Reported Cargo Thefts Increased 20% in 2022
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The transportation sector experienced an estimated 20% jump in reported cargo thefts amid changing criminal tactics in 2022.
And the largest portion of that jump in thefts came in the fourth quarter.
A study by Verisk Analytics’ CargoNet showed that voluntarily reported “supply chain risk events” increased 15% year-over-year to 1,778 across the United States and Canada. But those events that involved the theft of cargo increased by 20%. The total loss value in 2022 was $223 million.
“What we’re seeing is different, it’s a generational change,” said Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at CargoNet. “We still see trailers stolen from the side of the road, but the fraud is really what drove our numbers up. We went from 16 fraudulent thefts in 2021 to 116 or so last year. It’s very complicated how they’re doing it. It’s so complicated that law enforcement has a hard time figuring it out. They’re using load boards and they’re using unsuspecting drivers.”
The CargoNet report also showed that events that involved theft of at least one heavy commercial vehicle increased by 17% year-over-year. It also noted increases in theft activity around major intermodal hubs were significant. The average value of cargo stolen in an event was $214,104.
“Load boards have been around forever,” Lewis said. “It’s just modern technology. We’re depending on machine-to-machine for vetting and we’re moving at light speed on the internet load boards. The process has been there forever of stealing loads off load boards. It’s with emerging technology that we have now, it enables them to do it better and faster.”
The report noted that supply chain disruptions were a main concern because of their effect on inflation. It added scarcity, and cost drove illicit market demand for goods that were most affected like computer graphics cards and raw meat.
“The other thing that’s really notable is the jump, or what we’re seeing with a real high frequency right now, is in the strategic theft category,” said Scott Cornell, crime and theft specialist at Travelers. “I categorize cargo theft in two categories. One is straight theft, where they physically go out and steal it where it sits, whether it’s truck stops, parking lots, drop yards, you name it. And then strategic theft is where they trick you into giving them the cargo. And they do that through fictitious pickups and identity thefts.”
Cornell noted that one way criminals attempt to get loads is by posing as a legitimate carrier and placing bids on load boards. But starting in the second half of last year he started seeing more criminals calling up brokers directly to pose as a legitimate carrier with available capacity. They might not even know if the carrier they picked has been vetted by the broker.
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“If they can get through your carrier vetting process, they’re hitting you for three, four, five or six loads at a time,” Cornell said. “It’s not just a one-off here and there. They’re going for big hits and they’re doing it very quickly so that by the time you realize it, they’ve already hit you for multiple loads.”
Cornell noted that intermediaries like freight brokers tend to have some separation between them and the load. By the time they figure out something hasn’t been delivered it could be days later, which makes recovery less likely. But the larger thefts can lend themselves to recovery.
“When you have that many thefts taking place at once, it’s hard to move all of that cargo very quickly,” Cornell said. “They have to store it somewhere, whether it’s temporary or as they try and find a buyer or move it or whatever. So, law enforcement has had some success and so has our team.”
Cornell also noted there was a 31% increase year-over-year in cargo thefts in the fourth quarter. He usually anticipates some kind of a fourth-quarter bump with the holidays but noted that last year was significant and that theft activity entered the new year with more momentum.
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“We saw a big increase in the rise of local thieves, primarily pilferage,” Danny Ramon, intelligence and response manager at Overhaul, said. “They’re not really traveling multiple states to follow an entire tractor-trailer and steal the whole tractor-trailer. But we’ve seen them really increase both the frequency and the sophistication of their attacks.”
Ramon noted the larger operations have more of an ability to travel multiple states and steal whole trailers or trucks. But the smaller operations have found ways to steal more cargo during hits like using box trucks. He has even seen cases of criminals emptying entire trailers in 12 minutes.
“They are getting a lot better at what they’re doing,” Ramon said. “They’ve seen success. They’ve told their friends, they’ve maybe invested in some equipment to help them do this. But they’re still not making off with entire tractor-trailers. These guys don’t have the training necessary or the equipment.”