5 Tips to Prevent Cargo Theft

Through close collaboration, open communication and intelligent planning, you can do your part to help make freight transportation safer for everyone.

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Early in 2024, one of the major trending topics across the supply chain is something all logistics professionals wish would just go away ­— cargo theft.

Cargo thefts have been on the rise for the past several years and show no signs of slowing down — shippers reported 692 of them to CargoNet in Q3 2023, a 59% increase over Q3 2022.

The impact of these incidents really adds up: $31.1 million worth of freight was lost in those reported thefts.

Preventing cargo theft requires coordination and collective effort by all parties involved in moving freight — shippers, carriers, 3PLs, everyone. Here are 5 tips for preventing cargo theft in hopes that we can all work together moving forward to keep freight safe and supply chains moving smoothly.

1. Form a Collective Plan

Preventing cargo theft can’t happen alone. All parties involved in a freight move need to work together and communicate constantly.

This is true both between and within teams. A shipper’s own employees need to be fully aligned internally on what it will take to keep their freight safe, and they should share their own priorities and best practices with any providers they work with.

A recent research study we conducted showed that 75% of shippers outsource at least some of their supply chain. This means they are typically working with a collection of brokers, 3PLs, third-party warehouse facilities and other providers who all need to be brought up to speed to the shipper’s expectations about communication, tracking, reporting and identity verification.

2. Verify Identities

Cargo thefts today often take the form of “indirect theft.” Unlike “direct theft” — when an unattended trailer is stolen or broken into opportunistically — indirect theft relies on at least some element of deception to fool a shipper into believing they’re completing a genuine transaction.

A common form of indirect theft involves a bad actor impersonating a legitimate carrier at the point of pickup and stealing a load before the shipper realizes the fraud. One straightforward way shippers can avoid this? Check the ID of the person who arrives to haul your freight.

Shippers who have sourced a carrier through a third-party provider can also work with them as an extra safeguard against this type of threat. A simple call to your 3PL to confirm that the correct carrier is at the facility can go a long way.

3. Keep Up with Cybersecurity Best Practices

Freight shipping in 2024 is a digital business. This creates both efficiencies that benefit shippers and carriers as well as opportunities for potential cargo thieves.

Be wary of digital tools that let you add multiple users with a single login account, that have weak password security standards or that don’t take other steps to verify user identification. All of these are vulnerabilities that can make it possible for bad actors to access sensitive financial or load information.

And make sure your team, whether you’re a shipper, carrier or other provider, is up to date on cybersecurity best practices. This can mean forbidding password sharing, providing training on how to identify phishing or social engineering scams and other tactics.

4. Schedule Shipments Smartly

Opportunistic direct thefts occur when freight is not on the road. Savvy shippers can minimize these vulnerable windows by scheduling appointments with some forethought.

When scheduling a load, communicate with your transportation provider about their drivers’ available service hours during the time in transit. If they’re going to run out of hours during that period or if they’re not going to work over the weekend, your freight could be unattended for several days.

Direct thefts also tend to occur within close proximity to a shipment’s origin facility, so work with your carrier to ensure their driver will travel at least a few hundred miles before making their first pit stop. Most cargo thieves will have given up their pursuit before the freight travels this distance.

5. Choose Your Collaborators Carefully

Compared to many types of business, there’s a great deal of trust involved when you ship freight. Shippers hand over their company’s valuable property to a third party, and they want to be certain it will arrive at its destination safely.

For shippers who wants to avoid cargo theft, work with providers who take security seriously.

Ask them up front what policies they have in place to mitigate theft. Are they adhering to the best practices I’ve outlined above in terms of the physical safety of your freight and the security of their digital systems?

And if your provider is a 3PL, make sure they are vetting the carriers in their network to this same high standard.

One way to tell if brokers are taking security seriously is if they work with a theft prevention organization. Your provider should also use one of the industry-standard vendors to onboard new carriers into their brokerage. These companies help perform background checks and verify carrier identification.

Finally, keep in mind that bigger can be better when it comes to freight brokers and security, especially if the worst happens and a cargo theft does occur. Large providers can use their extensive connections (including those with local law enforcement agencies) to aid in investigating thefts and they are typically insured and financially secure enough to make you whole for the value of any freight that cannot be recovered.

Cargo theft is a major issue for supply chain professionals today, but not one that can’t be solved. Through close collaboration, open communication and intelligent planning, you can do your part to help make freight transportation safer for everyone.