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How Visibility and New Rules Can Help 3PLs Minimize Holiday Cargo Theft

The high-volume, high-speed holiday shipping season typically brings risk, but with supply chains stretched to their limits, theft could be an even bigger problem than usual as thieves try to take advantage of the strain. 

Capacity in the supply chain is at an all-time low. There’s a shortage of drivers and trucks, ports are backed up, and double loading is on the rise — and that’s before the holiday season has even started. Criminals are well aware of the pressure, which provides even more incentives for them right now, and they’re likely to take advantage of it, especially when short supplies mean they’re going to profit even more given the demand. 

3PLs are caught in the middle, working to keep shipments moving as quickly as possible while also maintaining the proper procedures and due diligence to avoid the common tactics of thieves. It’s a tough balance to strike, and one that requires both greater visibility and new rules that match the moment. 

Cargo thieves find new openings for old scams

Among the strategies criminals are likely to use this holiday season, a couple stands out as more likely than usual given the strain on supply chains. 

Fraudulent pickups, in which the criminal poses as a carrier to take ownership of a shipment, are likely to become even more common as everyone prioritizes speed to keep up with demand. 

Whether they’re using a fraudulent carrier identity or social engineering, thieves assume no one will thoroughly vet the driver’s identity, whether it’s checking ID or taking a photo of the driver. 

The other practice to be on high alert for is double loading. With such a crunch on capacity and a shortage of drivers, carriers are increasingly trying to deliver two loads on one truck. Even before the holiday season, we’ve seen this practice grow, as the pressure to make a profit takes precedence over compliance. 

Drivers have shown us how they got around the seals on the back of the truck. If the driver knows how to do that and what’s in the truck, they could easily work with criminals to steal a shipment and no one will know until the truck misses its delivery. 

What 3PLs can do

Certainly, compliance and due diligence can curb some of the theft. The processes are there and 3PLs can prevent theft both by rigorously enforcing driver compliance and vehicle routing rules, and by ensuring they have visibility over drivers, assets, and cargo. 

That’s all well and good, but when those procedures meet the pressure of the holiday season, no one will be surprised if due diligence falls off in the name of speed. In fact, I’d be surprised if manufacturers rewarded any diligence that slows down the process since most of them are just trying to get products out the door to whoever will deliver for them. Speed and capacity are the top priorities. 

Visibility, however, is even more crucial since it’s effectively a way to monitor for certain rules and prompt action when those rules are violated. If those rules aren’t realistic to the current situation, it doesn’t work. However, with good communication among manufacturers, shippers, and 3PLs, all cognizant of the creaking supply chain, we can use visibility to put in place rules that are actually enforceable. 

Rethinking rules to prevent theft this holiday season

When the ports are full and there aren’t enough trucks or drivers, rules are inevitably going to be bent or broken. Not that they should be, that’s just the reality of the situation, and that’s why criminals are going to see some easy targets this holiday season. 

3PLs could deter many of those thieves by being the most compliant they’ve ever been, but being compliant to last year’s rules or 2019’s rules isn’t realistic. We have to be compliant with rules that suit our current situation and come up with the best rules that we can monitor and try to get compliance on. 

For example, setting rules about red zones where drivers can’t park and keep a close eye on that can raise early warnings to potential theft. Even having better visibility over where drivers and assets are in real-time can help you avoid thieves claiming to be a carrier they aren’t, or whether cargo has been double-loaded. 

We need to rapidly decide what we’re going to allow and not allow so that we have some structure that we can monitor and gain visibility over and compliance. The logistics model right now is too slow to react. We need to adjust as quickly as criminals adjusted their business models to take advantage of the current environment. We proved we can do it last year amidst COVID-19, and now that the supply chain is creaking, we have to do it again, address it quickly, and get the rules and visibility in place to minimize thefts this holiday season. 

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