If there’s one thing that couldn’t be more precious to both shipper and carrier, it’s the cargo being carried. We’re going to give you a scenario that could happen to anyone; a scenario that you must be constantly on the lookout for:
It’s a late Saturday night and there’s a powerful storm with heavy winds heading up the coast. Docked into the bay is a trailer. It’s sitting at an out-of-the-way warehouse far from the freeway. The thing is, this trailer isn’t supposed to be there.
As the storm outside provides a welcome diversion, a crew of thieves breaks into the facility. They’re about to score $2 million worth of electronics. All of this is done before the thieves are even detected, whether it be by the facility security or any triggered alarm systems.
They did it by being experts at what they do, perhaps members of a criminal gang – one of many who targets shippers, carriers and receivers. They waited, conducting day’s-worth of surveillance and figured out just what alarm systems the facility was utilizing. Finally, they were fully prepared to unload and move the freight themselves.
With the storm lashing against the facility, the thieves used the cover of the storm to slip past the security guards and backed into the dock. With a ladder stashed earlier in a back-parking lot, they managed to find their way onto the roof, where they cut a hole and dropped down into the building.
Once inside, they disabled the alarm system. To any remote security company monitoring the system, it would have seemed as though the storm knocked out the power, which would have then knocked out the cameras.
With no one having any clue what was going on, the thieves loaded up their trailer and pulled off. They were gone, into the night. It wasn’t until the following morning that the warehouse employees returned to find the hole in the roof, tools the thieves had left behind, and a beeping alarm system.
The fact is, this isn’t an uncommon scenario. In 2010, a similar story could be told from a warehouse in Enfield, Connecticut, where a group called the “Cuban Mob” completed a heist in a very similar fashion, but with a much higher price tag: over $60 million in pharmaceuticals.
According to the FBI special agent in charge of investigating that heist, the thieves knew exactly how many pallets they needed and loaded the right amount of product into the trailer. The numbers were far too precise for there to not have been an intense amount of planning leading up to the event.
A Higher Level of Sophistication
When it comes to keeping thieves at bay, the question is not how to catch a thief, but how to thwart a thief. Fleets must keep in mind that in many cases these are career criminals who are absolute professionals. They know how to stay one step ahead and how to adapt to changing conditions on the ground.
They also know who to target, and which items sell in which markets. Selling it fast and moving it quickly is what they do. If it gets too hot to grab a particular type of cargo, they’ll move on to something else, for instance.
Still, there is one relatively stable trend that can always be counted on to remain unchanged, and that’s where the hot spots are. Year-over-year, they never seem to change.
And while cargo theft hasn’t necessarily gotten worse, what law enforcement, shippers and receivers alike have seen is a far higher level of sophistication on the part of the thieves. A couple of decades ago, cargo theft was a matter of opportunity, today it has turned into a highly-sophisticated market unto itself.
Today, the groups of thieves are larger and they know just what to target. Generally, a well-prepared criminal group will know what is on the trailer or in the warehouse before they even make their strike. Still, that doesn’t mean trucking companies and law enforcement aren’t without tools of their own, tools that are getting much more sophisticated themselves.
When it comes to ensuring cargo safety, the motto shouldn’t be “to catch a thief,” it should be “to thwart a thief.” Motor carriers today can buy technology to help thwart thieves. Still, policies must be firmly in place to protect the load. It’s not just about technology, but also truck driver education regarding where to stop and not stop, where to drop loads and where to not drop loads.
Knowing Your Market and Assessing the Thread
First, it’s vital that motor carriers know the market they are working in. Cargo thieves are drawn to high-value or what is referred to as “quick-to-fence” freight. This type of freight consists of items that are in high demand.
In 2015, according to FBI statistics, the total tally of cargo taken by type and value in 2015 shows that the most appealing items consist of computer hardware and software – no surprise there. Following up computer equipment is portable electronic communications and consumable goods such as food and beverage.
If you are a motor carrier operating in a high-risk market, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around you and to ensure your staff is fully prepared. One way to do this is to consult the cargo-theft prevention and recovery firm CargoNet. By keeping an eye on where the hot spots are, you are less likely to find yourself at the wrong end of an attack on your operation.
In most cases, cargo thieves get away with their loot by targeting trailers and containers that are stationary. While cyberattacks grab everyone’s attention, over two-thirds of in-transit thefts involve snatching goods from off unattended trailers.
Another area to be on the lookout for is what are termed as fictitious pickups, which involve thieves posing as legitimate trucking operators. They’ll even go so far as to use fake documentation to set up trucking companies that don’t exist, even if – on paper – it looks as though they do.
In many cases, they will use online load boards to secure existing cargo bids, then show up with fake documents. The shipper hands over the load, and the theft is complete. Unfortunately, the internet has opened new avenues for thieves to practice their trade.
From Inside Jobs to Signal Interference and Cyberattacks
Another threat to watch out for are actually inside jobs. While many companies would hate to think that their employees may be colluding with the bad guys, collusion is a real problem.
Remember that your cargo security is tied to how secure your company data is. With the idea of a big payout on the other end, if you aren’t keeping your employees happy, your cargo could be at risk. And while collusion is still relatively small compared to other types of cargo theft, the true number of these types of events may never be known considering it is so hard to detect.
Also consider that if your data is at risk, so is your cargo. It doesn’t always take collusion to get inside access. Major cyberattacks are nothing new, and they can easily hit your company. If your data is compromised, so too could be your cargo.
Just recently a huge, world-wide cyberattack crippled companies and organizations across the globe. If your data falls into the wrong hands, cargo thieves will know exactly where and when to target you.
Other sophisticated threats to keep an eye out for include signal-interference devices and other high-tech electronics that interfere with a vehicle’s telematics system. In some places, thieves have even 3D-printed replacement cargo seals.
Keep it Moving, Partner Up Wisely and Train Properly
In any situation, cargo is most at risk when it is stationary. When it’s not moving, it puts a gleam in the eye of thieves. Not only must you keep close tabs on your cargo when it isn’t moving, but you should keep it moving as much as possible.
Pay close attention to who you are doing business with and choose transportation planners and intermediaries with solid reputations, businesses that share your focus on cargo security. Ensure you are doing a thorough pre-hire vetting, whether it be for a major company to partner up with or new truck driver.
Motor carriers should make sure their fleet truckers are educated on how to protect their cargo from theft or hijacking. One such example is ensuring your truck drivers aren’t stopping within the first 200 miles or four hours. This could mitigate loss when thieves are “casing” loaded vehicles.
Truck drivers should also limit the amount of time their cargo goes unattended and park in well-lit, secure areas. We were just talking about cargo-theft hot spots. Do your truck drivers know where such spots are in order to avoid them?
Whether you are protecting your cargo through adequate training, knowing where to go and not to go, or utilizing technology to keep the thieves at bay, your reputation is on the line, so make sure you always keep cargo security at the forefront of everything you do.