US cargo thefts rise 7 percent; Memorial Day could see spike

US cargo thefts rise 7 percent; Memorial Day could see spike

Slow economy? Not for freight thieves, who literally made out like bandits in the first quarter. Cargo theft in the U.S. rose 7 percent year-over-year in the first three months of 2015 after falling in 2014, surpassing early estimates, according to CargoNet.

The cargo security service warned transport operators to be on guard against an expected surge in cargo crime over the Memorial Day Weekend, May 23-25. Over the past three years, CargoNet has seen an uptick in cargo thefts around the holiday.

In the first quarter, CargoNet previously predicted that freight theft in the U.S. would surpass 120 incidents. So far, the division of Verisk Crime Analytics has recorded 194 incidents, and that number is expected to rise because of delayed reporting.

According to the reports reviewed by CargoNet, cargo thieves stole more than $23 million worth of freight in the quarter, a $14 million increase from the first three months of 2014. The average loss value increased by $83,329 per theft, CargoNet said Friday.

Cargo thieves were busiest in California, where 30 theft losses were reported in the quarter, followed by Texas, with 27 incidents. Next came Georgia and New Jersey, with 24 cases apiece, and Florida, which had 20. The most common cargo-crime location were warehouses and distribution centers, which accounted for 23 percent of all losses.

Crime occurred on the road as well, with 16 percent of losses occurring at truck stops, 10 percent in parking lots and another 10 percent in unsecured yards, CargoNet said.

The largest number of losses, 33 percent, involved food and beverages, which can be easily and quickly resold. The highest value losses, however, were electronics, totalling $8.19 million in the first quarter. Electronics accounted for 13 percent of total thefts.

The number of incidents and the value of theft losses rose n the first quarter after dropping in 2014 and each year since 2011. CargoNet said it saw 844 incidents reported on its network last year, valued at roughly $90 million, down from 1,090 in 2013 and an average of 1,134 annually since 2010. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates total U.S. cargo theft at $15 to $30 billion annually, but many incidents go unreported.

As CargoNet data show, thefts tend to occur in states with major import and distribution complexes: California, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey and Florida. Texas and several other states have pending legislation that would make cargo theft a less appealing crime.

Old-fashioned cargo theft, physically breaking into a trailer, container or warehouse, has declined, but that’s because thieves are getting more tech-savvy. “Fictitious pickups” in which a criminal steals a carrier’s identity as well as its freight are increasingly popular.

Fictitious pickups accounted for 12 percent of all cargo theft losses in the last quarter, and 79 percent occurred in the eastern U.S. Half of fictitious pickup losses occurred on Thursdays, 30 percent occurred on Fridays, CargoNet said.

From 2011 through 2013, cargo theft by fictitious pickup spiked 70 percent, climbing from 59 reported incidents to 101 losses. "We’re moving from straight-out cargo theft and pilferage to cyber crime," Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at CargoNet, said at the Transportation and Logistics Council annual meeting last year. "That’s the next generation, and what we’ll be dealing with over the next 10 years.”

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc