Kentucky Cargo Theft Spike Echoes National Issues

Strategic Thefts Direct Cargo Away From Intended Recipient
Strategic cargo theft
Strategic cargo thefts deploy fraud and deceptive practices to redirect cargo away from its intended recipient. (Ignatiev/Getty Images)

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Kentucky law enforcement is warning of a spike in strategic cargo thefts in a trend that reflects a growing national problem.

The Kentucky State Police have opened 12 active cases into strategic cargo theft activities since Aug. 1. That compared to a total of five between the first case in 2014 up through 2022. Its vehicle investigation branch has identified at least two crews that are primarily responsible for the recent rise. They’ve been double brokering loads through legitimate carriers. 

The department’s vehicle investigation branch has identified at least two crews that are primarily responsible for the recent rise in strategic thefts. The groups are snagging cargo by double-brokering loads through legitimate carriers.

The 12 cases being worked by this KSP branch are just part of a broader trend, said Gary Thomas, an intelligence analyst with the department.

Gary Thomas


“That’s not including some local agencies and some federal agencies in our state that are also looking into these crimes,” he said. “We just have a small staff here, so we became overwhelmed.”

Supply chain risk management company Overhaul works closely with local law enforcement as part of its data and cargo recovery services. KSP previously worked with Overhaul on a spree of straight thefts, focused primarily around Louisville, that was broken up after key players were arrested under a joint investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement.

Since then crooks have shifted to more strategic thefts, and its a nationwide problem.

“There was a breakup of a pretty large strategic theft crew in Southern California a few months back,” said Danny Ramon, intelligence and response manager at Overhaul. “They didn’t catch everybody, and that crew was one of the most prolific information-sharing crews in the cargo theft world. They were very open with their colleagues about how they did what they did, and they also started setting up fraudulent carrier identities and fraudulent broker identities across the country.”

Verisk AnalyticsCargoNet found in its second-quarter report that strategic tactics drove a 57% year-over-year increase in supply chain risk events across North America. The company has also been paying attention to the cargo theft spike in Kentucky.

“They’re derivatives of two different crime rings” said Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at CargoNet. “Deception is used to steal the loads,” he added, noting, “Some of the commodities that come out of Kentucky are very valuable.”

Lewis noted that the tactics could have been shared by another crew or learned off the dark web, but oftentimes there is a direct connection between crews. For example, members splinter off to form new groups in different areas.

“You just don’t know what the backstory is until you get the person you’re going after in a room and [are] getting them to cooperate,” Lewis said. “So, we’re making a lot of assumptions here, but the assumptions seem realistic.”

Lewis added criminals located abroad are often leading these operations by finding willing or, sometimes, unknowing surrogates to capture the loads.

Danny Ramon


“Criminals, when they see success, they’re going to be pretty vocal about it,” Ramon said. “They continue to see success, they’re going to tell their ‘friends’ about it, their network about it, and those folks are going to join up as well and the crew is going to get larger. They’re going to spread out farther and this thing is going to become more widespread.”

Ramon noted that cargo thefts generally are about plucking the lower hanging fruit. Southern California has been a hot spot for activity for years, but local law enforcement and businesses there are developing stronger countermeasures. Ramon said that this has led criminals to look elsewhere for easier targets, such as localities with less experience.

“We’ve had some success in recoveries and they have been in Southern California,” Thomas said. “A lot of our shipments are being redirected — a good portion of them, if not the majority of them — are all going to California. We’ve developed relationships with California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles Police Department, Homeland Security out there, who are helping us.”

Thomas noted that these geographical issues create a complicated jurisdictional problem. This means many of these investigations require federal and state partners. Ramon added that criminals use these complications to their advantage.

“They know that traveling multiple jurisdictions hampers investigation, and they know that strategic thefts delay the victim even noticing,” Ramon said. “That’s where Overhaul and some of the solutions we offer come into play.”

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Thomas noted another complication is the recent strategic cargo thefts have been more random. Straight thefts in the state have mainly concentrated in particular areas, but strategic tactics have been popping up all over the state, which makes tracking them down more difficult.

“There is no rhyme nor reason or geographical coincidence to where any of these are,” Thomas said. “Places that are unaware that cargo theft is even a thing. Which is probably one of the most concerning aspects.”