A fleet of trucks.
A fleet of trucks.

Most common cargo theft tactics in 2021 and ways to prevent them6 min read

In part one of our series on cargo theft trends in 2021, we looked at the different factors impacting cargo theft in Canada and how your risks as a carrier have changed. In the years leading up to the pandemic, we saw criminals target any type of product they could get rid of quickly through local discount or variety stores.

We saw a decline in cargo theft when COVID-19 hit in early 2020 because of tighter border restrictions and store closures. As we start to move out of the pandemic, cargo theft activity is steadily increasing, with a high demand for any sort of consumer or recreational product.

To better understand how your business may be at risk of cargo theft, it’s important to be aware of the behaviours and tactics criminals use to target your fleet. In many cases, cargo thieves operate in groups. They are strategic, with the logistical knowledge and background needed to get rid of products quickly.

We sat down with the experts on our Risk Services team to analyze some of the most common methods used by criminals to steal cargo.

Trailer theft

In many cases, criminals steal cargo and the trailer storing it. It’s also common for thieves to take just the trailer, switch out the vehicle identification number (VIN), and try to resell it. This results in a double loss to the carrier, as the cargo and equipment are both lost. Many thieves even disassemble the trailer to sell its parts.

“Thieves can strip the parts of a vehicle until it’s unrecognizable,” says Creighton. “They can do this in less than an hour. You’d never know it was stolen.” If the vehicle has been reduced to its individual parts, you also don’t have to declare it with a VIN number when shipping overseas. “Many criminals will do this in order to sell the parts” says Creighton.

Yard shopping

In the years leading up to COVID-19, many thieves would go to truckyards to check out what was available in trailers to steal, also referred to as yard shopping. “This still happens occasionally, but the majority of thieves now know what exactly to look for,” says Garry Robertson, Claims Director of Northbridge’s Special Investigations Unit. A yard that isn’t properly secured is an attractive target for thieves looking to make a quick profit.

Cyber risks

As businesses in the trucking and transportation industry continue to adopt new technology, cybersecurity has become a key concern. More and more, cargo theft can be traced to data breaches. It’s important to understand what gaps in your systems may leave you exposed, and methods criminals may use to manipulate you into sharing information.

Use of online broker sites

In many cases, thieves visit load broker websites to find information that will help them pinpoint a scheduled load. Once they have this, they can then create false identities and documents in order to pose as employees from the carrier so they can pick up the load early. By the time the real carrier goes to pick up the scheduled load, the criminals have left with the goods.

To prevent access to this information, it’s important that carriers and online brokers implement advanced cybersecurity measures across all systems, such as setting up strong passwords.

Autonomous vehicles

Many carriers are exploring the integration of autonomous vehicles into their fleet. In 2023, tests will begin to determine the viability of these driverless trucks.

Like any new technology, autonomous vehicles present cybersecurity concerns. “A criminal could potentially hack into the truck’s database to download information regarding delivery, route, or cargo,” says Robertson. “They would be able to do this remotely, so they don’t have to be near the vehicle to access it.”

Risk management planning

While you may not always be able to prevent cargo theft, there are many preventative measures your business can implement to deter criminals from targeting your loads.

“Often, as a carrier, the focus is on what you can do to provide faster service,” says Robertson. “It’s important to spend time figuring out what your weaknesses may be and what you can do about it. Thinking from a thief’s point of view can help you understand this.”

Here are a few helpful risk management tips to get you started.

Conduct a risk assessment

This can be done in-house or outsourced to a risk management professional. It involves an assessment of current safety and operations policies in place and will help you pinpoint any areas that may leave you exposed to loss or damage. “We suggest hiring a professional to come in and check your security,” says Creighton. “If you employ a security company, check to ensure they’re trained and reputable.”

Assess yard lighting

This can be checked during your risk assessment by a lighting company or conducted in house. Whoever is doing the inspection should come in to check this at night to ensure there are no dark areas or blind spots that thieves may leverage. Once you know where these are, you can adjust the lights or install additional lighting.

Employee background checks

All background checks should include a look at driving history, previous employment, and any criminal offences. Criminal background checks should be done on a regular basis.Driver training

Train drivers to keep their cargo secure and safe. They should be familiar with policies on load security and the use of locking devices such as heavy-duty padlocks and cable or bolt seals. Drivers should also observe the loading and unloading of cargo whenever possible.

Consider outlining clear procedures for drivers to follow if they fall victim to cargo theft, such as contacting local law enforcement or filling out an incident response form. “During training, simulate real-life situations where the threat of cargo theft may be present,” says Robertson. “For example, training can include the signs to indicate you are being followed or that your load has been tampered with and what to do about it.” It may be useful to have drivers keep an emergency contact list in their truck so they know who to contact right awaySecuring your site

Consider installing the following mechanisms to increase site security:

  • Fencing with controlled access points (gates that either automatically close, or are guarded by security personnel that are trained to deal with difficult situations and can properly defend themselves)
  • Roving security patrols
  • CCTV cameras
  • Security lighting

Create a log for all visitors and employees to sign every time they enter the site, as this can help you spot patterns of suspicious behaviour. You should know exactly who has access to the site during and after business hours.

Protect your cargo with the advice of industry experts

Our dedicated team can help you create driver training programs focused on areas like operational risk, compliance risk, safety management, and hazard analysis. We have a dedicated training center to help develop industry leading programs that are implemented nationally. Learn more about how we can help protect your business and get started with us today by visiting our Risk Services page!

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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