Holiday Cargo Theft Q&A with Scott Cornell of Travelers

To learn more about holiday cargo theft, Inbound Logistics spoke with Scott Cornell, transportation business lead and crime and theft specialist at Travelers.

Why is cargo theft more prevalent over the holiday season?

With so many gifts being ordered, this time of year is holiday season for the bad guys, too. More shipments out on the roads or at warehouses and distribution centers means more potential targets and opportunity for cargo thieves. That, combined with a recent shortage of truck parking, means more freight will be sitting in various unsecured locations, leaving it vulnerable to theft, since cargo at rest is cargo at risk.

Additionally, cargo thieves steal what they know they can sell. The items being shipped around the holidays are the goods currently in demand across the country, often including electronics that tend to be high in value and easy to sell—a winning combination for a criminal trying to make a quick dollar at someone else’s expense.

How can warehouses and distribution centers best protect themselves during this busy time of year?

Although warehouse theft isn’t as prevalent as it once was, we do still see thieves targeting these facilities. The influx of traffic throughout the holiday season leads to a faster pace in warehouses and at loading docks, which can make it difficult to slow down and question things that may normally raise suspicion. In those situations, thieves can be overlooked, allowing them to, for example, commit a fictitious pick-up or an identity theft pick-up by pretending to be a legitimate trucking company picking up a load.

On top of this, many warehouses and distribution centers hire additional help during this time. It’s important to use the same standards when hiring temporary employees as you would permanent employees, including thoroughly vetting candidates and running background checks.

Having good security protocols in place is also essential. This can include having security on premises at all times, remote monitoring or an intrusion alert system. It’s also important to have a plan in place to respond to alarms, even during off hours, as thieves have been known to trip an alarm multiple times to make it look like a glitch, in hopes that someone will turn it off until they can find out what is triggering it.

Can you share a few security tips for cargo that’s already in transit? What are the most important steps shippers and carriers can take to protect cargo?

Cargo theft doesn’t take only one form, and neither should theft prevention. As busy as this time of year can be, it’s vital for shippers, carriers and brokers to remain vigilant when enforcing security processes and procedures. It would be ideal to avoid leaving loads unattended, but when that’s not an option, we recommend a layered approach to protecting shipments. This can include:

  1. Educating drivers and staff. Make sure they are aware of the current threats and trends related to cargo theft.
  2. Implementing a “red zone” where drivers fuel up and take care of all personal needs before picking up a load and then drive at least 250 miles before making their first stop. This helps prevent thieves from following a load from a warehouse or distribution center in hopes that the driver will stop to eat or fuel up, leaving the load unattended.
  3. Staging loads at secure company yards whenever possible.
  4. Using all available locking and theft prevention equipment to secure trailers while they are being staged or during driver stops.
  5. Installing covert tracking systems on all shipments and carefully monitoring the location of loads left unattended or in transit.
  6. Understanding all resources at your disposal, including industry groups and task forces, as well as your insurer.

How can companies train their employees to be more vigilant during this time of year?

In warehousing or transportation, possibly the most important step is building employee awareness. Criminals count on employees to be busy and distracted during the busy holiday season, so it’s up to companies to teach their people what to look out for and what steps to take to verify that anyone they’re working with is really who they say they are. Teaching employees some of the most basic red flags or criminal methods can raise awareness enough to help them ask questions when things don’t seem right. It also helps to make reporting suspicious activity as easy as possible, including establishing one point of contact for raising concerns.

What new techniques or technological innovations are being harnessed to help commit theft or mitigate risk?

We’re continuing to see technology used to track and target goods. This includes the use of sniffers and jammers—sniffers to identify tracking signals and jammers to block them—as well as cyber tactics like Trojan viruses to gain access to load information and documentation. We’ve also started to notice the use of 3D printers to replicate trailer seals and VIN plates, which is a relatively new threat that we saw first in Europe.

Technology is also being utilized on the prevention side, including the use of discrete GPS/AGPS tracking devices with geofencing and route fencing technology to monitor loads and create alerts when the trailer leaves a designated area or goes off route. We’re also seeing increasingly sophisticated locking mechanisms, some of which can be controlled remotely and/or by Bluetooth. There has also been an emergence of mobile applications and security-based platforms designed to prevent theft and assist in recovering stolen cargo.

What kind of back-up plans should be in place should something go wrong?

It’s important to have a plan in place should a theft occur—this includes knowing who to contact and what documentation you need to have available when calling the police or filing a claim. It’s also crucial to know what resources are available to help prevent and recover from theft, including industry groups and task forces who can keep you informed of recent trends and help respond in the event of a theft.

Also, remember that your insurance company can be an invaluable resource for more than just filing a claim. For example, the Special Investigations Group at Travelers is a dedicated response team on call at all times to help respond to a theft and Travelers also offers training and educational resources to help you develop the processes and procedures needed to stop a theft from happening in the first place.

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