On the Rise: Cargo Theft, a Billion Dollar Industry

On September 29th, the NICB hosted its 15th annual Cargo Theft Summit. As millions of Americans do their part to limit the spread of the virus, the transportation industry continues transporting food, drugs, and other necessary items across the country. However, thieves looking to steal these items haven’t heeded stay-at-home policies.   

Conducted as a webinar this year due to COVID-19, approximately 500 law enforcement, trucking, and insurance professionals attended the summit listening to presentations from invited speakers. Registration was restricted in 2020 because of the overwhelming response to the program and the need to combat cargo theft. 
Tim Slater, Senior Vice President, Chief Operating Officer from the NICB, welcomed participants to the program. Speakers included Bob Hastings, President of the Southeast Transportation Security Council, Michael Gibbs and Thomas Walters, both of the Memphis Cargo Theft Task Force, Memphis Police Department, Bobby Motley, Kentucky State Police, and Chuck Forsaith, Vice President of Healthcare Distribution Alliance. 

“Both with the FBI and now with the NICB, I’ve learned the importance of building and maintaining public and private relationships,” said Tim Slater. “Pooling our resources allows us to become more successful, and this webinar is an example of how important these relationships are.” 

Cargo theft in the United States is a $15 to $35 billion industry. Depending on what’s inside the truck, thieves can walk away with thousands to millions of dollars.  

Cargo Theft Blog

According the FBI, cargo theft is the “criminal taking of any cargo including, but not limited to, goods, chattels, money, or baggage that constitutes, in whole or in part, a commercial shipment of freight moving in commerce, from any pipeline system, railroad car, motor truck, or other vehicle, or from any tank or storage facility, station house, platform, or depot, or from any vessel or wharf, or from any aircraft, air terminal, airport, aircraft terminal or air navigation facility, or from any intermodal container, intermodal chassis, trailer, container freight station, warehouse, freight distribution facility, or freight consolidation facility. For purposes of this definition, cargo shall be deemed as moving in commerce at all points between the point of origin and the final destination, regardless of any temporary stop while awaiting transshipment or otherwise.” 

Since the Labor Day weekend, panelists noted an uptick in thefts, with some recoveries even taking place while those involved in the theft were in the process of unloading the cargo. 

Unfortunately, the problem with cargo theft today has been greatly impacted by the effects of COVID-19. During the ongoing lockdowns, presenters noted thieves are still working the way they always have, however law enforcement has had to change the way it works in consideration of coronavirus.  

The problem with cargo theft isn’t necessarily the amount of what is stolen, but what is stolen. Common targets include food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals. As a result, consumers could be getting expired food or drugs, both with potentially terminal impacts.  

Brand integrity is vitally important to shippers and should be to consumers as well. From a safety standpoint, consumers should be able to trust that what they consume is indeed safe to do so.  

To limit the impact of such theft, the NICB recommends a layered approach: 

  1. Screen all employees, including drivers, warehouse employees, and those with access to shipping information. 
  2. Train employees making certain to educate truck drivers in hijack awareness and prevention. Training safeguards the employee, trailer, tractor, cargo, and customers.   
  3. Be smart in selecting transportation partners, making certain they share your security philosophy.  
  4. Implement in-transit security measures. Cargo theft can be pre-planned or opportunistic.  
  5. Keep a vigilant eye. Include countersurveillance in the duties of your security guards. Trucks and cargo are most vulnerable to theft when sitting idle.  
  6. Take advantage of technology, installing alarm surveillance systems and responding to all alerts. Ensure the perimeter, entrances, building doors, and windows are well lit. Vehicle and cargo tracking, immobilizers, and advanced security seals are available.  
  7. Conduct audits of the supply chain and look for gaps in shipment protection.

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800.TEL.NICB (800.835.6422) or submitting a form on our website.

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: Headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., the NICB is the nation's leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to combatting and preventing insurance crime through Intelligence, Analytics, and Operations; Education and Crime Prevention; and Strategy, Policy, and Advocacy. The NICB is supported by more than 1,200 property-casualty insurers, self-insureds, rental car, vehicle finance, and auto auctions. To learn more, visit www.nicb.org.