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Cargo thefts spiked 68% in Q4, led by food and beverage freight
Security experts see strategic cargo thefts soaring across US
Cargo

When trade operator Mary Sandoval recently sent a truck to pick up a load of avocados from a warehouse in Laredo, Texas, she was appalled when the load and tractor-trailer vanished without a trace almost immediately after leaving the facility.

“The truck showed up to the warehouse, gave the warehouse the load pick up number and then drove off and disappeared,” Sandoval said. “We never heard from them, and don’t know where the avocados went.”

Sandoval, whose name has been changed for this story, spoke to FreightWaves on condition of anonymity. It’s the second time Sandoval’s Texas-based logistics brokerage has been the target of strategic cargo thieves over the past year, leaving the company with over $200,000 in damages that they had to pay out of pocket.

“Cargo theft is everywhere, but not enough people are doing anything about it,” Sandoval said. “I spoke to a woman who has a company in McAllen, Texas, that’s had six loads stolen in one year. She said she can’t pay for any of the lost loads and is afraid she’ll have to shut down.”

 

Cargo thefts surge 68% in fourth-quarter of 2023

Cargo thefts surged 68% year over year (y/y) in the fourth-quarter of 2023 compared with 2022, according to CargoNet, a subsidiary of data analytics firm Verisk. During the third quarter of 2023, cargo thefts were up 57% y/y compared to the same year-ago period.

“The trends tell us that cargo theft is currently at a 10-year high,” Scott Cornell, transportation lead and crime and theft specialist at Travelers, told FreightWaves. “So far, the numbers for the beginning of 2024 are projecting that 2024 will have higher theft numbers than 2023, which had higher numbers than 2022.”

Cornell said they are seeing higher incidences of strategic cargo theft, which involves fraudsters using stolen motor carrier operating authorities or logistics broker identities to obtain freight and misdirect it from the intended receiver in order to steal it.

“Strategic theft is when they use various means to trick you into giving them the freight and that’s through methods like identity theft, fictitious pickups, double brokering scams, those methods are where we’re seeing the biggest increase in cargo thefts over the last 18 months,” Cornell said. 

 

“Some of the group’s members escaped and essentially formed splinter cells and have set up shop all over the country,” Ramon said. “They created a network of fraudulent carrier identities across the country that they’re now using for double loading, and gathering intelligence on the shipping and receiving procedures for various well-known distribution centers and origin points to commit strategic thefts and illicit double loading.”

Ramon said in the case of Sandoval’s avocados that were stolen from the Laredo warehouse, the thieves likely sold them locally.

“When we see cargo thefts along the U.S. side of the border, it’s traditionally things that don’t usually travel north of those locations, these are things that can be liquidated easily locally,” Ramon said. “We see a lot of theft of alcoholic beverages in these areas. I used to live in Laredo and there was a theft of a load of window unit air conditioners one time, so the air conditioners would be easy to move locally. Food products are also easy to sell. With avocados especially, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those other avocados were stolen in the run up to the Super Bowl.”

Protecting trade operators from cargo theft

Sandoval thought there were rules in place from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that required workers at warehouses and logistics centers to seek several forms of identification from truckers who show up to pick up loads.

“I thought there was an FMCSA rule that regulates warehouses about asking carriers for identification if they show up to a warehouse, such as getting their driver’s license, license plates,” Sandoval said.  

 

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