Better Data Needed to Fight Cargo Thefts, Say Insurers, Law Enforcement

April 17, 2008

It’s like “Gone in 60 Seconds” with tractor trailers.

Thieves steal billions of dollars of electronics, medicine, vehicles and other items from U.S. businesses each year by targeting trucks and other cargo shipments, and insurance and law enforcement leaders say better data is needed to fight the problem.

Loss estimates range from $15 billion to $30 billion each year nationwide, said Robert M. Bryant, a retired FBI agent who now heads the National Insurance Crime Bureau. But sporadic data collection and sharing prevents a better understanding of the problem.

“I really don’t know what a good number is,” Bryant told a group of about 170 law enforcement, business and insurance industry representatives attending the National Cargo Security Summit near Tampa. He called for a national database on cargo thefts, which he said hurt businesses, consumers, and governments that lose out on tax revenues.

Thefts fuel black market economies here and abroad, cheaply selling the items in the United States or Latin America.

“This is a national problem,” said Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean, whose agency has aggressively fought cargo thefts in and around the central Florida city of Ocala.

Dean and other presenters said stolen goods often cross county, state and international lines quickly and are difficult to trace.

Some end up online. “It’s become the cargo thieves’ best friend,” said Scott Cornell, national program manager of Travelers Investigative Services.

A clearer view could emerge in coming years as the FBI will soon begin tracking cargo theft data from police agencies nationwide through its Uniform Crime Report statistics.

Bryant, whose group coordinates efforts between police and insurance companies, said most shoppers don’t understand the impact cargo thefts have on their lives. Stolen goods drive up the prices on many items, and presenters painted a bleak picture of what thieves will target.

“What is being taken? Just about everything _ and more,” said Lt. Twan Uptgrow, who leads an anti-cargo theft task force for the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Uptgrow said the most commonly stolen items in Miami are electronics, but thieves have also taken pills, jewelry and even lobsters bound for troops overseas, Uptgrow said.

To prevent thefts, some warehouses are forcing employees to wear uniforms emblazoned with large numbers on their back The technique helps investigators tell workers apart on surveillance footage.

Uptgrow said having adequate security also deters many thieves, who prey on poorly guarded warehouses so they have time to find high-value items.

But just like a thief taking a pass on a building with an armed guard and security cameras, cargo thieves learn which areas protect shipments well.

“We put a hammer on it and it stopped in our county,” Dean, the sheriff, said.

As a result, he said, thieves began targeting warehouses and trucks in other parts of Florida and Atlanta.


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