It’s beginning to look a lot like…cargo theft season

Story by

Nathan Trimble

Tags /

  • Cargo Theft
  • Freight
  • Insurance
A photo of the inside of an empty cargo truck, with white walls and a black floor.

It’s that time of year again. Joyful gatherings with family and friends. Festive holiday meals with all the trimmings. Gangs and crime syndicates plotting to seize your valuable freight.

That’s right—‘tis the season to talk about cargo theft, and this year could be a doozy.

According to CargoNet, thieves have already made off with $45M in goods between January and September. And, that’s quite a stunning figure when you consider $49M was stolen in 2019—before the pandemic rendered us all far more vulnerable.

So, how is this year’s seasonal cargo theft spike shaping up? And, how can you protect your business?

Let us walk you through everything you need to know.

Know thy enemy: Profile of a cargo thief

It’s important to recognize that cargo theft is largely perpetrated by sophisticated organized crime syndicates and gangs—groups that have working inside-knowledge of how the freight industry operates. Meaning, they know when and where you’re most vulnerable, and they won’t think twice about exploiting those vulnerabilities.

Oh, and they’re brazen. They know that if they play it cool, they stand a good chance of driving into a yard, hooking up a trailer, and rolling off the lot without a question.

What’s more, they’re aware of the asset tracking devices you’re putting in place. If they don’t have the tech necessary to jam your signal, their first move will be to dispose of them.

At the end of the day, it’s really important to acknowledge what you’re up against—it makes it easier to embrace the inconvenient best practices that can help mitigate the threat.

Commodities on every cargo thief’s holiday wish list

This year, crime analysts at CargoNet predict electronics and refrigerated foods will top the list of most targeted loads.


The global chip shortage is driving black market demand for electronics. Meanwhile, food and beverage make easy targets given their higher volumes, the less-robust cargo security measures often associated with them, and the ease with which these goods can be fenced.

Of course, keep in mind that cargo thieves understand law enforcement doesn’t have the resources necessary to investigate these crimes. Just because you’re moving another commodity and it will more challenging to move, doesn’t mean it’s invulnerable. If the opportunity presents itself, cargo thieves can and will take advantage.

Cargo theft trends to watch this holiday season

Gangs and crime syndicates are increasingly engaging in strategic cargo theft—collecting the information necessary to successfully execute fraudulent pickups. Now, whether they’re securing that information via cyber intrusion, by posting false loads to steal carrier identities, or other means, the result is the same—they’re arriving on-site and posing as legitimate carriers with all the right information in hand.

A few words of warning.


  • Often arrive at shipper locations ahead of the scheduled pickup times, hoping to make quick exits before diligent dock employees notice something’s amiss or legitimate carriers arrive
  • Recognize they’re more likely to be successful when attempting fraudulent pickups on Friday afternoons—when employees are tired and a little checked out

Of course, not all cargo thefts involve the loss of entire trailers.

Pilferage is also on the rise, especially here in the U.S. And, because drivers may not notice a few pallets missing until they arrive at their final destination, they may have no idea when the crime occurred, making these thefts incredibly difficult to report.

What can you do to protect your business from cargo theft?

We recommend a robust, four-pronged approach that addresses both cargo security and financial recovery. In short, reduce crime to the extent that you can through cargo theft prevention best practices—and protect your balance sheet from the hit when you do become the unlucky victim.

Here’s how.


The devil’s in the details, they say—and that’s particularly true when it comes to preventing cargo theft.

  • Thoroughly vet freight partners before engaging them for their services
  • Strictly adhere to pickup protocols—using secure pickup numbers, confirming driver identities, and putting eyes on trucks to ensure numbers and visual descriptions match up
  • Ensure in-house IT or managed services providers are securing data and regularly delivering data security training to employees
  • Ensure drivers are rested and refueled before departing, avoiding premature stops in the “red zone” (typically within a 200 to 250-mile radius of the pickup location)
  • Park tractor-trailers in well-lit, secure parking locations


  • Protect trailers with high-quality perimeter fencing and locking gates
  • Secure trucks and trailers with immobilization devices—including air brake, landing gear, air cuff, and steering column locks
  • Secure trailers with high-security rear-door locks and ISO 17712-compliant seals

These security devices can be an inconvenience, which is why they’re sometimes not as diligently applied as they could be—but multi-layered security can make your goods a less desirable target.


Asset tracking devices aren’t a complete solution, as sophisticated thieves can jam tracking signals or remove devices. They are, however, an important party of the multi-pronged approach that can make criminals look elsewhere for an easier victim.

  • Leverage asset-tracking that includes route fencing, enabling you to communicate with drivers if a vehicle deviates from its intended route
  • Implement disposable, single-use tracking devices that can be hidden in the cargo—giving you the greatest window possible to locate a missing load
  • Use redundant tracking devices—enabling you to track a load with a more hidden device, should cargo thieves dispose of a more visible one and believe they’re in the clear


The cold, hard truth is you can’t prevent all theft, no matter how diligent you are about your cargo security best practices. That’s why rolling risk management into your cargo theft prevention strategy is so critical.

  • Shippers interest cargo insurance—or “all-risk” policies—don’t require a carrier liability denial to go into effect, and they provide far broader coverage, as well, enabling shippers to recover in an industry-average 30 days rather than 120
  • AI-powered cargo insurance solutions can automate otherwise labor-intensive traditional processes, further tightening the recovery window from weeks to days or minutes

We all know the holiday season is challenging enough. The last thing anyone needs is the stress of a missing load and an angry receiver.

It’s why we encourage everyone to review their cargo security strategy with a careful eye. Ensure it’s as robust as it can be—and that everyone who interacts with your cargo or its relevant information is on high alert.

With all hands on deck, you can help deliver a happy holiday for your customers.