What Is Cargo Theft and How to Prevent It

Cargo theft is on the rise, particularly with the increase in online shopping. But what is it and how can you combat it?

Last Updated:
January 24, 2024
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min Read
Noelle Baldwin
Marketing Content Manager
LiveView Technologies

In the Italian Job (the 2003 movie that actually has a plot line, not the 1969 version that is a waste of time), Charlie and his crew steal around $30 million in gold from a former crew member after dropping an armored truck through the street and into an abandoned subway tunnel. While they used some extravagant measures including hacking into the traffic lights, souping up some sweet mini coopers, and the whole blowing up a street to capture an entire armored truck, the climatic heist is actually just an illustration of cargo theft.

The FBI defines cargo theft as:

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.

Cargo theft is typically committed by organized retail crime (ORC) gangs. While they aren’t driving enhanced mini coopers through the subway, they are extremely clever and daring. Some thefts are subtle and only remove small quantities that go unnoticed, while others involve hijackings and the theft of entire truckloads. Last year, 870 cargo thefts were recorded in the United States with an average value of $166,854 lost. That’s a total of more than $145 million lost to cargo theft.

Cargo theft can happen anywhere along the shipping process. Here are some of the most common methods:

  • Leakage operations—Thieves take part of the shipment instead of the entire truckload, making the thefts hard to detect.
  • Fictitious pickup—Thieves pretend to be legitimate drivers and steal entire loads from shipping facilities.
  • Hijackings—Criminals will take the whole truck, normally when the driver isn’t in the vehicle.
  • Coerced stops—Criminals will get the driver’s attention and persuade them to make an unplanned stop, often by signaling that something is wrong with their load. Once the driver pulls over, they will steal the truck.
  • Grab and run—Sometimes thieves will simply follow the truck and wait for it to stop. Then when no one is looking, they will break into the trailer, grab as much merchandise as they can, and run.
  • Burglaries—This normally happens at trucking yards. Thieves break into the containers to steal the desired merchandise.
  • Terminal robberies—Similar to straight burglaries, this type happens at trucking yards but instead of breaking into the containers, thieves steal the entire rig.
  • Employee involvement—Drivers, dock workers, security personnel, and more can be the inside man for cargo thieves. They will leave doors or trucks unlocked, relay shipping schedules, or identify what cargo is in which trailers so thieves have easy access to the merchandise.

Cargo theft happens when the merchandise is at rest, normally at stops along the way to distribution centers, warehouses, or retail locations. Because of that, certain security measures can be taken to help prevent it and deter criminals.

Cargo theft prevention

Cargo theft is hard to combat because thieves are creative and find loopholes or ways to circumvent most security measures. However, there are some simple precautions that can help. The first step is to be careful who you hire and run background checks. Next, add a seal or lock to the trailers. While this simple deterrent can be cut or broken, it will remove some easy opportunities for criminals.

Another way is to train drivers where and how to park their rigs. Watch which areas are crime hot spots and have the drivers avoid them. Also instruct drivers to park in populated areas at rest stops. Having multiple eyes on the rig will help protect the cargo.

Set Up LVT cameras

Loaded shipping trailers or containers are targets even when they are parked at a warehouse, distribution center, or trucking yard. Often the trailers have less security than the actual warehouse, making it easier for thieves to break in.

Mobile surveillance cameras from LiveView Technologies (LVT) can quickly add security to any shipping facility. Our mobile units can be set up in minutes and are easy to configure. Furthermore, they are completely self-sufficient and do not require wired connections to power or Wi-Fi.

Each unit can be equipped with multiple deterrents, including different types of cameras, lights, and audio. For example, a unit can have thermal cameras so thieves won’t be able to hide behind obstacles in your yard. Features like bounding boxes and instant alerts help you know the instant someone unwelcome enters your property.

We can help protect your warehouse and trucks from damage and theft this holiday season. Watch this video to learn more about our product and contact us to request a free demo.

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