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High Risk for Cargo Theft Remains Despite 6% Drop in Heists

February 16, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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The darkest areas in the FreightWatch International "heat map" show the most concentrated areas of cargo thefts. Credit: FWI.
The darkest areas in the FreightWatch International "heat map" show the most concentrated areas of cargo thefts. Credit: FWI.

A new report shows both the number of recorded cargo thefts and the average value of the heists in the U.S. declined in 2015 from the year before.

The logistics security services provider FreightWatch International recorded 754 cargo thefts throughout the United States in 2015, while the average value of these thefts was $184,101. These numbers represent a 6% drop in volume and a 21% decrease in value when compared to 2014.

“Although the total number of incidents fell, the threat of cargo theft continues to grow in the United States due to increased organization and innovation on the part of cargo thieves, as they broaden their geographical areas of operation and improve their methods to avoid detection and capture,” FreightWatch said in its report.

With an average of 63 cargo thefts per month, the United States sustained cargo thefts at a rate of 2.1 per day in 2015 and is ranked at a high for cargo thefts on FreightWatch's risk scale, its next to highest threat level.

“Although less precipitous of a drop than the 12% seen from 2013 to 2014, the 6% drop is nonetheless a significant number that represents the overall tightening of the supply chain around the most valuable and desired products for cargo thieves,” said FreightWatch. “However, these criminals have repeatedly shown their ability to adapt to transportation security initiatives, and will continue to do so in order to maintain their income. Expect organized cargo criminals to continue to devise new ways to obtain their targeted freight.”

According to the report, since 2011, theft volumes have fluctuated slightly, never falling more than 4% from one year to the next, until 2014 recorded a 12% drop from the 2013 total theft volume. In 2015, this trend continued as theft volume fell by another 6%. There are several possible explanations.

“Thieves often redirect their focus to less than-full truckload shipments, meaning that no single victim’s losses in a full truckload theft event may be enough to justify a police report and insurance claim,” FreightWatch said. “Additionally, organized cargo criminals continue to adapt to the ever-changing world of logistics security, moving operations into areas with less law enforcement awareness of cargo theft, resulting in thefts that do not get reported through the typical industry channels due to misclassification of the crime.”

The report follows an earlier one from the cargo theft prevention and recovery service CargoNet, which said it logged more than 1,500 incidents of cargo theft, heavy commercial vehicle theft, and identity theft of trucking companies in the U.S. and Canada last year.

According to CargoNet, 881 of these incidents involved the theft of cargo, with just over half having a reported loss value, totaling $98 million.

CargoNet received a loss value on 53% of reported cargo thefts; $98 million in cargo was stolen in those 470 thefts. The average cargo theft loss value per incident was $187,490, close to the FreightWatch figure.

“If combined with the known loss value, we can estimate the value of stolen cargo in all 881 incidents to be $175,303,399,” CargoNet said, while noting it recorded 10 cargo thefts worth more than $1 million in 2015.

California reported the most cargo thefts of any state or province, according to CargoNet, with 158 theft incidents with a total loss value of $18.7 million. Texas was close behind with 130 recorded theft incidents and $12.2 million in cargo stolen. It was followed by Florida with 98 thefts, Georgia with 97 and New Jersey with 80 thefts.

In 2015, 49% of reported cargo theft incidents occurred between Friday and Sunday, said CargoNet. “Friday was the most common day for cargo theft, 21% of all cargo thefts occurred on Friday. Cargo theft also spiked briefly on Monday, 16% of all cargo theft incidents. We took a closer look at our data, and it seems cargo theft groups prefer to steal Monday evening into Tuesday morning more than Sunday night into Monday morning. Wednesday was the least common day. Only 9% of cargo thefts occurred on a Wednesday.”

Food and beverage items were again the most stolen commodity. Of the cargo theft incidents that CargoNet received, 28% involved theft of food and beverage cargo. This was significantly more than the next highest categories, electronics and household, each of which accounted for 13% of stolen items.

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