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Research & Surveys

Under the Microscope: Cargo Theft


RaeAnn Slaybaugh

July/August 2009, eSide Supply Management Vol. 2, No. 4

A 2009 Report Details What Thieves Are Taking, When and From Where

A 2008 study based on incident information provided by 1,500 users representing nearly 600 different companies across 42 states details the highest-theft locations, busiest days of the week for thieves and more. LoJack Supply Chain Integrity (SCI) collected and analyzed data from member companies of the Supply Chain Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a government-sanctioned agency formed to minimize threats related to cargo theft, terrorism, natural disasters and other illegal and disruptive activities.

"Especially in today's economic climate, companies cannot afford to pay the exorbitant price tag involved with having their cargo stolen," says LoJack SCI CEO Robert Furtado. Particularly problematic, he says, are the loss of the actual value of the goods, as well as business downtime, loss of opportunities to market and sell seasonal goods, and total product sales loss.

The Where

Between January and December 2008, a total of 299 cargo theft incidents occurred at truck stops, parking lots (including drop yards), facilities, warehouses, store locations, vehicles parked on the street, airports, casinos, ports and hotels. Based on the data collected, 10 states had the highest number of incidents, respectively: Texas (68), Georgia (53), Tennessee (18), California (16), Florida (16), Ohio (10), Arkansas (9), New Jersey (9), Alabama (8) and North Carolina (8).

When asked if any common denominators were evident among these high-theft states, Furtado says LoJack SCI was able to distinguish certain organized crime groups and identify the methods of operations they use when targeting high-value shipments from full truckload carriers and burglaries from high-value storage warehouses. "For example, we've seen a pattern of thefts that have occurred around the country [wherein] the stolen trailers — and sometimes part of their loads — are later found in south Florida," he explains.

Beyond this, the companies surveyed cited several common cargo-theft locations: truck stops (83), parking lots, including drop yards (67), facilities (40), parked on the street (28), warehouses (21), store locations (16) and airports, casinos, ports and hotels (11). While some of 299 thefts reported did not include location details, the report authors say it is likely the same dispersal of locations would apply.

The When

Not surprisingly, the most incidents of cargo theft (168) occurred on weekends — Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise, Monday (46) was an especially high-theft day, followed by Thursday (40), Tuesday (39), Wednesday (37) and Friday (23).

Days of Theft Incidents Graph.

"Freight at rest is freight at risk," Furtado warns. "Unmanned truck terminals, warehouses and unattended rigs or dropped trailers in unsecure areas are much more vulnerable to criminal activity. These scenarios occur far more often on weekend days."

The What

Of course, which goods are being stolen most often is of equal interest to supply management professionals. In this respect, a depressed economy probably plays a role: food (13 percent), pharmaceuticals/medical supplies (12 percent) and building supplies (12 percent) — especially scrap metal — topped the list.

"The unusually high percentage of building supplies thefts may be due in part to the rise in copper prices and the lack of oversight on the origins of scrap materials," explains LoJack spokesperson Paul McMahon. "Recently enacted laws addressing ownership of materials for recyclers may help to reduce this current theft trend."

Also surprising was the fact that music, movies and software represented only 1 percent of the theft incidents reported. LoJack's Robert Furtado suspects that while food and drugs are always essential targets for thieves, they are especially appealing in a depressed economy. "That may explain why ‘nice-to-have' items like music, movies and software came in [so low]," he says.

3 Prevention Tips

In an effort to stop cargo theft before it starts, the report offers three strategies to preserve supply chain integrity and protect equipment and businesses from this costly problem.

Use Deterrents: Padlock

1. Arm yourself (and your team) with information. According to the report, the first step is to know and share valuable information with the supply management team — in particular, the methods organized criminals are using, the areas they are targeting most often and which products are highest in demand.

To expand knowledge in these areas, they suggest participating in industry regional supply chain security councils, networking at law enforcement/cargo theft task force functions, and joining and participating in National Transportation Security organizations.

2. Have a plan in place. A strategic plan to safeguard cargo throughout the supply chain is integral. If a supply chain security operation does not exist, the report offers a handful of steps to build one:

  • Review high-value shipper security requirements and government compliance guidelines.
  • Develop corporate supply chain security guidelines. Draft a written security plan.
  • Contact your insurance carrier about any resources it might have to assist you in developing your company's supply chain security strategy.
  • Evaluate and regularly audit your transportation partners to ensure they are following proper supply chain security guidelines. Conduct a driver screening process to reduce incidents of "inside jobs."
  • Establish contractual security requirements for supply chain partners. Implement the plan with those partners.

3. Use deterrents. The report suggests a layered approach to cargo theft protection, including making sure your trucks have immobilization devices — wheel locks, fuel shut-offs, air cuff locks, ignition locks and stolen vehicle recovery systems. "That way, your drivers can leave their cargoes if necessary," it states.

Battery-disconnect switches, covert cargo tracking, monitoring and recovery systems are also options.

Moving Forward

The 2008 LoJack SCI Cargo Theft Study represents the first full year that LoJack SCI has tracked such data. However, the authors say they will continue to issue the report annually to provide the industry with valuable statistics and trend information.

"The reaction from many members of the industry has been great," Furtado says. For example, he cites the Transportation Security Professionals, which has been seeking quantification of incidents, as well as a way to share information about incidents, so that the industry could understand the who, what, where, when and why of cargo theft. "This report — along with other industry information — starts to answer those questions," he says. "It also provides an overall picture of the problem, which can be used to assist in prevention and industry protection."

Looking forward to next year's study, Furtado says the information collected from the first quarter of 2009 already indicates an increase in reporting and collection of data. "But, those in the industry who are receiving this information and participating in their regional councils are starting to see the benefit of information sharing," he adds. "They're seeing the way it assists in the public/private partnership between industry and the law enforcement groups who work on these issues."

RaeAnn Slaybaugh is a writer for the Institute for supply Management™. To contact this author, please send an e-mail to

For more research and survey findings, visit the ISM articles database.

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