Addressing the cargo theft scourge

April 1, 2015
New FreightWatch International report shows increasing level of sophistication from thieves

Although law enforcement agencies across the country have ramped up their efforts in recent years to clamp down on cargo theft, the level of sophistication in the methods employed by criminals has also increased. According to the “U.S. Annual Cargo Theft Report” recently published by FreightWatch International, the number of reported cargo thefts throughout the nation actually decreased in 2014 by 12 percent, however, the average value of the thefts reported – nearly $233,000 – represented a 36 percent increase in value over 2013.

FreightWatch says the increase shows an emerging modus operandi by organized thieves in that they have made up for the lack of quantity in shipments stolen by isolating and targeting more highly valued merchandise. Additionally, FreightWatch believes that the level of reported cargo thefts in the U.S is well below the number of incidents that actually occur.

Some of the report’s other highlights include:

  • The most common type of goods stolen in cargo thefts incidents in 2014 were; food and drink, 19 percent; electronics, 16 percent; home and garden, 14 percent; building and industrial materials, 10 percent; clothing and shoes, 9 percent; metals, 9 percent; auto & parts, 7 percent; personal care products, 5 percent; miscellaneous items, 5 percent; alcohol, 4 percent; pharmaceuticals, 1 percent; and tobacco, 1 percent.
  • The states that suffered the highest incidents of cargo theft included; Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and South Carolina.
  • 90 percent of all thefts that occurred in 2014 happened when the truck was stationary and unattended.     

SIW recently spoke with Eric Kready, U.S. intelligence manager for FreightWatch International, to get some additional perspective on the data provided by the report and discuss trends he expects to see moving forward.

SIW: What are some of the ways in which cargo thieves have changed and adapted their methods over the years being that they are growing more sophisticated? 

Kready: The predominant growing trend in cargo theft in the United States is known as the “fictitious pickup.” Fictitious pickups are a form of identity theft, wherein cargo thieves are essentially making an appointment to steal a load.  Creation of fictitious trucking companies with what appears to be proper registration and insurance documentation, creation of fictitious brokerage operation, or using the identity of a legitimate trucking company or driver are all elements used wholly or in part in a fictitious pickup crime.

SIW: Why do you believe cargo theft is underreported in the U.S. and what are some things the industry can do to change that?

Kready: Some companies (undetermined number, but verified occurrence) do not report cargo theft (loss) for fear of public exposure and/or brand recognition in association with the crime, and some do not report cargo theft (loss) due to the risk of insurance cancellation and/or increased premiums.  Additionally, there is a fractured reporting system in the United States regarding cargo theft as each state has different guidelines and criteria. There is no universal system or mechanism for reporting. Resolving this challenge could be the beginning of a solution.

SIW: Perhaps one of the silver linings of the report is that acts of violence in taking a shipment remain relatively low in the U.S. Is this something that could change if the industry bolsters its security methods or if thieves become more desperate? 

Kready: Cargo theft violence in the United States is not likely to increase. We will likely continue to see armed robberies of currency and pharmaceutical couriers but as a whole, U.S. cargo crime violence is expected to remain low.  Laws in the United States exert severe punishments for crimes committed using violence or deadly weapons versus the less severe punishment imposed on a non-violent cargo thief.

SIW: Is there anything that the states and federal government can do to help out the industry with this growing problem, i.e. stiffening the penalties? 

Kready: Several states have implemented stiffer penalties for cargo theft, which is an improvement over the past few years. Implementation of a nationwide standardized reporting structure is essential.

SIW: What do you expect to see in terms of cargo theft trends moving into the rest of 2015?

Kready: The United States has seen a rise in driver theft incidents, which involve either direct theft by the driver, the driver’s voluntary collusion/complicity in the crime or a deceptive criminal posing as a legitimate carrier resource. Typically a crime of opportunity, thefts by drivers fluctuate in volume year-to-year. However, this method reached an all-time high in 2013, with a 76 percent increase over 2012 and a 389 percent increase over 2011. This growing trend warrants awareness as population growth will continue to challenge the supply and demand requirements placed on the shipping industry.

SIW: The hot spots for cargo theft activity remained relatively unchanged in the report, but are there any places that you believe the industry needs to keep an eye on?  

Kready: Cargo theft hot spots are centered on the major transportation hubs of the United States. These locations are flourishing with distribution centers and transient cargo making them target-rich environments.  We are seeing a growing emergence of cargo theft in the Pacific Northwest. As this region grows in population, economically and industrially, so too will the supply chain infrastructure yielding more cargo crime opportunity.

SIW: Along the same lines, do you expect the types of goods targeted and stolen to remain the same? 

Kready: There are essentially two types of organized cargo criminals – those who accept risk for high reward and those who defer risk for lower rewards. The high-risk/high-reward cargo criminal will continue to target commodities such as electronics that have high payoffs. The low-risk/low-reward criminal will safely target basic needs: food, clothing and shelter, which are items that are easily sold on the black or gray markets.

SIW: Is there anything else that came out of the report that people should be aware of?

Kready: Crime will never be completely eliminated. Thus, cargo theft will likely remain a low-risk source of income for criminals. The first rule of security is to be a harder target than those in comparable situations. Logisticians, transporters and security professionals can combat threats by taking a proactive approach to cargo security. It is essential to understand the threat and exercise due diligence when sourcing and/or employing all participants in the supply chain. In addition, is it paramount to ensure that all participants in the supply chain comply with industry best practices. The organized criminal dedicates an inordinate amount of time to surveillance, preparation and rehearsals. We must dedicate similar or more resources, such as global GPS tracking devices and monitoring platforms to proactively combat this ever-growing threat.

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief,

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.