Cargo theft in Mexico: examining modus operandi

Red and grey truck with high-beams on drives on road in Mexico.

Mexico is a large country with a high prevalence of cargo theft. Over time, criminal groups have increased the level of violence used to subdue drivers and steal shipments. As violent cargo crime continues to rise in the country, shippers must understand how to identify and prepare against theft. This means knowing common theft trends and methodologies utilized by criminals, including the approach method, strike method, and control method. 

Mexico cargo theft trends 

Year over year, several cargo-theft trends in Mexico have remained relatively the same. For instance, Central Mexico has posed an especially significant risk to drivers, with 61% of thefts occurring in the region during the months of 2022. The State of Mexico has also continuously experienced the greatest number of theft events, followed by the state of Puebla. Additionally, food and beverage shipments have remained highly prized by criminals across the country because they are easy to distribute in informal markets. 

Hijackings involving tractor trailers crossing highways in Mexico is the most common modus operandi invoked by criminals. However, recordings of thefts involving a parked unit have also increased. In both scenarios, criminals used deception, threats, and violence to gain control of the situation and deter recovery efforts. 

Methods of cargo theft in Mexico 

Cargo theft in Mexico is a complex activity that usually comprises other types of crime. This may include the temporary retention of the driver or the use of firearms and signal inhibitor devices.  

Criminals employ several different tactics when stealing cargo in Mexico. The three main methods — approach, strike, and control — are used in sequence to surprise and subdue targets. These methods are used to take control of the situation, obtain the cargo, and delay the response of law enforcement. By knowing what each step looks like, drivers have a better chance of identifying and avoiding common traps.   

Approach method 

The approach method refers to the methodology used when a criminal first approaches their victim. The criminal will generally rely on surprise or deception in order to confuse their target and catch them off guard. For instance, there have been cases where drivers have spotted someone wearing a construction worker vest on the highway. After slowing down to see what was happening, the drivers were suddenly attacked. 

It is also common for various vehicles to intercept drivers while in-transit. Typically, cargo units are forcefully stopped by a vehicle blocking their way. Simultaneously, more vehicles will appear around the cargo unit to trap it.   

Strike method 

The strike method is the mechanism employed by criminals to overpower and subdue their victim after approaching them. This method usually involves a threat and/or the use of violence. As an example, some criminals have drawn knives or guns in an attempt to intimidate drivers to open their doors. The thieves then violently attacked these drivers, forcing them to comply further with the thieves’ demands. 

Recently, reports have also shown criminals opening fire at cargo vehicles and drivers. 

Control method 

Once subdued, control methods are used to manipulate, contain, and dominate a victim’s behavior. Criminals want to make sure they’re calling the shots, so they might tie up a driver with plastic zip-ties or shoelaces.  

Criminals may also steal a driver’s phone and photograph his or her ID. They acquire this information regarding address, phone number, and name in order to threaten the driver’s family. 

Drivers are generally moved to a secondary vehicle and abandoned later on at a different location to hinder recovery efforts. Similarly, thieves will sometimes use specialized jamming devices to block signals and prevent law enforcement response.   

Mexico cargo theft MOs: main takeaways 

A trend is emerging in Mexico where criminals are getting more violent and specialized. Criminal groups are executing thefts that involve a large number of vehicles and people, as well as sophisticated coordinating and planning. 

In the US, criminals will usually wait for a driver to leave their vehicle at a truck stop or gas station. In Mexico, criminals will apprehend both a driver and their cargo in order to delay reporting of the incident. To forcefully stop drivers, criminals will use a variety of tactics. These can include blinding drivers with LED lights, throwing stones at their windshields, and using spikes to puncture their tires. 

It’s important that shippers and drivers understand these strategies in order to avoid becoming victims themselves. Staying alert to evolving threats is the best way to recognize and avoid criminal activity. For this reason, Overhaul releases quarterly reports concerning Mexico’s evolving threat landscape. From the most targeted product types to the riskiest times of day, these reports provide an overview of cargo theft activities in Mexico. 

Read our latest Mexico cargo theft report to learn more. 

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