Cargo theft incidents increased 8.4 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, according to the 2011 US Cargo Theft Report published last week by FreightWatch International. The 974 cargo thefts recorded last year was the highest on record.

Here are some interesting statistics from the report:

  • Almost 88 percent of the cargo thefts were full truckload or container thefts.
  • Food/Drinks was the most targeted product type for the second year in a row.
  • Cargo theft incidents targeting the Electronics sector continued to decline, accounting for 17 percent of thefts in 2011, down from 38 percent in 2006. Electronics, however, had the highest average value per incident in 2011 ($998,000).
  • Thefts of Pharmaceutical products decreased in 2011, and so did the average value per incident ($585,000 in 2011, down from $3.8 million in 2010).
  • The top six states for cargo theft in 2011 were California, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia and Illinois; these six states accounted for 75 percent of all recorded incidents.
  • About 85 percent of all recorded thefts targeted loaded trailers and containers that were stationary and left unattended in unsecured parking areas, such as truck stops, public parking, drop lots, and facility lots.

There was another statistic that caught my attention: the continued rise in deceptive pickups (29 incidents in 2011, up from 24 in 2010). I wrote about such an incident last May in “Stolen Tomatoes Raise Serious Transportation Questions.” As the FreightWatch report states, “This [trend] is just one example of organized criminal gangs’ effective use of ambiguity in the supply chain process to obtain product — and in this case have the victims literally hand over the cargo to them.”

So, what can you do to prevent cargo theft — or at least minimize the risk? Listen to what the statistics above are telling you:

  1. Keep the cargo moving. The longer a loaded trailer or container sits unattended, the higher the risk for theft. You should define limits on how long a loaded trailer or container can remain unattended under different circumstances. And you should collect data on where (and for how long) loaded trailers/containers sit along your supply chain to understand where you face the greatest risk for cargo theft. Just like you should “staple yourself to an order,” you should “strap yourself to a trailer” to find the inefficiencies in your transportation and delivery/receiving processes.
  2. Focus on the “hot spots” and “hot times.” As noted earlier, cargo theft is highly concentrated in just six states, and if you drill down further, in certain cities, neighborhoods, and truck stops and other parking areas. Also, thefts occur more frequently on weekends (especially Saturdays) and they spike during holiday periods. So, focus your security efforts in the places and times they are most likely to occur.
  3. Know who you are working with. Having your cargo stolen from an unattended lot is one thing, but getting deceived by a thief in broad daylight because you didn’t perform proper due diligence is simply inexcusable. Thieves are getting more creative and sophisticated, as the stolen tomatoes incident illustrates. This means you must have a robust carrier qualification process and follow it consistently. The same is true for the brokers you work with and the employees you hire. Trust, but verify.

Of course, there are many more actions you can take, including properly training drivers and other personnel on theft prevention, but these three simple steps (which are obvious, but not always practiced) go a long way.

Finally, kudos to FreightWatch for going beyond the printed report and mashing its cargo theft data with Web 2.0 technology to create an interactive map that allows users to interact with the data (click on the screenshot below to access).

Screenshot of FreightWatch International Interactive Cargo Theft Map

Simply put, putting cargo theft data in a geographic context provides theft prevention professionals with greater insights than a written report.

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