Cargo theft is the theft of goods or property from commercial shippers or freight carriers. It’s a serious problem in the USA, costing shippers and trucking companies an estimated $30 billion annually, with an average of 63 cargo thefts per month.
A large proportion is carried out by organized cargo theft groups, using tactics from common hijacking, to more advanced scams. In these scams, cargo thieves pose as shipment carriers, collecting victims’ goods under the disguise of a legitimate business transaction.
Food, apparel, clothing, and electronics are stolen the most because they are untraceable, abundant, and in demand. The Greater Los Angeles area sees a high concentration of theft because of the cargo flowing through the nearby ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Other hotspots include Florida and Texas, although the incidence is high countrywide, with a shocking set of statistics.
Theft of full truckloads of cargo accounts for much of total theft, with warehouse burglaries following a close second. These are still the easiest and most prevalent targets, opening up carriers and their staff to financial loss and personal safety concerns. The repercussions are broad, so addressing the problem is of paramount importance to these companies and their customers.
If you are a carrier or involved in the shipment of cargo, consider the following steps to limit your risk of cargo theft:
1. Properly vet your employees.
Ensure hiring procedures are watertight and pre-screen any individuals who might increase your risks. Put background and criminal record checking in place. In many instances, cargo theft relies on inside information. Having trusted and well-informed staff will significantly lower risk.
2. Educate staff on risks and mitigation.
Locking vehicles or parking in well-lit secure areas are simple steps that can make a big difference. Raising awareness through broad-based education and training will further mitigate your risk, leaving staff prepared for what to do both day-to-day and in an emergency.
3. Employ security consultants.
Employ security consultants and have a security presence on valuable or high-risk carriers and routes. People who have hijack experience or training will take pressure off your staff and will be in a better position to deal with risks as they occur. Employ security guards at your premises or on parts of routes considered high-risk to mitigate any unforeseen circumstances.
4. Use technology.
GPS and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags can be used to locate trucks and some individual items of cargo. Alarms can sound when cargo ventures out of predetermined coordinates. Vehicles can be immobilized. Even simple technology will significantly reduce risks if implemented properly and with some forethought.
5. Use traditional security.
Padlocks, security fences, seals, and properly securing storage containers are more traditional, (but no less important), choices in your security arsenal. The simple act of locking and securing cargo and vehicles is still an effective deterrent. Use cameras with remote monitoring at every opportunity.
6. Employ specialist risk assessment services.
Risk assessment services help assess the safest routes, allow you to customize route plans, and can help with the process of recovery should a theft occur.
7. Document policies and procedures.
Plan adequately for the risk of cargo theft by documenting procedures and the things to do in case of theft. Have in place procedures to respond to theft quickly. Staff should be fully aware of what to do, whom to contact first, and in what order to do so.
8. Authorize delivery routes and schedules.
Senior staff members should determine, document, and agree upon routes and delivery times. Delivery windows need to reduce the amount of dwell time — the highest opportunity for theft. For example, avoid weekend or holiday deliveries when delivery destinations could be closed, forcing drivers and delivery vehicles to wait.
9. Keep information confidential and on a need to know basis.
Consider information regarding routes, cargo inventory, and drop-off points as confidential. In the wrong hands, this type of information can be leaked or sold to thieves, severely increasing your risk.
10. Support law enforcement.
Support law enforcement by inviting them to your premises, asking for their advice, and presenting their information to your staff. Their presence plus your relationship with them will act as a deterrent to any staff members contemplating theft.
11. Check your insurance.
Make sure your insurance properly covers you for cargo theft. Understand what coverage you have and which circumstances might invalidate your policy. Educate staff on the limits of the policy. Consult with insurance specialists to ensure your coverage is appropriate and provides the best value.
12. Vet third–party carriers.
If you use third-party carriers and providers, vet them properly. How do they look at their employees and take responsibility for cargo theft? What procedures do they have in place to reduce and eliminate cargo theft? Satisfy yourself that third-party carriers have adequate procedures in place to mitigate cargo theft.
13. Perform regular safety and procedure audits.
Regularly test-check your procedures and responses to cargo theft. Perform fire drills and capture feedback for improvements.
14. Prioritize safety.
Throughout all your planning and responses to cargo theft, the safety of your staff should be paramount and given the highest priority. Security procedures should not conflict with staff safety.
15. Make an adequate budget.
The cost of cargo theft can be high to your company, so enough resources need to be spent on it to reduce the risks of it happening. If your budget does not allow for this, look to save and reallocate expenditures elsewhere. Carrier businesses can save on operation expenses when purchasing containers and packaging. Consider using recycled or used containers as a source of cost management.
Cargo theft costs the U.S. economy billions per annum, and it is increasingly being undertaken by organized crime groups. Methods are becoming more advanced as these groups look to decrease their risk of getting caught. Traditional precautions have become less effective, and companies need all-embracing solutions to the problem, adopting technology and specialists where required.
Some steps can be taken to reduce the risk of theft, and companies should consider these as part of an overall plan. This plan should ensure all aspects of cargo theft are addressed, from the risks that exist internally to those outside, to drivers on the road. Plans should be regularly and rigorously tested, third parties consulted where necessary, and adequate budget allocated.
Throughout, the safety of staff should be given paramount importance. Staff should understand its role and what to do in emergencies. Procedures and expectations should not put staff at risk.
What tips do you have to help limit cargo theft?
Guest Blogger – David Madden
David Madden is an efficiency expert. His passion and business is to save companies money through the use of used, reusable and repurposed industrial packaging such as plastic and metal bulk containers, gaylord boxes, bulk bags, pallets, ibc totes, and industrial racks.
Header photo: Semmick Photo/shutterstock.com
Container photo: cwales/shutterstock.com
Warehouse photo: Evgeny Dudarev/shutterstock.com