Most Cargo Theft Fell in 2018, But Small-Scale Pilferage Grew

February 15, 2019 by Cyndia Zwahlen

Cargo theft in the United States continued to decline in 2018, but the average value per theft stayed relatively flat, down just 2 percent, and the overall threat level remains high, according to an annual cargo-theft report released Thursday.

The trucking industry logged 592 incidents of cargo theft nationwide last year, a 19 percent decline compared with the prior year, according to SensiGuard Supply Chain Intelligence Center. That’s an average of about 50 cargo thefts per month. The average value of stolen property per incident was $142,342.

Half of all cargo theft occurred in three states: California, Texas and Florida. That share is driven by their large sea ports and heavy truck-cargo movement.

cargo theft hot spots

The states with the highest amount of cargo thefts are California, Texas and Florida. (Graphic: CargoNet)

Despite the decline in the number of thefts, the threat level in the U.S. remains at “high,” said the report. That is just one level below the riskiest category on SensiGuard’s five-point risk scale, the group said.

Threat likely to grow

“Organized cargo thieves in the United States still present a threat to highly targeted shipments,” said SensiGuard in the report. “The continued organization and evolution of their methods mean that the threat of cargo theft will grow in the United States.”

cargo theft by year, valueSensiGuard, which gathers cargo-theft data from member companies and law enforcement worldwide, bases its regional reports on reported cargo theft only. It does not reflect every cargo theft incident. Still, it is an accurate reflection of cargo-theft trends, industry experts said.

In the U.S., electronics topped the list of most stolen product types last year for the first time since 2009, according to SensiGuard’s report. Worldwide, food and beverage is the most stolen category of cargo, according to a recent report by a London-based research group.

In the U.S., there is a continued increase in thefts from mixed retail loads, or less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments, the report said.

Small thefts as research tool

And pilferage — which the reports says has been an atypical type of cargo theft — is growing. Criminals pilfer small quantities from a truck’s cargo to gather information for future thefts as well as to reduce the risk of selling the pilfered goods.

cargo theft by state

(Graphic: NetCargo)

“If I was going to be a bad guy would I want to go steal a whole truckload of dishwashing liquid or do I want to strategically steal two pallets of Apple laptops?” said Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at Jersey City, N.J.-based CargoNet, which also tracks cargo theft and will issue its own U.S. report early this year.

A full truckload of laptops will attract more negative attention from the shipper, the trucking company and law enforcement, he said. Before too long, the electronics’ serial numbers will be registered as stolen and start popping up on law enforcement websites.

“I would take a couple pallets because I would make a pretty good haul and be done with it,” Lewis said.

Pilferage thefts last year increased 18 percent over the prior year and grew 198 percent since 2014, according SensiGuard. Pilferage cargo-theft crimes now account for 18 percent of all cargo theft, the highest on record for SensiGuard for the second year in a row

More criminals are attracted to the lower-risk method, Lewis said.

‘Strategic pilferage’

“They are doing a strategic pilferage, where they are sitting outside of an electronics warehouse or trolling truck stops near big-box retailers,” he said. “They know the trucks coming in Sunday night bedding down at truck stops will have electronics in them, so they take a few items off this truck or that truck.”

atypical cargo theftMany trucking companies, especially midsize or small businesses, are still evolving when it comes to investing in security measures to thwart cargo theft, he said. Many still don’t want word to get out that they have lost all or part of a truck shipment to criminals. So they just swallow the loss and don’t report it.

SensiGuard and CargoNet are working to change that by trying to sign up more companies for their cargo theft-reporting networks. They work with law enforcement task forces and industry groups as well as insurance companies to track and battle cargo theft.

Here are other key highlights from SensiGuard’s 2018 U.S. cargo theft report:

  • The decline in cargo theft since 2014 is slowing.
  • Illinois saw a 72 percent increase in its cargo-theft rate in 2018 and ranked No. 4 nationwide, with 10 percent of all reported cargo thefts last year.
  • Personal-care cargo theft had the highest average value in 2018 – at $544,935 per theft.
  • Fictitious pickups account for 3 percent of all reported thefts but remain the most underreported mode, according to SensiGuard.
  • Theft of full truckloads accounts for 74 percent of all cargo theft, most often at unsecured parking locations.
  • Cargo thefts in Canada increased by 18 percent in 2018 compared with 2017.

Lewis of CargoNet said he doesn’t take much comfort in the overall lower cargo numbers reported in 018. Echoing the SensiGuard report, he said cargo- theft crime runs in cycles as thieves and their methods change.

‘A very tough business’

“Trucking is a very tough business, even if you do everything right,” he said. “A lot of these bad guys that these task forces have put in jail … in a year or two or three they will be back out. And they stick with what they know. So it goes up or down but never away.”

Read Next: Thieves Prefer to Steal Food Cargo, Target Trucks Over Warehouses

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