Cargo theft likely to spike over the next seven days

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Updated Nov 22, 2021

Black Friday takes on a whole new meaning for carriers victimized by cargo theft over the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Analyzing data over the past five Thanksgiving holidays – from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to the Monday – CargoNet discovered 137 recorded thefts (an average of 27 per year), and that Thanksgiving 2020 was the most active period in the analysis with 40 thefts recorded.

Cargo thieves targeted shipments of televisions, major appliances, mixed electronics and alcoholic beverages the most during the analysis period, pushing shipment value past $125,000.

Theft reports were most common in states that have cargo theft problems throughout the year, including California, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Florida.

CargoNet has been tracking heightened activity of full truckload thefts across the Southeast, Eastern Seaboard and Midwest, and evidence points to both planned theft by following desirable shipments from their origin and crimes of opportunity at truck stops along major trucking arteries in these regions. CargoNet considers desirable shipments to include pharmaceuticals, firearms and ammunition, consumer electronics, designer apparel, alcoholic beverages, metals and tires.

In the Southeast, container thefts have increased due to a cargo crime ring actively targeting the Savannah, Georgia-area, according to Keith Lewis, CargoNet's vice president of operations.

"It is important to point out these thefts are occurring near the port – mainly in carrier drop yards and not inside the port. Their method of operation has generally focused on imported refrigerated goods, such as shrimp and other types of shellfish," he said, adding that according to CargoNet's 2021 Q2 Cargo Theft Trend report, food and beverage represents over 30% of all thefts in the state of Georgia and leads all commodity groups in the state. 

Although there has been an increase of thefts in the Savannah area, data for the state of Georgia indicates a slight decrease in Q1 and Q2 of this year. The decrease was aided by an increase of local law enforcement activity such as increased patrolling in the container yard areas and off-port carriers bolstering their security efforts.

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Georgia previously had a state-wide, leading-edge frontline cargo theft task force, Lewis said, "but with the retirement of the task force unit's head – Special Agent in Charge – and formerly the unit's best advocate, the cargo theft task force was disbanded three years ago due to lack of support from state government."

CargoNet has also noted the increased targeting of computer electronics shipments across Southern California, Central California and the Bay Area. Almost all recorded thefts were of shipments that were stolen after the trucker departed a warehouse in Southern California or the Bay Area. Activity appears to have peaked in June 2021, but the agency still considers theft risk to be high.

"The uptick in computer and electronic thefts is mostly due to cargo pilferages where they are opting to target pallets of high-value products loaded in the center of the carrier's trailer," Lewis said. "In certain cases, it is believed some of these instances have been assisted due to insider information, possibly bad actors or disgruntled employees."

According to the data CargoNet has collected, pilfered thefts from this specific crew of electronics shipping out of California account for an estimated $10 million in stolen cargo year-to-date. 

"One of the challenges is that the carriers (insiders) are often involved in the theft and the carrier does not file a police report. This results in untimely delays and incomplete information such as the theft location, which is a key component of the investigation and paramount for the recovery efforts," Lewis said. "When and if a report is filed, it becomes extremely difficult to investigate and obtain law enforcement support. Having the theft location provides an opportunity to identify the appropriate reporting agency. "

In addition to driver shortages, California's restrictions on older power units and ongoing independent contractor issues, and a lack of containers and/or container chassis, "we see a backlog of loaded container trailers sitting near the port area," Lewis added. "This gives cargo thieves the opportunity to shop for electronics to steal, and June is the perfect time of year for that as shippers' inventory moves through the ports as they prepare for the holiday shopping season."

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]