To Protect and Deliver

Practical — and easy-to-implement — steps can help prevent cargo theft and mitigate risk for shippers

After the holidays have past, manufacturers' warehouses are packed to capacity with inventory as a result of the biggest shopping spree of the year. This is the season when product moving through the supply chain is the most vulnerable. But the reason is not that security efforts become lackadaisical. The risk is greater simply due to sheer volume. We are shipping more to meet consumer needs; therefore, cargo thieves have more chances to steal from us.

Despite rising security threats, you do not have to become a victim of cargo theft, during the holidays or at any other time of the year. You can successfully mitigate your company's cargo theft risk by taking two important steps:

  1. Understand where and how cargo thieves operate.
  2. Add several precautionary measures to your security protocol before, during and after cargo leaves your facility.

Most theft incidents occur when product is en route from a factory or warehouse to a distribution center or retail store. Special planning and preventive measures need to be put in place long before product is given to a driver and released onto the open road.

Preventive Analytics

Certain organizations within the logistics industry collect large amounts of data surrounding cargo theft incidents. They can provide your company with analytics, investigative support and predictive modeling to improve risk management within the supply chain.

Preventive analytics can help your company carefully plan the safest routes for your goods, from origin to destination. Historical cargo theft data can help your company determine the best routes to take, cities to travel through and truck stops to use. By doing some homework, your company can significantly reduce its risk of cargo theft by "thieves of opportunity," who tend to be somewhat territorial, operating along the same roads and around the same rest areas daily.

Carrier Selection

Before moving any cargo, select a suitable carrier. You should interview any carrier that you choose to move your company's cargo, and that carrier should be able to demonstrate adherence to industry security best practices, such as background investigations of its drivers.

In addition, each driver who works for a carrier that your company uses should be educated on how to prevent cargo theft, and in the event of a theft, what action to take. When hauling a load for your company, a driver should:

  • Notify the dispatcher if/when planning to stop.
  • Always arrive at your facility with full fuel tanks.
  • Always drive a minimum of 200 miles after accepting one of your loads before stopping.
  • Only use approved rest stops along the route.
  • Park vehicles in areas where other drivers are present.
  • Drive in two-person teams whenever possible.
  • Never leave a vehicle unattended if possible.
  • Never take a load home or park in an unsecured area.
  • Keep tractor windows up and doors locked when traveling at low speeds or stopping.
  • Keep important documentation concerning the tractor and trailer (VIN, license plate numbers, trailer numbers, a description of the trailer) on his or her person at all times.
  • Contact the local police and notify your company's supply chain group, the dispatcher, etc., in the event of a theft.

Your carrier should provide you with the identity of the driver picking up your load at least 24 hours before the product is due to leave the loading dock. Confirm this identity when the driver arrives at the in-gate of your facility.

The carrier should agree not to subcontract any jobs surrounding your shipments. Historically, cargo thieves set up bogus companies and post low rates on load boards to "legally" acquire access to shipments. By vetting your carriers prior to shipment, you eliminate the risk of potentially handing over your inventory to thieves.

Physical Security

The physical security of a conveyance is critical. The shipment, which could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, travels on open roads while being looked after by only one or two people. Physical security devices such as seals and GPS tracking devices will not stop a determined cargo thief, but they will deter a thief who may see your cargo as a target while parked in a rest area.

Your company should evaluate the type of security seals used to keep cargo secure while it's on the road in between facilities. Keep in mind that all security seals are meant to be opened; therefore, they serve more as a deterrent than a barrier to entry. Procure only high-security barrier seals from a reputable manufacture whose product adheres to standards set forth by ISO/PAS 17712. On trailers with barn-style doors, use a 3/16" steel cable seal that is long enough to wrap around both locking bars and can be cinched tight. Using a cable seal will prevent the left door from being opened during transit without compromising the seal. On trailers with roll-up doors, a 3/8" steel bolt seal should be sufficient. Corporate security personnel, not a driver, should apply the seals at the out-gate of your facility. Seal numbers should be recorded, acknowledged by the driver and forwarded electronically to the in-gate personnel at the destination facility for examination upon arrival.

Bookmark and Share

Tracking on the Road

You should consider GPS tracking as another layer of on-the-road security. It is essential that your company know where its loads are at all times both for security and logistics purposes.

Your carrier may tell you that it monitors every shipment by a satellite tracking system mounted in or on the tractor. While this type of system has its merits, it is designed to track truck diagnostics, truck location and driver behavior, not the trailer or cargo inside the trailer. Also, one of the first things that cargo thieves do when stealing a load is to disable this type of device by covering, disconnecting or destroying the satellite antenna.

GPS tracking technology has advanced appreciably over the past few years. Devices were once large and cumbersome and required an antenna mounted on the outside of the conveyance. Because of the high price tag, GPS tracking was seen as a tool only for companies moving extremely valuable product; it was not used in the mainstream commercial market.

However, GPS tracking devices are no longer large and expensive, and they don't require external antennas. Now as small as a wireless phone, tracking devices can be covertly packed within a pallet, have battery capacity to last a month, and are "smart" enough to alert the end-user when and if there is a problem. GPS devices can be purchased for as little as $400 per device, with a software and data package (per device) starting at $60 per month. Some companies can average this cost to be approximately $100 per shipment.

There are numerous benefits to remote monitoring of your company's cargo. GPS tracking makes you aware of cargo that remains too long in one location (remember: "cargo at rest is cargo at risk"). You are alerted if the conveyance carrying your cargo is opened or deviates from a predetermined route. If cargo containing a GPS tracking device is stolen and your company is using a reputable monitoring service, the police in that jurisdiction can receive the exact location of the stolen cargo, which will increase the likelihood of recovery.

Before You Ship

When an approved carrier arrives at your facility to pick up a shipment, employees working the gate should inspect the vehicle and trailer and record important information about the driver, tractor and trailer. This information can be used later in the event of a theft.

The integrity of the tractor and trailer is important. The first thing to note when the conveyance arrives is the overall appearance of the tractor. Does the truck have large amounts of rust on the body? Does the tractor have fiberglass damage? Does the tractor need new tires? Does the tractor look overused or dilapidated? If your employees answer "yes" to any of these questions, do not allow the truck to haul your shipment. Rust, fiberglass damage and balding tires can indicate the truck has not been properly cared for. When a truck carrying your product breaks down, it could sit on the side of the road for several hours before its cargo is transferred to another truck to continue its trip. Once again, the adage applies: "Cargo at rest is cargo at risk".

Next, your gate staff should inspect the trailer. Is the roof of the trailer damaged? Is the entire floor intact? Do the doors close and seal properly? Are the trailer's tires in good condition? Are all the lights on the trailer functioning? If your gate staff answers "no" to any of these questions, send the driver away. Roof damage, floor damage and door issues could be an indication that the trailer has not been properly cared for, which could result in a breakdown. Also, it is not good practice to transport product inside trailers damaged by overuse, neglect or bridge collisions because of the possibility of weather damage.

Make sure the tractor's fuel tanks are full. Crime data show a significant amount of cargo thefts occur within 200 miles of the origin facility. The driver needs to be able to travel at least 200 miles before stopping for any reason, including refueling.

Important Information

Before a driver leaves your facility your cargo, you need to collect and record important information, which must be kept in an easily accessible place (for example, on a corporate intranet or a shared network drive) in the event the load is stolen en route to the intended destination. Some of that documentation should also be given to the driver with explicit instructions to keep it on his or her person at all times.

The first information that needs to be collected concerns the driver. A photograph of every driver should be taken, as well as a scan of the driver's license. From the license, your staff should record the driver's name, date of birth, address, license number and license expiration date. Gate employees should also record each driver's company name, dispatcher number (if applicable) and personal mobile phone number. Drivers should receive a photocopy of their driver's license and a printout of all other records in the event that they are forced to exit the truck without their wallet.

Information about the tractor and trailer also needs to be collected. You should photograph the tractor and trailer from the side and rear. Vehicle identification numbers, license plate numbers, year/make/model and a written description must be recorded. Again, a printout of this information should be given to the driver along with instructions in the event of a cargo theft incident.

By arming your carrier and your company with essential information about the driver, tractor and trailer, you significantly increase your chances of recovering cargo if it is stolen. Typically, when a trailer full of cargo is stolen from a truck stop, law enforcement officials need more details than they receive. There are thousands of "white trailers with writing on the side" operating daily on the interstates. Conversely, by immediately providing police with actual license plate numbers and full vehicle descriptions, they know exactly what to look for.


Finally, after a shipment has left the facility, work still needs to be done. You must catalog and store all records and photos about the driver and vehicle. Access to this folder must be quick and convenient in the event of a theft.

Your company also needs to have guidelines about how to react in the event of a cargo theft. If the on-call supply chain person receives a call from a driver at 11:30 p.m., that staffer should know exactly who to contact, how to transmit relevant data and how to initiate the recovery process (if applicable).

You can mitigate cargo theft risk using a few basic preventive measures: carrier selection, driver education, physical security and information recording. With careful planning and diligent management, your shipments will remain secure even during a busy retail season.