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Five strategies to help manage cargo theft risks in trucking operations

Five strategies to help manage cargo theft risks in trucking operations

By: Sovereign Insurance | Featuring Kevin Dutchak

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Cargo thefts across Canada and the US are on the rise. According to commercial transportation industry data, thefts have increased 15% from 2021 to 2022.1  While the reason behind this significant jump in cargo crime is complex, according to cargo industry watchdog, CargoNet, supply chain disruptions that began during the COVID pandemic are a significant factor.  During the pandemic, the scarcity and rising inflationary costs of many products such as computer graphic cards and raw meat products triggered an illicit market demand for these and other goods. Similarly, household items were found to be the most stolen items in 2022, which were often targeted during long haul and final mile distribution.2 The average value of cargo stolen during each event was $214,104, with an estimated $223 million dollars of stolen cargo across all cargo theft events in 2022.   Along with the increase in supply chain demand, the sharp increase in cargo thefts may also be attributed to the reopening of borders post-COVID.

It’s clear that cargo theft remains a significant risk factor for the commercial vehicle transportation industry. However, there are steps carriers can take to reduce the risk of cargo theft while also protecting the drivers that may be put in harm’s way.

Carrier management should consider the following best practices to protect cargo from being stolen while in transit:

Employee Screening: It’s an unfortunate reality that many cargo thefts are “inside jobs” by drivers and operations staff. That’s why the first step carriers should take to help prevent cargo theft is to enhance their applicant screening practices. This includes establishing sound due diligence practices, such as carrying out reference checks and criminal record checks, and retrieving driver records (best practice is to receive permission from applicants to order fresh driver abstracts; do not accept copies offered by applicants, as they may be falsified). Third party verification services can provide an additional layer of effective applicant screening.

Be aware of new cargo theft strategies: Industry experts have observed a significant increase in fictitious cargo pickups, which relies on the subcontracting of shipments to a legitimate motor carrier and then having the shipment misdirected to another address. The use of this strategy increased by 600% in 2022 over the prior year, adding up to 96 fictitious pickups in total.2 Make sure the trucks picking up loads from your shipping facilities have real trucking company names on them, and that the MC/DOT numbers on the tractors correlate with those names.

Schedule delivery times with consignees: Whenever possible, confirm delivery times with the consignee, and ensure you have a contingency plan in place in case the consignee temporarily closes operations without notice.

Identify goods in-transit: Use a reputable electronic logging device (ELD) and/or GPS tracking system to track loads in transit. GPS tracking capabilities should include real time location services and geo-fencing that notifies a carrier of a tractor/trailer detected to be in motion when it is expected to be stationary. Best practice includes having a GPS tracker on both the tractor and trailer or cargo and covertly positioning the tracking devices. This offers the best opportunity for tracking trailer loads, increases the chances of recovery, and may even deter/prevent the theft from occurring in the first place. Finally, require drivers to check the seal integrity of their cargo at each stop while in-transit. This is especially important for specific trailer configurations, such as curtain wall trailers, which should be inspected regularly for signs of damage or tampering.

Stay in touch – give drivers clear instructions: A clear line of communication with drivers is critical to keeping them, and their cargo, safe. All trips should be planned by operations staff and discussed with drivers prior to departure. Any changes to planned routes or significant delays for any reason should be reported immediately to operations staff, and drivers must be clearly instructed on contingency plans prior to leaving with the load. Once they’re on the road, prohibit drivers from stopping in identified high risk areas, secure safe parking for drivers along their pre-determined route, and ensure clear means of communication are maintained throughout their journey. Drivers should also be directed to never discuss cargo details in public, for example during meal breaks, or through any communication devices such as CB radios that could easily be monitored.

The top locations targeted for cargo theft include intermodal hubs, warehouse/distribution centers, and parking lots. Consider the following best practices to protect cargo while spotted at cargo storage locations and/or other areas where tractors and trailers may be stationary for significant periods of time:

Ensure your cargo storage locations are outfitted with security and alarm systems: Identify locations with CCTV coverage, fenced and gated compounds with electronic gate controls, security lighting, and onsite security.

Minimize preloading of trailers: Pre-loaded trailers are more susceptible to theft. When possible, do not pre-load trailers. If pre-loading is needed, do so within a secure compound. When required, define pick-up times and schedule accordingly.

Identify alternative storage locations: Having an alternate storage location available can help mitigate theft in the event the primary location is closed, or suspicious activity is noted.

Work with your customers and vendors to establish transit schedules that prioritize security: If timing doesn’t prioritize security, and loads will need to sit in a trucking yard, suggest different schedules to minimize theft risk.

It’s imperative that transport carriers take mindful and measured steps to protect the critical cargo being hauled. There are ample opportunities for thieves to strike along the route - whether in transit or parked. Cargo theft risk mitigation best practices are wide ranging and consider the myriad of potential factors and scenarios at play. By following these recommended strategies, carrier managers can help protect their people, cargo, and bottom line.

Additional Resources:

How much cargo theft rose in 2022

Cargo Thefts Jump in 2022

July 4 Holiday Cargo Theft Trends 2019 (no longer available)

CargoNet Driver Advisory

Mitigating Cargo Theft Risk


Note: This bulletin is not a substitute for a thorough risk assessment and is intended to provide information only.


1 Canadian Underwriter. How much cargo theft rose in 2022.  January 16, 2023
2 Canadian Trucking  Alliance RSS Cargo thefts jump in 2022 - January 20, 2022


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