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Cargo theft: It doesn&rsuqo;t have to happen

Donna Ryun
OOIDA Information Services

Last month’s issue of Land Line featured tips on cargo security, and in light of the importance of this issue, along with the need to encourage readers to be proactive in order to protect themselves from cargo theft, I wanted to follow up.

Cargo theft is a lucrative enterprise for thieves these days, with loss estimates approaching $45 billion annually, according to participants in a round-table discussion at a Truckload Carriers Association meeting earlier this year.

It’s everybody’s problem, but for small trucking companies, cargo theft can mean the end of the road for their business. Cargo losses often translate into higher insurance premiums, as well as the loss of customers when word gets out; therefore, many victims choose not to report the crime.

This, and the fact that thieves often get only a slap on the wrist for a first-time offense, compounds the problem, leaving the transportation industry to bear the burden of finding ways to protect itself from overwhelming cargo losses.

Small-business truckers are taking this problem seriously, and many are trying to find out what they can do to stay a step ahead of cargo thieves. Here’s an example:

QUESTION: I’m running my business on a very tight budget, and I want to make sure that I’m doing everything possible to avoid any obstacles that could break me. Since cargo theft is such an issue these days, can you give me some pointers on how to avoid becoming a victim?

ANSWER: You’ve taken the first important step by being concerned enough to ask. You know that the thieves are out there waiting for an opportunity to steal your load, so it’s imperative that you take an inside look at your operation to search out any gaps that could lead to cargo theft.

Although physical deterrents will not always prevent a determined thief from stealing your cargo, they will serve to make it more difficult. Steering locks, kingpin locks, seals and padlocks will go a long way toward slowing the progress of thieves who are on the prowl in truck stops or rest areas. The use of these devices could send a would-be thief on down the line away from your truck in search of easier prey.

Common-sense procedures such as avoiding unsecured, unlit and secluded parking areas, or backing your trailer up to a wall or another trailer can also help to deter thieves.

If possible, vary your route, run with another trucker, and make as few stops as possible while still being in compliance with the regulations. Be particularly alert right after picking up your load, and keep your tractor windows rolled up until you’ve picked up speed and are well on your way down the road. Truckers are more vulnerable during this time, with hijackers looking for the perfect opportunity to make their move.

Avoid raising red flags that draw attention and alert thieves that you are carrying a high-value load. Savvy thieves know that reefer trailers usually indicate a valuable load, so security is definitely a necessity. Dropping a running reefer trailer in a truck stop parking area is an open invitation to an experienced cargo thief, and they watch for opportunities like this.

Sealed trailers indicate a valuable load to thieves, and should not be left unattended. An important fact to consider is that most insurance companies don’t provide coverage for trucks that are unattended, so you should definitely check for exemptions in your cargo policy, particularly if you frequently drop trailers.

Keep in mind that even though you may see a camera or an officer occasionally making a pass through the parking area, there are often signs posted that disclaim any security responsibilities of the property owner. It could cost you your business if thieves get hold of your unattended trailer.

Thieves also listen to the CB radio or eavesdrop on truck stop conversations, so don’t openly talk about what you’re hauling. If strangers begin asking questions about your load or your route, take heed. They might be setting you up for a hijacking.

When you’re driving down the road, pay attention to vehicles that follow you, and be wary of those that stick with you for any length of time. It’s a good idea to have a cell phone and to keep emergency numbers handy so you can contact the authorities if you become suspicious of activities in your immediate surroundings.

If you notice unusual lights or sirens in your rearview mirror, and your intuition is telling you that something’s not quite right – particularly if you are sure you have obeyed traffic laws – don’t ignore your gut feelings. It’s better to call 9-1-1 when you feel threatened than to ignore the signs and become a victim.

The same is true if an individual asks you to stop because they claim you bumped another vehicle or pedestrian. If you have any reservations about the truth of the claim, call 9-1-1 for assistance, and be wary of a possible hijacking attempt. Thugs have been known to play this game as a way to get truckers to stop.

Make it a habit to carry your paperwork with you when you leave your truck. Keep information such as your bill of lading, equipment identification and complete descriptions and license numbers with you. When you return, do a walk-around to check for signs of tampering or break-ins.

Be sure to supervise the loading and unloading of your trailer. Staying with your trailer at this time may prevent small thefts, and will allow you to observe any mishandling of property. You can also take the opportunity to see that the most valuable items are loaded first in order to keep them away from the doors if at all possible.

If you are an owner who hires drivers, take the time to carefully screen them in order to reduce the risk of employee theft. Offer support to your drivers by making sure they know what procedures to follow in the event of an emergency, including how to contact you in a hurry.

Share theft prevention tips with your drivers and make sure your policy is clearly defined so that they can help to do everything possible to protect themselves as well as your equipment and cargo.

If everyone becomes more informed and gets more involved in prevention efforts, thieves will soon begin to realize that truckers are no longer easy pickings for their sleazy enterprise.

If you have questions about doing business as an owner-operator and/or an independent trucker, please e-mail them to donna_ryun@ooida.com or send them to PO Box 1000, Grain Valley, MO 64029. We can’t publish all of your questions in Land Line, but you will receive a response, even if your letter is not published.