cargo theft
cargo theft

Cargo theft trends in Canada — and how to deter criminals

Cargo criminals are exploiting the current inflationary environment and targeting goods that are in high demand such as electronics, household items, and even groceries.

We sat down with our very own Garry Robertson, and with Bryan Gast from our partner Equite, to learn more about current cargo theft trends and risk management techniques.

Cargo theft in 2022

In 2022, cargo thefts reported to Equite increased almost 40 per cent compared to the year prior, as supply chains returned to normal after serious COVID-19 delays. 

“They almost reached 2018 levels, which was our busiest year to date,” says Bryan Gast, Vice President of Investigative Services at Equite Association.  

The cornerstone of Equites’ cargo theft recovery program is its national database which allows them to analyze cargo theft data and assist in recovery of stolen goods, and produce alerts for an international audience. 

Cargo theft is typically related to organized criminal activity. “The money generated is going to criminal organizations, so it’s very organized,” says Garry Robertson, Claims Director of Northbridge’s Special Investigations Unit.

“The logistics that these thieves have in place to get rid of stolen loads equals some of the logistics companies — they can move it within hours. They’ve already got a buyer on their list,” he says. And nowadays, not all stolen loads are going further abroad like they used to; criminal organizations can offload goods much closer to home.

What’s being stolen?

In some cases, criminals will steal a trailer, switch the vehicle identification number (VIN) and then try to resell it, or they’ll disassemble the trailer to sell its parts. In other cases, they steal a trailer and the cargo inside.

“These guys watch the news like everybody else,” says Robertson. “They look at it from a market perspective: what’s the hot commodity I can grab this week?”

Currently, with the rising cost of food, non-perishable grocery loads are a popular target. Building materials, as well as various metals and alloys, are also top commodities.

Load broker websites

“Cargo theft through load broker websites was rampant during COVID-19, but thankfully arrests made by law enforcement in Ontario and Quebec late in 2021 had a significant impact in 2022,” says Gast.   

“It’s like business identity theft,” says Robertson. The criminal visits load broker websites to pinpoint a scheduled load, and then creates a false identity and documents to pose as an employee from the carrier and pick up the load early. By the time the real carrier arrives, the criminal has already driven away with the goods.

Yard shopping

Despite the sophisticated methods being employed through fictitious pickups, yard shopping — where a criminal walks into an unsecured yard, hooks up to a trailer and steals it — is still commonplace.

This can happen when a driver arrives late to a delivery window and has to leave the trailer — with the valuable cargo inside — in an unsecured location overnight. “Some of these fully loaded trucks and trailers are being left overnight at truck gas stations,” says Robertson.

These days, yard shopping isn’t necessarily random; criminals often know exactly what they’re looking for. Drivers talk to other drivers, and in general conversation they might mention where they’re heading and whether they’re going to make it on time. Insiders are listening; criminal organizations know what’s being moved from point A to B and if something will be arriving after the initial delivery window.

Autonomous vehicles

Many carriers are looking to test the viability of autonomous vehicles in their fleet — which presents new cybersecurity concerns. For example, a criminal organization could hack into a truck’s database to find out delivery, route, or cargo information, which could be used for fictitious pickups or yard shopping.

Risk management planning

You can’t always prevent cargo theft, but measures can be taken to deter criminals and mitigate losses. First off, conduct a risk assessment to find out where any vulnerabilities exist that could leave you exposed. This can be done in-house or with the assistance of Northbridge’s Risk Services Team.

Yards should have security lighting and fencing with controlled access points, guarded by highly trained security personnel, as well as roving security patrols. All employees and visitors should be required to sign in each time they enter the site, which can help to pinpoint suspicious activity. And regular criminal background checks should be conducted on all employees.

It’s also important to train drivers on how to secure their loads — including why they shouldn’t talk about what they’re transporting or where it’s going to be sitting overnight. Drivers should also have access to secure locations for parking overnight if they arrive past their delivery window. And they should know what to do if they think they’re being followed, if they suspect the load has been tampered with, or if they fall victim to cargo theft.

Carriers and online brokers should also ensure they’re using advanced cybersecurity measures and setting up strong passwords. Oftentimes, all drivers use the same password, which makes it easy for criminals to access load broker websites. “If you have multiple drivers, use multiple passwords, and change them regularly,” says Robertson. “If you do have a load taken, if you see which password was compromised, you can narrow it down.”

Both Robertson and Gast agree that working together and getting the information out as quickly as possible has and will continue to make a difference.

Protect your cargo with the advice of industry experts

NBI has a dedicated team and training centre that can help create driver training programs focused on areas such as operational risk, compliance risk, safety management, and hazard analysis. Learn more about how we can help protect your business and get started today by visiting our Risk Services page!

About Equite

Équité Association is a national organization with a vision to be world class at reducing and preventing insurance fraud and crime and its impacts on honest, hardworking Canadians. For more information, visit their website here.

This blog is provided for information only and is not a substitute for professional advice. We make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information and will not be responsible for any loss arising out of reliance on the information.

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