Company warns drivers about rise in cargo theft over Memorial Day weekend

May 26, 2023

Ryan Witkowski


With Memorial Day on the horizon, a company dedicated to cargo theft prevention and recovery is warning drivers about the rise in crime over the holiday weekend.

CargoNet is a Jersey City, N.J.-based data- and information-sharing company working with carriers and law enforcement to combat cargo theft. The company recently released their annual Memorial Day Cargo Theft Trends report.

The 2023 report includes data from the Thursday before Memorial Day to the Wednesday after for the past five years. According to CargoNet, a total of 125 cargo theft incidents were reported over that span, with a total loss value just shy of $17 million. Warehouses and distribution centers were the leading targeted theft areas, followed by parking lots at number two.

Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at Verisk – the parent company to CargoNet – says the increased freight movement around the holidays can create a chaotic environment for supply chain professionals. Shippers who fail to plan for the influx of work can be in scramble mode to find drivers for their loads. Motivated by not wanting things sitting idle over the weekend, Lewis says the pressure to move the freight can make shippers “a little lax” when it comes to vetting carriers.

“We’ve got to get this stuff going, and we take our eye off the ball, and the thieves know this and they take advantage of it,” Lewis told Land Line.

He adds that a lack of secure truck parking is another big factor when it comes to cargo theft, which he says unfairly “falls back on the shoulders of the driver.”

As for what types of loads thieves are looking to target this holiday weekend, it’s as simple as supply-and-demand. Lewis says that criminals will want to have a quick turnaround when it comes to selling off stolen goods, so they target loads with high-demand items. Memorial Day usually comes with its fair share of cookouts. Lewis says trailers carrying food, alcohol and other beverages are often targeted this time of year.

According to data from CargoNet, food and beverage, household goods and electronics were the top three commodities targeted for theft over Memorial Day weekend.

While the holiday weekend should put carriers on high alert, there are three states where drivers should be particularly cautious. Since 2018, 48% of all cargo thefts over the Memorial Day weekend were reported in California, Florida or Texas.

Additionally, CargoNet says that recent trends show a spike in trailer burglary and full trailer theft activity in the Eastern half of the United States, including:

  • Full trailer theft activity from organized cargo theft groups from South Florida that surveil warehouses across the Eastern seaboard or Midwest and follow outbound shipments until the driver leaves the trailer unattended
  • Full trailer theft activity in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area
  • Trailer burglary in the Chicagoland area, especially around Bolingbrook, Ill.
  • Trailer burglary and full trailer theft activity in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area
  • Trailer burglary and full trailer theft activity in Philadelphia, Pa.

So far, 2023 has been a busy year for cargo thieves. According to CargoNet, there have been over 900 reports of theft, fraud, and other kinds of criminal activity in the supply chain in the first 20 weeks of 2023. That’s a 41% increase from the year prior. In fact, the company adds “current supply chain crime activity exceeds the previous 10 years when comparing the first 20 weeks of each year.”

Drivers can take measures to mitigate their chances of becoming a victim of cargo theft. One of the easiest ways to do that is by using a padlock on the trailer.

However, Lewis says that the use of bolt seals by shippers can make it impossible to get padlocks onto the trailer. When that fails, he says that drivers can also help protect their cargo by using the environment around them.

“Just simple things like that that don’t cost any money. Back up to a telephone pole, back up to a building, back up to a berm,” Lewis said. “The technology stuff all helps, but it’s the simple things. It’s the environmental type of precautions that a driver can take… use the environment that’s provided to harden your target.”

He also recommends buddying up with another driver at a truck stop and parking your trailers back-to-back.

Other tips from CargoNet for drivers to help minimize their risk of cargo theft are:

  • Make sure to have accurate license plate, VIN, and descriptive information for tractors, trailers, containers, and container chassis. Police agencies will need this information to open an investigation in the event of an incident. Drivers should keep this information on them so they can quickly reference it if their truck is stolen.
  • Secure all trailers (loaded and unloaded) with high-security ISO 17712- compliant barrier seals in combination with hardened padlocks. Use king pin locks for unattached trailers.
  • Secure all tractors with high-security locking devices, such as air-cuff and steering column locks.
  • Remind drivers to arrive at point of pickup well-rested, showered, and fed and with a full tank of fuel.
  • Avoid having loaded trailers sit unattended.

Lewis has worked around cargo theft from both the supply chain, and law enforcement sides, for over 20 years. The rise in crime around the holidays is well known to him and others in the industry. Despite this, year after year it continues to be an issue. Lewis says that much of that can be attributed to thieves staying ahead of the game.

“We as supply chain professionals are playing checkers and the bad guys are playing chess. They’re using the speed of the supply chain. They’re using technology presented. Law enforcement can’t keep up…  and the bad guys are using all that to their advantage.”

The issue has become so prevalent that several lawmakers are calling for the creation of a permanent task force to address supply chain thefts, expressing their concerns in a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General on May 22.

“We urge the Office of Inspector General to consider creating a special unit within the office, in consultation with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Justice, to investigate, refer and prosecute cases of transportation fraud in a systematic, concerted manner.” LL