COVID contributes to spike in cargo theft in US during 2020

There were 870 thefts of cargo throughout the US last year, up 23 per cent on 2019, with criminals targeting products linked to COVID-19, according to new figures from freight security specialist Sensitech.

In particular, thieves were going after terms like personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, had sanitizer and disinfectants, as well as toilet paper and paper towels that were in short supply during the initial stages of the pandemic.

The volume of cargo thefts increased for the second year in a row – a first since rates started to decline in 2011 – and the value average of thefts also rose sharply, up 41 per cent over the prior year to nearly $167,000, with 10 thefts valued at $1m or more.

There was also a big increase in pilferage incidents, which have a lower value than full truckload (FTL) thefts, which accounted for 43 per cent of the total. That continues a four-year trend that demonstrates clearly that cargo theft risk is on the rise, according to Sensitech.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of all recorded thefts in 2020 occurred in the top three states – California, Texas and Florida – reversing a trend in earlier years where the top states were accounting for less and less of the total share. This indicates that cargo theft activity is "re-concentrating in traditional hotspots," says Sensitech.

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The Miscellaneous product was the top of the ranking last year for the first time, recording 23 per cent of total thefts, followed by Home & Garden (including sanitizer and disinfectant) at 19 per cent, Food & Drinks at 15 per cent and Electronics – which headed the list in 2019 – at 12 per cent.

Cargo thieves in the US largely tend to target loaded trailers and containers that are stationary and unattended, and 87 per cent of all thefts last year took place in unsecured parking locations like truck stops.

Sensitech says it "considers the threat of cargo theft in the US and Canada to be on the rise… due, in part, to the continued increase in the level of organization and sophistication of criminal groups focusing on cargo, and the relatively minor penalties often associated with cargo crime."

It also thinks that cargo crime is significantly under-reported, and there is a need for more information sharing by supply chain partners.

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