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Who’s stealing all the cargo?

PortandTerminal.com, May 24, 2019

Almost every commercial big-rig truck on the highway these days is carrying goods that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With that kind of money at stake, cargo theft has become an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative business for the gangs that do it.

How big is the problem?

Gangs see cargo theft as a low-risk, high-reward type of crime carrying soft criminal penalties. Most law enforcement officials agree that the current penalties and procedures for prosecuting cargo theft are “ineffective, providing virtually zero deterrence to cargo theft gangs”.

In the United States, the FBI reports that less than 20 percent of stolen cargo is ever recovered. Under-reporting of cargo theft is one of the most significant obstacles in understanding the size of the problem. Most cargo theft is believed to go unreported by the rig owners for fear of jeopardizing their insurance coverage and jacking up their premium costs.

Theft statistics vary and precise numbers are hard to come by. On the high side of the loss estimates, Loss Prevention Magazine reports that cargo theft is a $15 to $30 billion-dollar problem each year in the United States.

SensiGuard, another firm in the industry, reports significantly lower figures recorded a total of 592 cargo thefts in the U.S. last year worth an average of $142,342. Most experts agree though that SensiGuard’s numbers are just the very tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg.

Worse elsewhere

Looking at other countries in the America’s, cargo is a much larger problem. In Brazil, for example, cargo theft there has become an epidemic.

Brazilian security officers search a truck suspected of carrying stolen goods in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2018, 22,000 cargo robberies were reported in two Brazilian states alone – Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – home to the country’s two largest cities. That is about 60 heists a day, a record figure that has almost doubled since 2012. Authorities blame criminal gangs preying on shipments. Losses are estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

We now say this has stopped being theft and that it has almost turned into looting

José Hélio Fernandes, NTC president

It is so bad in Brazil that the national postal service has had to stop street deliveries in some neighbourhoods of Rio, while supermarkets have “raised their prices by up to 20 per cent to pay for the losses.”

Mexico is not much better. The JOC reported in 2019 that the number of cargo robberies in Mexico increased 17 percent year over year to 17,270 in 2018. One trucker there estimated that theft adds as much as 5 percent to the cost of moving cargo in the country.

Cargo theft gangs

Cargo theft “heat map” showing where most incidents occurred in 2018. California accounted for 26 percent of total thefts.

Gangs see stealing and then flipping stolen consumer goods onto the black market as a safer and quicker way to make money than drug trafficking.

The gangs operate throughout the United States, focusing primarily on areas with high volumes of manufacturing or logistics operations. Often they have been tasked to steal specific types of cargo for delivery to major cities on the East Coast or Los Angeles for sale on the black market, or to maritime ports for export principally to Latin America and Europe.

In May 2018, four men convicted for their roles in a cargo theft ring that operated from the Midwest to the East Coast of the United States.

The four were named along with nine others in a 23-count indictment that charged them with participating in a conspiracy that operated from August 2012 to May 2015 and stealing $30 million in high-value merchandise carried by semi-trucks.

Members of the group would monitor warehouse distribution centers run by national companies that distributed products including electronics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and cigarettes. They would then follow a semi-tractor and trailer leaving the building and steal the tractor and trailer when the driver stopped at a truck stop.

Three of the four sentenced in May had prior federal convictions for similar conduct. The four received sentences ranging from 150 months to 12 months imprisonment.

Memorial Day weekend

Just in time for this memorial day weekend, our friends at CargoNet have published an infographic detailing the trends in cargo theft that typically spike during the Memorial Day Weekend in the United States. Stay safe out there.

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