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July 19, 2016 11:00 AM, EDT

Theft of Cargo Is Constant Worry for Trucking

Days before Fourth of July celebrations, trailers loaded with SweetWater Brewing Co.’s 24-pack bottles of beer were stolen from its brewery; its Summer Variety Packs due for pick up in early morning.

The Atlanta-based company said the majority of its two trailers of beer stolen June 21 was found June 29 with help from Georgia authorities. That was the good news.

The bad news, the company said: “Unfortunately, the return of the stolen brews does not mean the product is able to be sold or consumed — every bottle will be destroyed.”

Incidents of cargo theft occur all too often across the nation and are a constant worry for trucking.

CargoNet, a theft prevention and recovery network, reported 906 thefts last year valued at $100.5 million. It said food and beverage thefts led the way, accounting for 29%, followed by electronics at 13% and household goods at 12%.

That’s up 7% from 2014, when 844 thefts valued at about $90 million were reported.

In the first quarter of this year, there have been 167 reported cargo thefts valued at $21.4 million, the group said, down from 254 reported incidents in the same period a year ago when thefts were valued at $32.2 million. Further, Thursday, Friday and Saturday remain the highest for cargo theft year-over-year, the network added.

Chris McLoughlin, a risk manager at third-party logistics company C.H. Robinson, said that food replaced electronics as the biggest target for cargo theft around 2009.

That year, according to CargoNet, thefts of electronics hit 49%. But by 2010, electronics dropped to 17% while food and beverage grew to 13%.

McLoughlin attributes the switch to food and beverage to the ease of it being stolen, tracking difficulty and the recession.

“They have realized the product is easy to get rid of and people are willing to consume it. There is a marketplace to dispose of this product,” he said.

That may answer why nut thefts in California proved problematic last year. CargoNet said nuts accounted for 31 cargo thefts valued at $4.6 million, adding that many thefts stem from falsified documents and fictitious pickups.

Increased cargo theft is found in “hot spots” across the country. These areas usually have a high amount of traffic and large populations or ports, according to McLoughlin.

CargoNet said California topped the list last year with 161 reported incidents, followed by Texas with 130, Georgia with 98, Florida with 97 and New Jersey with 95.

For example, Florida recorded 133 reports of cargo theft in 2015 worth $11.1 million even though several investigators are dedicated to mitigating cargo thefts through the state’s Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Intelligence, according to Master Cpl. David Vincent of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

While the hot spots are among truckers’ biggest worries, they do well to be vigilant in low-theft areas as well, said Scott Cornell, who leads the transportation unit at Travelers Cos. and is the former head of its Specialty Investigations Group.

“You’re probably not getting an accurate report of the frequency because you don’t have the same level of dedication in some place like Iowa,” he said.

Added Detective Erik Dice of the state’s Marion County Sheriff’s Office, who splits his time between violent crimes and cargo theft security: “Many smaller companies don’t have security resources; they are better served by partnering with a third- party security organization to help them keep up to date with trends and issues going on in the industry.”

The Florida Statistical Analysis Center reported electronics, consumable goods and the trucks accounted for most of the thefts. Only $1.3 million of that was recovered, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Technology such as GPS is key to relocating stolen trailers.

Walt Beadling, co-founder of the Cargo Security Alliance, said, “I envision a day when almost every pallet of anything of any significant value has some kind of tracking device embedded in it.”

But common sense cannot be discounted as effective, either. Physical security, covert tracking, a thorough vetting process and training of drivers on best practices for keeping their cargo secure are tools that cargo recovery experts see useful in preventing theft.

“It comes back to a protocol in place, a set of procedures that are agreed to by both the carrier and the shipper,” Beadling said. “Physical security such as locks and barrier seals are essential to the first line of defense.”

Cornell said being able to answer “yes” to the question “Do you have that layered approach to security that is going to force the bad guys to get past one layer after another if they want to steal your cargo?” is what will keep cargo more secure.