Q1 24 saw the continuation of a dark trend: growth in the logistics arena being eclipsed by rising crime.

In the US, cargo theft rose 10% over the final quarter last year, at a figure 43% higher than in Q1 23.

Freight security firm CargoNet registered 925 reported incidents in Q1, which resulted in losses of $76m – an average shipment loss of $282,000.

And these are only the cargo thefts that were reported: CargoNet estimates around $154.6m worth of freight was stolen in the first three months of this year.

According to  freight monitoring specialist Overhaul, there were 11 incidents where the loss exceeded $1 million, which is also a rising trend, as Overhaul counted just one theft of cargo worth over $1m in Q1 last year, five in Q2, seven in Q3 and nine in Q4.

In its report on the first quarter, CargoNet describes a “sustained crime wave that began in late 2022”. In 2023 it recorded a 59% year-on-year increase in reported cargo crime in the US and Canada.

This year, as usual, criminals are targeting a broad range of industries, CargoNet reported. Most popular in Q1 were small appliances, liquor, energy drinks and copper. Essentially, thieves’ preferences reflect patterns of consumer demand, eschewing commodities that are not popular and harder to sell. Food and beverages and household goods consistently rank among prime targets as they are in high demand, relatively easy to sell and more or less untraceable, CargoNet pointed out.

California, Illinois and Texas suffered the worst spikes in cargo crime. Theft surged 72% in California, year on year, while it more than doubled in Illinois, with a 126% increase. Texas recorded a less-pronounced 22% rise. Between them, these three states accounted for 61% of all cargo theft in the US during the first quarter, which CargoNet attributes to their high degree of manufacturing and commerce activity.

And the criminals have also become more sophisticated, CargoNet noted. While theft of, and pilferage from, unattended trailers remains a major problem, there has been a rising number of cases where criminals forged documents or set up fake domains and websites, pretending to be legitimate carriers in order to get their hands on cargo.

This appears to go hand in hand with an advance of organised crime targeting freight – an easy as well as juicy target. Overhaul has described the sector as “very, very high reward” but “very low risk” for criminals, pointing out that they are rarely apprehended.

Moreover, the trend to automate and digitise processes has meant fewer touches of cargo and less vetting of carriers that show up to collect shipments.

And buyers are contributing to the problem by making it easy for criminals to sell their stolen goods. Since the pandemic and the supply shortages it triggered, Overhaul has registered an increased willingness by companies to purchase goods from unknown sources without a thorough check of their credentials.

These factors, plus stubbornly high inflation that has increased financial pressure on more people, suggest that the problem is not likely to ease any time soon. Secure transport provider GardaWorld urges clients to conduct regular security audits to identify and correct vulnerabilities and blind spots in their security arrangements.

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