Thieves Prefer to Steal Food Cargo, Target Trucks Over Warehouses

February 06, 2019 by Cyndia Zwahlen

Trucks in transit are the prime target for cargo thieves, with food and beverage cargo logging the highest rates of theft, according to an industry report.

Nuts, pet food and beer are common targets in the U.S. because the products are typically untraceable and easy to fence.

A single truckload of food or drinks may not have the dollar value of a load of smartphones or medicine, but it is still a favorite target because it’s easy to sell and much harder to trace. There are usually no serial numbers on food, cargo-theft prevention experts told Trucks.com.

“That stuff can be sold quite easily plus you are not on the radar as much targeting food and beverage as you are when targeting electronics or pharmaceuticals,” said Bob Hastings, president of the Southeastern Transportation Security Council and a veteran cargo-theft investigator.

Top targets

Worldwide, three out of four cargo thefts happen while the goods are being shipped in a truck, according to a report by BSI Supply Chain Services and Solutions.

Food and beverages have the highest heist rate worldwide, accounting for 27 percent of all cargo theft incidents, the London-based group said in a study of cargo theft covering the first half of 2018.

Cargo theft continues to be a multibillion-dollar hit to the global economy, despite growing efforts by industry and law enforcement to deter modern-day road pirates. Just how much money is involved is hard to pinpoint because many thefts go unreported. BSI’s data showed an average of 11 incidents a day worldwide in the first six months of 2018. In North America the median theft value was $56,666. South America had the highest median theft value at $77,940, according to the report.

When demand is high …

Food shortages can increase thefts of a food that is in demand.

For example, when global demand outstripped the supply of California-grown nuts a couple of years ago, a lowly cargo of nuts suddenly became worthy of a thief’s attention. In the first half of 2015, nut theft hit an all-time high as shippers lost almost $5 million worth of produce in 31 recorded heists, according to CargoNet, a national group of trucking and law enforcement officials.

Theft of post-harvest nuts on their way to roasters or exporters remains a problem, California law enforcement officials said.

“How are you to track individual nuts?” said Sgt. Shawna Pacheco, a supervisor in the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Investigative Services unit and a member of its Cargo Theft Interdiction Program.

“When those nuts get transported to a warehouse where they are processed — some are legal and some are stolen – but all are crushed and bagged, so good luck telling the difference,” she said.

Beer, dog food

Recent truckload thefts in the Southeast included a full load of Anheuser-Busch beer and a trailer of Rachel Ray dog food, said Hastings.

“The beer theft was actually from an unsecured lot; the gate was left wide open,” he said. “The dog food was stolen from one of the distribution locations where this stuff is made.”

Like most consumable commodities, the beer and dog food easily can be sold on the black market, experts said.

“With dog food they can go to the swap meet or little mom-and-pop shops,” said Pacheco. “We’ve even seen it being sold on eBay and Craigslist and some of the online outfits.”

Vulnerable link

Trucks are the vulnerable link in the global cargo chain, according to the industry report. Most cargo moves by truck at some point. And the vehicles are often left unattended or unsecured before or after a delivery.

Cargo theft itself is not considered a criminal offense, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which tracks cargo theft incidents.

To be counted as a cargo theft-related offense and included in the agency’s statistics, the cargo theft incident has to include at least one of 13 specific criminal offenses, which the agency spells out in its cargo theft reporting manual. They include robbery, motor vehicle theft, burglary with breaking and entering, and fraud offenses such as false pretenses, impersonation, bribery, wire fraud, embezzlement and bribery.

The agency was required by Congress to track cargo theft incidents because lawmakers feared theft proceeds were being used to support terrorism.

Some states are going a step further and trying to make cargo theft a separate crime with its own penalties.

In January, a Mississippi lawmaker again introduced a bill that would make cargo theft a separate crime, regardless of the manner in which the cargo or vehicle is taken, with financial penalties and prison time. If the stolen goods are worth from $10,000 to $1 million, for example, the fine would be at least $50,000 and up to $1 million. And a thief would get five to 10 years in prison.

Trucking companies, truck drivers and the rest of the cargo chain stung by persistent losses from theft would likely savor that outcome.

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