Red flags at pickup: spot and prevent cargo theft

A red truck on a sunny day, possibly about to be used for cargo theft.

In 2022, cargo theft spiked by 15% in the United States and Canada. And as 2023 continues, instances of cargo theft will likely increase. Fortunately, attempted theft often comes with several red flags that can be spotted before cargo is even on the road. 

In the latest episode of The Intelligence Perspective, Danny Ramon, Intelligence & Response Manager at Overhaul, shared several warning signs that can indicate theft or fraud at pickup. He also provided real-world examples of criminal activity and suggestions for how to keep your cargo protected. 

If you’d like to watch the episode in full, click here. And if you want to see our highlights, read on:

Cargo Theft Prevention at Pickup

Current Cargo Theft Trends

Some cargo thieves act out of convenience while others meticulously plan their attacks. In the former case, criminals might stake out parking lots or rest stops and wait for their chance to swipe unattended cargo. But in the latter case, thieves will choose specific targets at specific times and do their best to deceive them. 

“They’re going to set appointments for stealing your freight,” said Ramon. “They do this through various methods, whether it’s double or triple brokering or staking out Internet load boards. And they’re going to usually send a driver with a falsified identity or fraudulent carrier information over to your yard to pick up that cargo.”

Although this sounds scary, there’s good news: several red flags can give that fake truck driver away. For instance, if a driver’s appearance doesn’t match their license, it’s worth calling the company to find out why. The same is true if that license is temporary or made of paper.

Vehicles can also reveal a thief’s scheme before it succeeds. For instance, all commercial tractors in the US are required to have the carrier’s name and US DOT number on the side of their tractor. That information should be displayed via a permanent sign, such as a professional decal or vinyl wrap. A piece of paper hastily taped to the door doesn’t cut it, nor does a vehicle that’s missing any of this information.

“If anything seems fishy, it’s always a good idea to refuse that load,” said Ramon. “Don’t let that driver take that load, get somebody you trust a bit more than that.”

Tamper-Prone Seal Hasps

One of the biggest schemes employed by today’s criminals involves tamper-prone seal hasps. Usually, rivets cannot be removed without drilling and the use of major tools. However, these tamper-prone seal hasps can be unscrewed to provide access to a trailer without breaking the seal.

“At best,” said Ramon, “it’s likely that cargo will be double loaded and have more cargo inserted on that load so the carrier can charge twice for the trip they’re about to take. Worst case, they’re planning to pilfer or steal the entire load and deliver it to its destination as if it’s intact, with the seal intact, thereby claiming that they didn’t tamper with the load.” 

In these instances, it’s probably worth turning the trailer away or at least calling the company for more information. Additionally, due diligence beforehand can help ensure that nothing is amiss at pickup. 

“Make sure the phone number you were given matches the official business phone number and that the address (on) the letterhead matches the official business address,” said Ramon. “(That way) you can know for sure it’s not someone posing as that carrier or stealing that carrier’s identity in order to obtain your freight.”

Additional Targets and Schemes 

As the episode came to a close, Ramon shared several more emerging cargo theft targets and patterns. While all cargo is susceptible to theft, a few specific products are especially vulnerable. 

“As always, it’s consumer electronics,” said Ramon. “Whatever the latest, greatest generation of electronics is, it’s being targeted. High end apparel and footwear (are susceptible, too). And in the last four to six weeks, we’re seeing a targeting of alcohol, specifically liquor, as well as cost-dense food products likely linked to inflation.”

Organized crime is also employing new, nefarious tactics to steal goods. One such tactic being used by Mexican cartels involves extorting migrants and forcing them to steal from train containers. 

“What they’re usually doing is (making the migrants) board these trains wherever they have to slow down,” said Ramon. “They have plenty of time to open these containers, see what has desirable cargo, and then throw that overboard on the side of the tracks where it will be gathered so they can sell it. We haven’t seen that particular activity spread to truck stops, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

By understanding common attack patterns, freighters can better prevent cargo theft and stop criminals in their tracks – and on train tracks. The importance of supply chain security cannot be overstated. And being able to identify these red flags at pickup is one of the earliest, most significant steps. 

Click here for more of The Intelligence Perspective, including our episode about how law enforcement can help with cargo security

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