What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cargo theft? For most people, it’s likely something akin to the “Fast and the Furious” movies. Thieves leaping from car to car, breaking into armored trucks moving down the interstate, and escaping via helicopter or motorcycle.

While those types of heists make for great popcorn entertainment, the real threats of cargo theft aren’t nearly as flashy – and potentially far more damaging to the shipper and/or carrier’s bottom line. The FBI estimates cargo theft costs victims $15-$30 billion per year. Food & beverage theft was up 50% between February 2022 and 2023, ranking alongside other prime targets such as household goods and electronics. The average value of a stolen cargo load? $214,000.

Here’s a primer on how cargo thieves are racking up high takes – and how you can avoid becoming a victim yourself.

What cargo theft looks like in the digital age

Oftentimes, cargo theft can start like any other phishing email. A third-party contacts a shipper or broker, potentially offering an enticingly low rate for transportation services, and successfully being awarded the load. The third-party might be imitating an established freight hauler, spoofing their website or emails and even pretending to be a representative of that company over the phone. The shipper or broker provides the load pickup and delivery information and waits for confirmation of ultimate pickup and delivery.

In the least harmful outcome, the third-party may re-broker the load to another motor carrier but fail to pay the delivering carrier, resulting in multiple providers seeking payment from the shipper, but fortunately without any loss of the cargo. However, the scammer might send a truck to collect the shipment, and hijack or divert the goods to an unknown location rather than deliver to the buyer. The truck driver may be in on the scheme or may be just as much a victim as the shipper. They take the delivery to the altered address they’ve been provided by the scammer, where the scammer proceeds to hijack the goods and sell them on the black market.

It’s important to note, though, that shippers aren’t the only target in cargo theft. Freight haulers themselves can also become victims, especially when scammers double brokers shipments. The freight hauler may successfully deliver the cargo, but the scammer who double-brokered the load to the carrier vanishes and never provides payment. These types of crimes harm both the shipper’s and carrier’s bottom line in the short term, and their reputation in the long term.

How to prevent cargo theft

Good old-fashioned vigilance can go a long way to avoiding cargo theft set-ups.  Here are a few strategies to employ:

  • Educate your employees. Chances are you already run anti-phishing training within your organization. While you’re demonstrating threats to personal information in the workplace, make sure to build in training on how to monitor business-level threats. Scammers know mistakes are more likely to happen when an employee is under pressure to book a hauler or confirm a shipment, so remind employees to slow down and check details if they feel themselves getting overwhelmed. If something seems off, it probably is.
  • Check, Double Check and Triple Check. Before a shipment leaves your facility, or before your contracted hauler reaches a customer, take a very close look at the shipment details. Ensure the driver’s information matches the order, and that the right carrier is picking up the shipment. Test the phone number provided by the driver, and confirm the DOT number on the tractor matches your records.
  • Dedicate team members to fighting fraud. The prevention of cargo fraud shouldn’t fall entirely on the transportation team. Establishing a separate compliance and risk team will ensure you can dedicate resources to catching fraud before the deceptive hauler even reaches your facility.
  • Incorporate technology into the fight. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have added a new layer of defense for both shippers and haulers. Machine learning embedded within digital freight matching technologies can cross reference carrier information with publicly available data to verify identities. In addition, merchants can use GPS tags to track and recover high-value freight in the event a scam does occur.

Looking for more support?

If you’d like a third-party partner in your efforts to fight cargo theft, the Kenco team can help. Our dedicated compliance and risk teams perform thorough and ongoing vetting and monitoring of transportation providers engaged by Kenco, catching bad actors before they get anywhere near your cargo and providing immediate incident response support for active fraud or theft situations. Learn more about our full suite of transportation solutions here.