Cargo Theft Costs $10 Billion per Year

Cargo Theft Costs $10 Billion per Year

Companies that outsource production and turn warehouse and distribution functions over to wholesalers may reduce operating expenses, but they are also making it easier for cargo thieves to invade their supply chains.

"They are outsourcing everything, and they're losing control of their supply chain," said Chuck Forsaith, director of corporate security at Purdue Pharma Technologies, in an address to the annual meeting of the Transportation & Logistics Council in San Diego.

Manufacturers and distributors of high-value products such as pharmaceuticals can no longer enforce basic security measures like performing background checks on job applicants and requiring two-driver teams the further removed they become from the supply chain, Forsaith said.

Cargo theft in the United States is a big business, totaling as much as $10 billion a year. The average net gain for cargo theft is $200,000 per incident, compared to $150,000 for robbing an armored car and less than $10,000 for a bank robbery.

Many cargo thieves are non-confrontational because they make off with a tractor-trailer when the driver parks at a truck stop or overnight at a motel. Since no weapon is used in the crime, the liability faced by the thieves is significantly less if they are caught compared to being arrested for an armed robbery.

Theft rings often involve teams of "stealers" that actually perform the heist. They turn the load over to drivers, although they will follow the drivers in cars from state to state and then take over the rig for the delivery so the stealers don't learn where the operation is based. Forsaith said this scenario is favored by Florida-based thieves who specialize in pharmaceuticals.

Theft rings can be highly sophisticated. They will perform aerial searches of warehouses over the internet and maintain extensive surveillance of facilities and drivers before they strike. Stealing a tractor-trailer takes only a few minutes.

Motor carriers that haul high-value products should always use driver teams, with all drivers undergoing thorough background checks, Forsaith said. Most cargo thefts occur in the first 200 miles of the trip, so no stops should be made during that period.

Since most cargo thieves will not attempt to overpower a driver, one driver should always stand by the tractor when the other driver leaves to purchase food or use the restroom. The use of GPS devices for trucks is a good protection measure.

Warehouses should be expertly secured. Placing motion detectors close to the ceiling will trick thieves that cut through the roof because they know that warehouse operators almost never mount the detectors that high. Warehouse operators should not leave thieves the tools of the trade that they will need to complete the job, such as cutting equipment or forklifts with keys in the ignition.

Weekends are the favorite time for thieves to attack warehouses. Forsaith cited one major heist where the thieves worked uninterrupted from Friday night to Sunday. They ordered their food out and had enough time to fill four trailers with merchandise.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at