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  • Writer's pictureLaing Industries

5 Tactics Cargo Thieves Use and How to Help Prevent Them

Laing Truck & Trailer

Technology continues to transform cargo theft, as companies work to stay one step ahead of highly strategic cargo heists, from creating fraudulent companies to arranging for fictitious pickups. Being aware of current theft tactics can help companies more effectively protect their cargo and prevent interruptions to their supply chains.

“The thieves that commit cargo theft today are not like cargo thieves of less than five years ago,” said Kirk Rider, Director of Ocean Marine Risk Control at Travelers. “They are more likely to leverage technology to exploit very small gaps in even some of the best cargo theft prevention programs.”

While an overall tightening of the supply chain around high-value and desired products reportedly led to a 6 percent drop in cargo theft in 2015, the FreightWatch International Supply Chain Intelligence Center considers the threat in the United States to be on the rise, as cargo thieves continue to adapt to new security procedures.

Knowing the tactics that cargo thieves use can help businesses recognize their unique vulnerabilities and prevent potential cargo theft, according to Travelers Investigative Services Specialty Investigations Group (SIG).

Identity Theft

Just as cyber thieves are stealing identities online, cargo thieves are using technology to have greater insight into supply chains, as cargo gets passed from intermediary to intermediary. Cargo identity thieves may use a legitimate trucking carrier’s name to arrange to haul a specific load for a customer, and then disappear with the load. The thefts can be months in planning, with thieves involved throughout the contracting and load planning process.

Fictitious Pickups

Other cargo thieves take a more opportunistic approach. A legitimate carrier has agreed to transport the load. Cargo thieves briefly disguise themselves as the legitimate carrier to steal a desired load from a shipper. They may call ahead and say they will be early for the scheduled pickup, and then arrive at a pickup point hours ahead of when the actual carrier was due. After signing for the shipment, they leave with the stolen cargo before the legitimate carrier arrives.

Misdirected Loads

Some cargo thieves are actually setting up what appears to be a legitimate trucking operation, including contracting for insurance. After securing contracts to haul loads, and oftentimes hauling cargo several times without issue, they suddenly claim a mechanical failure during transit on a load targeted for theft to have an alibi. Meanwhile, a “thief” disappears with the stolen cargo while the truck is in the shop for repairs. These cargo thieves may even file a police report or an insurance claim to continue the impression that they were robbed.

Theft of Trailer/Container

Thieves will hijack unattended cargo trucks and trailers. In some cases they will hookup their own tractor units and drive away or steal entire units together. In many cases, they will drive these for a short distance and attach another tractor of their own to continue to a safe unloading and storage facility. Typically they prey on equipment at busy truck stops and large distribution facilities known to handle product they consider worthwhile stealing.

Hybrid Theft Scams

A trucking company that has relationships with thieves will bid on cargo outside of their areas of expertise. When the load is “stolen,” they claim to have had no involvement claiming their identity was compromised. In addition to being aware of cargo thieves’ strategies, Travelers SIG professionals emphasize the importance of the right relationships between carriers, shippers and third-party logistics providers. Working together, carriers and shippers can develop shared protocols around pickup procedures, including verifying the identity of drivers and equipment.


In order to help prevent cargo theft, shippers should conduct their due diligence on all third parties responsible for carrying their cargo, especially when dealing with a new company that has no track record or one that has been inactive for several years before becoming active again. Regular communication with law enforcement and anti-cargo theft task forces can also help companies stay aware of regional trends, hot spots and most recent methods of theft.

  • Know your threats, research where thefts are occurring and if these are near the routes your cargo may travel.

  • Enforce regular and consistent communication with dispatchers or home office.

  • Implement strict identification procedures that incorporate pre-notification of both the transportation company and name of driver, at a minimum.

  • Eliminate unnecessary stops, keep cargo moving—cargo at rest is cargo at risk.

  • Park in secure locations.

  • Use covert tracking devices.

  • Use high security locks to secure tractors and trailers while cargo is not moving.

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