Overhaul response team
Using sensor readings that indicated the shipments were compromised, Overhaul alerted law enforcement who were able to stop the cargo thefts while still in progress.

Cargo theft expected to spike over Memorial Day weekend

May 26, 2023
When the cat's away the mouse will play, and so it goes with cargo thieves during a holiday weekend. Here's how some fleets have countered cargo theft in recent weeks. Plus, how technology helped nab a catalytic converter thief.

For many, Memorial Day weekend is a time to commemorate those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the U.S. military—and to celebrate freedom, but for cargo thieves, it’s an opportunity to strike.

During the long weekend, cargo thieves use the extra time to disappear with stolen cargo. Meanwhile, fleet managers spending some much deserved time off might not notice that a load hasn’t been delivered, according to Scott Cornell, Transportation Lead and Crime and Theft Specialist at Travelers Insurance.

An investigative team at Travelers works with clients to help them prevent cargo theft.

“There’s an old saying of ‘Keep the horse in the barn rather than chase the horse once it’s out of the barn’ and that applies to cargo theft heavily,” Cornell said.

When working with its clients to help prevent cargo theft, Travelers takes a three-layer approach:

  • Good processes and procedures where the focus is on who will be in possession of a company’s freight—the driver. Educating drivers and staff on theft data, trends, and incident reports to bring awareness of the threat of theft. A Red Zone encourages drivers to pick up a load and move out of the area quickly in case they’re being followed by a potential thief. Any refueling, eating, or resting should be done prior to a load pickup.
  • The use of hard-locking devices includes high-security rear door locks or air cuff locks if the driver needs to park the load somewhere for a time, making it take a longer time to break into and preventing anyone from getting in the rear of the trailer.
  • The use of tracking technology like covert tracking hiding within the load is preferred over just tracking the trailer itself because it’s the cargo that the company is ultimately trying to recover.

The success of covert tracking is the case with in-transit supply chain risk management company Overhaul which helped recover two separate loads of consumer electronics in Southern California on the same weekend in late April, according to the company, which added that both shipments containing the same brand of product were valued at over $533,000.

Using sensor readings that indicated the shipments were compromised, Overhaul alerted law enforcement, who were able to stop the cargo thefts while still in progress. The company said the recovered cargo was returned to its origin.

Overhaul LE Connect sends real-time tracking, pictures, and data directly to an officer’s smartphone, streamlining communication and providing critical information directly in the hands of those who need it most,” the company said.

IoT devices are embedded within cargo with the intention of being undetected by a would-be criminal, even being discreet enough that warehouse employees loading the trucks don’t see the “dumbed-down cell phone or smaller” shaped device, according to Ronald Greene, Overhaul’s VP of Business Development.

Some of the devices are single-use and others are multi-use, both requiring prior testing, but no maintenance is needed.

The use of IoT embedded in cargo is around two decades old, when a device would cost about $700. But Greene said that with the advancement of the technology, not only has the functionality improved but so has the price – sometimes less than $50.

Overhaul Intelligence Manager Danny Ramon said the company sees a spike in cargo theft over holiday weekends where thieves take advantage of extended closures at receiving facilities, including hot spots.

“In the US, the hotspots tend to be where there's a confluence of cargo, major interstate highways and port cities, or major cargo hub airports,” Ramon said, adding that they see violent crime connected to cargo theft internationally in Mexico and Brazil.

Cat(alytic) burglars

Not just after full loads of cargo, criminals also target fleet components, including catalytic converters. But with an anti-theft tracking device that not only alerts fleet owners but triggers an alarm, a theft attempt could be cut short.

A suspect was arrested in early May after allegedly trying to steal a catalytic converter from a Montreal, Canada school bus. CATrak Technologies’ tracking system, a catalytic converter anti-theft device, led to the arrest, the company said in a statement.

The small device attached directly to the catalytic converter identifies theft in two ways: When tampered with, a remotely mounted 140 dB siren is triggered in hopes the suspect will flee the area without the converter. If the converter is taken, a GPS tracking function is activated alerting both the authorities and an unlimited number of contacts via the CATrak app.

The fleet manager of the bus depot had previously installed the CATrak’s system on the bus and received a text message alerting them of theft. The company said within hours of receiving the location alert, law enforcement was able to locate the thief and recover the stolen converter, valued at $11,000.

With all the prevention out there, theft is still inevitable. That’s why Cornell said fleets must have a “what-if plan” in place, especially on holiday weekends.

The Travelers team is on-call 24/7/365. Cornell also suggested resources like Transported Asset Protection Association, which tackles the problem of cargo theft from supply chains, or CargoNet, which shares information among theft victims, their business partners, and law enforcement.

“If your driver calls you at 2 o’clock in the morning Saturday and said, ‘Hey my truck’s been stolen,’ you need to know who will pick up the phone for you at 2 o’clock in the morning and immediately begin to investigate that cargo theft for you,” he said.

About the Author

Cris Beaulieu

Cris Beaulieu is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She joined the team after working in local news media. She earned a bachelor’s in journalism at Cleveland State University along with a TV and Radio Broadcast degree at Ohio Media School. 

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