, a criminal can gain access to sensitive information, including pickup and delivery schedules, along with manifests and invoices. Criminals will print out copies of this information as part of a “fictitious” pickup scheme or create fake waybills.
eCommerce shipments provide new criminal opportunities
Criminals have also upped their game when it comes to consumer shipments. Incidents of “porch piracy,” in which packages left outside consumers’ homes are stolen continue to escalate. As reported in The New York Times, 1.7 million packages nationwide are stolen or go missing each day. The Times also cited 2020 research which found 43% of respondents said they had been victims of package theft. That number was a significant increase over 2019 levels, when 36% said they had suffered a package theft.
Fraudulent deliveries are also on the increase, in which goods are purchased using stolen credit cards, and then delivered to vacant homes. In one brazen display, a criminal ring in Oklahoma was discovered with more than 600 empty Amazon packages, along with merchandise valued in the thousands of dollars. In this instance, one member of the crime ring was hired as a driver for Amazon during the busy holiday shipping season. The driver used a truck owned by a fellow conspirator and, along with a third criminal, diverted pallets of shipments to a home the group was sharing. In this case, the criminal enterprise was thwarted when local police officials received a complaint about illegal dumping.
As much as criminals have upped their game when it comes to the use of technology and increasingly clever tactics, many of their same old tried-and-true tactics are also still in play. This includes basic things like taking advantage of unlit parking areas, breaking the lock on a trailer, casing a storage yard to determine areas not covered by security cameras, employee/insider theft, and of course, instances of violence and armed robbery/hijacking.
The 2021 TAPA Cargo Theft Report, for example, notes the success of criminal organizations in infiltrating supply chains or warehouses by bribing workers or truck drivers. Compromised employees may disclose confidential delivery or shipping information, or leave a door unlocked. In some instances, a bribed truck driver might divert from an assigned delivery route, only to encounter criminals waiting at various locations to steal partial loads of goods.
Insider involvement is on the rise worldwide, according to the TAPA report. Approximately 20% of all thefts reported across Europe involved insider involvement. In North America, since 2020 the risk of employee involvement increased by 48%, with such incidents accounting for more than 5% of all cargo thefts. And in Asia, insider participation accounted for 13% of all cargo thefts during 2021.
According to TAPA, the top countries for cargo theft during 2020 included Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
The good guys fight back
But the situation is not all doom and gloom. As much as criminals have been working to hone their craft, so too have the legions of individuals dedicated to supply chain security. And the good guys have been able to put some impressive points on the board!
Although theft will never be eliminated entirely from a company’s supply chain, businesses can proactively mitigate the risk of being a target, and deploy tools and tactics to better protect shipments, and expose any nefarious activity.
International trade community. For one thing, the international trade community has come together in support of solutions. As mentioned, TAPA maintains a list of internationally recognized standards to guide businesses in securing their supply chains. TAPA recommendations extend far into the logistics process and set standards for warehouse/distribution centre/yard security, fleet security and cyber security. TAPA certification is the gold standard for logistics providers, carriers and other providers, and demonstrates that a company is serious about loss prevention.
Law enforcement. Law enforcement continues to play an important role in preventing theft. In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects cargo theft data and serves as a liaison with state and local agencies. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) fills a similar role.
Across Europe, agencies including Eurojust, and Europol coordinate initiatives among member countries. Late last year, for example, European law enforcement authorities—backed by Europol and Eurojust— successfully broke up a Romanian-based organized cargo theft group that targeted trucks traveling through France and Germany. According to local media, the criminals are alleged to have stolen shipments of alcohol, perfumes and other cosmetics, and small electronics, with an estimated value of $2.6 million.
Local and regional initiatives are supported by INTERPOL, the France-based organization charged with collecting, analyzing and sharing information about criminal activity. INTERPOL works with law enforcement agencies in more than 195 member countries to facilitate a worldwide approach to combatting crimes including cargo theft.
Government and Regulatory Agencies. And of course, there’s a role for governments and regulatory agencies.
A number of countries have established “trusted trader programs,” also known as “authorized economic operator (AEO)” programs, as a way to manage the flow of goods into their countries. These programs follow a set of standards established by the World Customs Organization (WCO). In general, programs are public-private initiatives through which industries/businesses voluntarily commit to specific supply chain security protocols in exchange for customs- related benefits.
In the United States, for example, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program is managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Through C-TPAT businesses voluntarily secure their supply chains, and attest to the safety of their vendors’ and suppliers’ supply chains as well. C-TPAT applicants undergo an extensive review process in exchange for favorable customs processing benefits. Membership in C-TPAT has become yet another way for serious businesses to differentiate themselves when it comes to shipment security.
The Canadian government has a similar trusted trader program called Partners in Protection (PIP). This program operates on the same premise as C-TPAT, and in fact the two programs are largely harmonized. The U.S. and Canada also recognize trusted trade programs in place in countries including Mexico, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Peru, Israel, New Zealand, and Australia. In addition, the United States recognizes trusted trader programs implemented by Jordan, the United Kingdom, India, the European Union, Taiwan, and the Dominican Republic.
By recognizing international trusted trader programs, the U.S. and Canadian governments help prioritize shipment safety, and protect the integrity of the clearance process.
The importance of a security-minded logistics partner
A critical partner in ensuring shipment security, of course, is a qualified logistics provider. A security-focused provider will be aware of current trends in cargo-related crime and will have invested in necessary precautions. This includes investments in technology, anti-theft materials, and in staff members with security-related experience. A business should have a high level of confidence in a logistics provider’s security protocols, and trust that their shipments will be in good hands.
Not every logistics provider prioritizes shipment security though, so a business must take care to review a company’s risk management and security protocols during the bidding process. This includes asking for information about incidences of loss, and confirming the company’s participation in “gold standard” programs including TAPA, C-TPAT and PIP. Additional “must haves” to look for in a logistics provider include:
- Minimal number of hand-offs and touches. A high percentage of theft and damage occurs when shipments are transferred between facilities and vehicles. Choose a provider with the capabilities to manage all supply chain functions including inventory, fulfillment, distribution, transit, and even returns. A single-source solution means fewer hands touching a shipment, and reduced opportunities for something to go awry.
- Extensive in-network coverage. Look for a provider that has the internal resources to ensure end-to-end in-network coverage. This avoids having to enlist external carriers and ensures accountability and chain of custody.
- Visibility and tracking. Make sure a company can provide a high level of shipment visibility, including 24/7 tracking. A security-focused provider will always ensure real-time access to shipments’ whereabouts, which can be a tremendous source of peace of mind.
- Experience matters! Choose a logistics provider with an established record as a trusted, reputable company. Request information about a company’s security record and ask to speak with current or past customers. An experienced company will consider that information a point of pride and be happy to share!
Purolator is an example of a TAPA-certified logistics provider that prioritizes shipment security and loss prevention. For one thing, Purolator has invested in a team of security professionals who focus on shipment security. Team members collectively have decades of experience working in cybersecurity, law enforcement, logistics, and other related fields. The team spends its days monitoring shipments, looking for irregular activity, analyzing data, collaborating with industry security professionals, and ensuring the proper controls and practices are in place to ensure shipments are as safe as possible.
Partnering with a TAPA-certified carrier who has invested heavily in keeping its trucks, vans, planes, warehouses, processing centres, and other assets as secure as possible is another security measure shippers can take to secure their shipments. As a TAPA-certified company, Purolator meets or exceeds all guidance when it comes to security. This includes widespread use of cameras, thermal imagery, radar, communication networks and, of course, extensive and ongoing employee training. Shippers should also look for carriers who offer comprehensive supply chain management, along with an extensive distribution network that extends throughout Canada with connections in the US and internationally. With extensive network connections, shipments are less likely to be handed off to other shipping companies, which reduces the risk of delays and theft.
An example of getting started with a security-focused carrier is Purolator’s security review process. When getting involved with a particular company, we start with the RFP process. When asked to bid on a particular company’s business, Purolator performs a risk assessment to ensure the company’s needs are commensurate with its capabilities. For technology and consumer electronic companies where security is paramount, the above qualities in a carrier are essential. For Purolator, we help customers understand the risks associated with their shipments, and assures the necessary processes are in place to keep them safe.
While security-minded companies like Purolator can certainly do their part, businesses also have a role to play in ensuring shipment security. The first step, of course, is to be aware of just how big of a problem shipment theft has become. Businesses need to understand the increasingly clever ways criminals are ripping off businesses and consumers. Once a business understands the enormity of the problem, managers will be more likely to prioritize shipment security and minimize financial losses.
Make shipment security a best practice
TAPA suggests a few immediate actions a company can take to prioritize security. Those actions include:
Verify everything. Check the credentials of any individual claiming to represent a certain logistics or trucking company. Don’t rely on the contact information listed on the individual’s business card but instead, use the phone number listed on the company’s website. And while you’re at it, also verify:
- That the trucking company itself is legitimate
- That they have a legitimate, secure website
- That the phone number is authentic and ask to speak with an existing customer or two.
Require advance truck and driver information. When possible, require that a trucking company provide you with advance information about the truck and driver scheduled to arrive at your facility. This includes a driver’s name and photo, trailer number and license plate, and a specific time of arrival.
Once the driver arrives, confirm that his/her ID is current and that the photo matches the individual standing in front of you! Make a copy/take a photo of the ID, if allowed.
Train your staff. A shipper’s staff can serve as a critical first line of defence in helping to prevent theft. Train employees to be on guard for certain suspicious behaviours. A driver wearing a hooded sweatshirt, for example, or one who insists on wearing sunglasses while indoors, should alert staff members of suspicious behaviour.
Secure your facility. Install cameras and CCTV surveillance, ensure storage and loading areas are well lit and securely locked, limit access to these areas, and keep activity logs. Install GPS tracking on all company vehicles. And critically important, conduct stringent employee background checks and, when an employee leaves your company, make sure to retrieve all credentials and discontinue access to company networks and websites.
Incidences of cargo theft surged during the pandemic, as supply chain bottlenecks provided criminals increased opportunities to target idle trailers waiting for their next move. While the number of thefts has come down somewhat, no one is predicting a return to “normalcy.” In fact, just the opposite may be true, with CargoNet expecting crime rates to remain “elevated” for the foreseeable future.
As criminals become increasingly sophisticated—and ruthless—in targeting shipments, businesses need to heighten their vigilance. Fortunately, dedicated transportation, logistics, law enforcement and security professionals are paying close attention and developing the tools needed to stay a step ahead.
No business ever wants to get the news that a shipment has been stolen. Not only does a stolen shipment add costs, but it infringes on the trust a business works hard to establish with customers. By partnering with a logistics provider that prioritizes security and has invested in safety-focused personnel and protocols, you can minimize the risk of your shipments becoming yet another crime statistic.