Long 4th of July Weekend Prime Time for Cargo Theft

By Denise Johnson | July 1, 2016

Though families use the Fourth of July weekend to reconnect at picnics and barbecues, cargo thieves are expected to take advantage of the long three-day weekend by stealing truckloads of nonalcoholic beverages, major appliances and copper. That’s according to CargoNet, a Verisk Analytics business, which analyzed 2012-2015 cargo theft data in the United States and Canada between July 2-July 9 and found those were some of the most popular theft categories.

Cargo Truck IsolatedDuring that period, 119 incidents were reported with 81 categorized as involving cargo theft. Food and beverage was the primary target of thieves, though household goods and electronics were also popular. Metal theft surged in 2014, but there was just one reported theft of metals in 2015. During the same period, 70 semi-tractors and 64 semi-trailers were reported stolen.

The company estimated $10.63 million in losses between 2012-2015 as a result of cargo theft.

Scott Cornell, a transportation crime and theft specialist with Travelers, explained that food and beverage has been the number one cargo theft commodity since 2010 because its consumable, not easily tracked, easy to sell and not likely to remain in backlog.

“Anytime the value is high on anything you’re going to see it as a targeted commodity. In addition to that, it’s very easy to move,” explained Cornell.

According to CargoNet, the top four states for cargo theft during the analyzed period were:

  1. California (21)
  2. Texas (19)
  3. Florida (15)
  4. Georgia (15)

High-theft metropolitan areas include Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Miami.

Sitting Cargo Vulnerable

Though it’s widely known that cargo theft spikes during holiday weekends, CargoNet expects this year to be worse since July 4th falls on a Monday. According to the national cargo theft database host, the three day weekend means many trucks will be parked for the entire weekend and remain unchecked until truckers return to them on Tuesday.

An alert issued by FreightWatch International, a logistic securities services firm, noted that holiday weekends pose high risk for manufacturers and logistics-related organizations because unattended shipments combined with the long weekend give cargo crooks ample opportunity to stage crimes.

In 2015, FreightWatch International’s Supply Chain Intelligence Center recorded an average loss value of $1.1M over the holiday weekend, which it noted was six times higher than the average loss value over the entire year.

As a result of the high value losses associated with it, cargo theft is a primary focus of legislation in a number of states, including Mississippi, New Mexico and Alabama, according to Alan Haskins, director of government affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. In a recent podcast interview with Claims Journal, he said a cargo bill was passed in Alabama and bills expanding existing cargo theft law passed in California and Florida.

According to Cornell, cargo theft falls into two key categories: straight theft and strategic theft.

Straight theft involves a criminal going out and physically stealing cargo at a truck stop or drop lot. Strategic cargo theft methods involve criminals using methods to trick companies into giving them cargo. These methods include using fictitious pickups, double brokering scams, blind shipment scams, false companies and ghost truck methods.

Cornell said the shift to strategic cargo theft has really picked up since 2011.

“I can list off 12 to 15 different strategic cargo theft methods,” Cornell said.

Thieves are also embracing technology to carry out their crimes.

For example, sniffers and jammers are increasingly being used to thwart covert trackers used by trucking companies.

“Over the last year or two we’ve started to see the use of that technology primarily in the Southeast,” said Cornell.

Cyber-related methods are being used on the strategic side of cargo theft, he explained. Criminals may infiltrate databases to get details on future shipments so that they can intercept pickup information.

CargoNet and FreightWatch International compiled a list of noteworthy thefts from prior July 4th holiday weekends:

  • $2,000,000 of cell phones (Florida)
  • $1,300,000 of apparel and accessories (Tennessee)
  • $659,090 in cash and other valuables (Texas)
  • Fictitious Pickup of Produce (no value reported) (California)
  • Fictitious Pickup of Cash-in-Transit (no value reported) (Oklahoma)
  • Full Truckload of Cell Phones, $5,700,000 (Washington)

According to FreightWatch, covert GPS tracking and active monitoring of high-value shipments is recommended, since they offer the most effective way to “mitigate in-transit theft and facilitate successful recovery of stolen product.”

Cornell recommended that trucking companies have plans in place to monitor cargo during long weekends. He also advised companies to quickly respond and report any incidents to assist in the investigation and potential recovery of stolen cargo.

“The longer they have to hide cargo the less chance you’re going to have of getting it back,” Cornell said.

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