From coast to coast: Cargo theft rose steadily in 2010

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | Friday, January 21, 2011

A major truck and cargo theft ring faces a flurry of charges in Florida after an investigation alleged that four men and one woman stole 25 trucks and trailers full of rice, sugar and 55-inch televisions.

Unfortunately, to trucking security professional Doug Morris it?s just the latest daily news in the multibillion dollar industry of stolen cargo.

Whether it?s $20,000 worth of paper towels or millions of dollars in stolen pharmaceuticals, experts say two-and-a-half loads of cargo theft occur every day in the U.S. ? the highest ever on record.

?It?s based on the economy,? said Morris, who works as OOIDA?s director of security after a 25-year career with the Maryland State Police. ?If the economy is going bad, cargo thefts are usually up ? and the economy is still doing badly.?

FreightWatch International, a logistics security firm, recently released its annual report on cargo theft in the U.S. Cargo thefts are up 4 percent from 2009, and FreightWatch said theft of food and drinks surpassed electronics as the most popular target for cargo thieves.

California led the way with 229 incidents, but experts at FreightWatch say a relationship between cargo theft groups in Florida appears and groups in New Jersey has boosted stolen loads in the Garden State to more than double its 2009 tally of 50.

The theft of precious metals, including copper, aluminum and other metals, jumped from 15 in 2008 to 43 last year.

Before the past few years, cargo theft had been dominated by local and regional organizations that often carefully plan out their heists, Morris said. The growth in cargo theft, Morris says, indicates more common criminals are stealing loads when opportunities arise.

?It?s an easy target,? Morris said. ?They can do it and make money relatively fast. They can take the merchandise and sell it out of their trucks or take it to a warehouse.?

FreightWatch statistics showed that 46 theft incidents includes the loss of multiple trailers in the same incident, a ?rate of occurrence that far surpasses any previous year, demonstrating that criminals are aiming to increase their take-per-theft ratio,? a statement from the freight security company said.

Most cargo thefts occurred on Saturday, Sunday and Monday ? nearly doubling the daily theft figures for Tuesday through Friday. FreightWatch reported that ?64 percent of cargo is stolen over the weekend and most often discovered missing when drivers return on Sunday or Monday to continue their route.?

Other cargo theft statistics of note include the following:

  • 61 percent of all electronics thefts occurred in California (52), Florida (32) and Texas (22).
  • The average loss per incident in 2010 was $471,200, down from 2009?s average of $572,800.
  • The largest loss on record happened in March, when $76 million in pharmaceuticals were stolen from a warehouse.
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