As cargo thefts surge around the U.S., food and beverage commodities have become the top target, according to the latest CargoNet data. And the trend doesn’t show signs of slowing.
CargoNet’s theft report revealed an almost 50% increase in food and beverage cargo theft this February compared to last year, with an average value of $214,000 per load.
“Right now we’re not seeing any indication that [cargo theft] is going to slow down,” said Scott Cornell, transportation lead and crime theft specialist at insurance provider Travelers, in an interview with CNBC. “It’s starting to spread out all across the United States.”
The FBI estimates that cargo theft costs businesses anywhere between $15 billion and $30 billion per year, although the actual numbers are likely even higher, as some companies may be reluctant to report their losses.
How does cargo theft happen?
Cargo thefts can be broken down into two main categories: straight theft and strategic theft.
“Straight theft is still the most common,” said Cornell. “That’s where [thieves] physically go out and steal cargo wherever it sits.” This type of theft often occurs in parking lots, warehouses, at truck stops, or even on the side of the road.
Strategic theft, on the other hand, refers to when thieves trick companies into giving them the cargo using identity theft, double brokering scams, or fictitious pickups. “They will pretend to be a legitimate trucking company, and they will go on the load boards or call you, if you’re a freight broker or shipper, and solicit the ability to move loads for you,” explained Cornell.
And a lot of the time, strategic cargo thieves get away with it, which could explain why this type of theft is becoming more common. Strategic theft increased 600% annually coming into 2023, according to CargoNet, and the trend has persisted through the first months of this year.
Why is food and beverage the top target?
The goods that cargo thieves target are often a sign of the times. In 2020, for example, when most Americans were confined to their homes due to Covid-19, household goods were the number one target for cargo thefts. The next year, electronics became the top target, in response to the shortages caused by working and schooling from home.
In February 2023, the food-at-home CPI was 10.2% higher than the year before, according to the latest data. As food inflation persists, it’s no surprise that food and beverage products have become the top target for cargo thefts.
Moreover, as technology changes how the food and beverage supply chain operate, there may be new opportunities for thieves to watch and intercept cargo along its route. According to Cornell, businesses can protect themselves by verifying potential partnerships across multiple sources.
“There are various resources out there that can be used to help verify the business partner that you’re trying to work with,” explained Cornell. “Don’t use any single one—use multiple, have a cross-reference, check the information against itself.”
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