FreightWatch: Cargo thefts down 20 percent in first quarter

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 4/2/2013

The latest report on cargo theft from FreightWatch International shows a 20 percent decrease in cargo thefts from the first quarter of 2013 compared with the last quarter of 2012.

In the period from December 2012 through February 2013, FreightWatch recorded a total of 199 thefts in the U.S., with 77 thefts in December, 53 in January and 69 in February. The average loss value per incident during this period was $133,711. Compared with the previous quarter, thefts fell by 20 percent and average loss value dropped by 39 percent.

The report is compiled from U.S. theft data derived from law enforcement and industry databases.

While the report suggests an overall trend of decline, Doug Morris, OOIDA security operations director, said cargo theft continues to be a problem.

“Overall it looks like the trend is going down, but I find that hard to believe, to be honest with you,” he said. “This is a snapshot of the industry.”

The report listed the most commonly stolen cargo was food/drinks, with 49 incidents, or roughly 25 percent of all thefts in the quarter. Products in this category included various meats and seafood, juice and prepared foods. The electronics industry experienced 25 thefts, 13 percent of the total – mainly of TVs, cell phones and video game consoles. FreightWatch identified 20 thefts in the metal category, 10 percent of all thefts, including copper, steel and scrap metals.

Theft incidents in most product categories decreased proportionally with the overall decrease in thefts, except for food/drinks, which rose from 38 to 49 thefts, and pharmaceuticals, which increased from 11 to 19 thefts.

Morris offered drivers two tips to help prevent theft.

“Number one, keep the cargo moving,” he said. “The longer a loaded trailer or container sits unattended, the higher the risk for theft. Park in a well-lit environment and don’t leave the load for an extended period of time.

“Number two, focus on the “hot spots.” Generally, cargo theft is highly concentrated in just five or six states, and if you drill down further, in certain cities, neighborhoods, and truck stops and other parking areas. Also, thefts occur more frequently on weekends (especially Saturdays) and they spike during holiday periods,” Morris said. “So, focus your security efforts in the places and times they are most likely to occur.”

Florida experienced the most thefts during the quarter, with 34 incidents, followed by Texas with 30 thefts, and Georgia with 27. California, which is historically the top state in terms of incidents of theft, dropped to fourth place with 21 thefts.

Morris said he believes ramped-up enforcement in California has contributed to the decline.

“I know for a fact that California has set up task forces and they’re starting to share information,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons California has gone down. You see this from time to time in states where there’s a peak of thefts. Then law enforcement starts focusing their attention on that.”

Michigan, identified in FreightWatch’s 2012 US Annual Report as a new cargo theft hot spot, experienced seven incidents, up to seventh place from its typical rank of about 20th.

About 61 percent of all thefts occurred in unsecured parking areas when locations were recorded on the theft reports. Facility thefts were the second most common with 17 incidents. Nine thefts from secured parking and seven in-transit thefts together composed about 8 percent of all incidents.

Following usual trends, incidents involving theft of trailer, 132 in all, were most common, accounting for 66 percent of all thefts during the three-month period. Thefts involving deceptive pickup remained steady at 15, composing 8 percent of all thefts.

Last-mile courier thefts have seen a recent boom, spiking from four thefts in the previous quarter to 10 in the rolling quarter, making up 5 percent of all thefts. FreightWatch will continue to monitor last-mile courier thefts and provide updates in future scheduled reports. Despite an overall drop in thefts from the previous quarter, two product types saw significant increases in theft volume.

While the average loss value across all incidents was $133,711 for the rolling quarter, the average losses in specific product types varied widely according to the report. The tobacco category had the highest loss value, although there was only one reported theft, a cargo valued at $2 million.

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