Cargo Theft on the Rise: Understanding the Growing Challenge in America

Understanding Department of Defense (DOD) Performance Bonds
May 18, 2023
Understanding the Differences Between Freight Forwarders and Freight Brokers
February 2, 2024

Cargo Theft on the Rise: Understanding the Growing Challenge in America

The Current State of Cargo Theft

In the ever-evolving landscape of supply chain security, one issue looms large and persistent: cargo theft. As we progress into the last quarter of 2023, cargo theft continues to be a growing challenge for businesses across the United States. Understanding the current state of cargo theft is not just a matter of concern; it’s imperative for any company involved in logistics, transportation, or the movement of goods to take certain precautions.

The Numbers Tell the Story

To comprehend the scale of this issue, it’s essential to look at the numbers. In 2023, cargo theft is far from being a minor or sporadic occurrence. According to recent data and industry reports, cargo theft is on the rise, both in terms of frequency and the overall value of stolen goods.   The financial toll of cargo theft on the American economy is significant, with over 44 million dollars worth of goods disappearing from supply chains in the second quarter of 2023.  This same data recorded that approx. 582 thefts had occurred across the US and Canada, a 57% increase from Q2 2022.

(Source: CargoNet)

Targeted Goods and Industries

Cargo thieves are strategic and selective in their operations. They tend to target specific goods and industries. High-value goods, including electronics, pharmaceuticals, and precious metals, often top the list of cargo theft targets. Additionally, the transportation of food and beverages has seen a concerning increase in theft, posing a threat to the food supply chain.

Furthermore, certain industries are more vulnerable to cargo theft than others. The trucking and transportation sector, in particular, is one of the most impacted, given its central role in moving goods across the country.

Hotspots and Regional Variations

The occurrence of cargo theft isn’t uniform across the United States. Some regions and states experience higher instances of theft than others. These regional variations can be attributed to factors such as population density, transportation routes, and the presence of organized criminal networks. States with major ports, extensive highway systems, or logistical hubs are often hotspots for cargo theft.

For instance, California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois have consistently ranked among the states with the highest cargo theft occurrences. In fact, approx. 51% of all theft in Q2 2023 are from these four states. Though the majority, it’s still very important to note that cargo theft is not limited to a handful of states; it can happen anywhere, making vigilance and preventive measures crucial for all businesses.

(Source: CargoNet)

Economic Impact and Security Challenges

The economic impact of cargo theft extends far beyond the loss of physical goods. Companies face financial losses, including the value of stolen cargo, insurance premiums, and the cost of heightened security measures. Moreover, businesses must deal with operational disruptions, delayed deliveries, and damage to their reputation.

Security challenges associated with cargo theft include the constant need for vigilance and the allocation of resources for enhanced security measures. Companies must navigate the delicate balance between securing their cargo and maintaining the efficiency of their supply chains.

Key Factors Contributing to Cargo Theft

The surge in cargo theft in America is not an isolated or spontaneous occurrence. It’s the result of a complex interplay of factors that have come together to create an environment where cargo thieves thrive. Understanding these vulnerabilities is crucial for devising effective strategies to combat this growing challenge.

Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

One of the fundamental factors contributing to cargo theft is the vulnerabilities within the supply chain itself. The modern supply chain is a complex web of activities involving multiple stakeholders, from manufacturers and shippers to carriers and receivers. This complexity offers numerous points of vulnerability that criminals can exploit.

For instance, during transit, goods are often transferred between various modes of transportation, making them susceptible to theft during these handover processes. Additionally, the extended supply chain, with goods traveling long distances across borders and regions, provides ample opportunities for criminals to intercept shipments. 

Organized Crime Networks

Cargo theft is not a petty crime committed by opportunistic individuals. It’s often orchestrated by organized crime networks with sophisticated operations. These networks have the resources, knowledge, and manpower to plan and execute thefts on a grand scale.

These criminals are not limited to just stealing and selling stolen goods. They are involved in various criminal activities, including drug trafficking, money laundering, and more. Their involvement in cargo theft is just one facet of their criminal enterprise, making them difficult to tackle for law enforcement.

Methods and Tactics

The methods and tactics used by cargo thieves have evolved with time. These criminals employ a range of strategies to intercept and steal goods. Some common tactics include:

  • Deceptive practices: Cargo thieves may pose as legitimate carriers or employ fake documentation to gain access to shipments.
  • Hijacking: Criminals may physically intercept and take control of trucks or cargo in transit, often using force or threats.
  • Insider involvement: In some cases, employees within the supply chain may collaborate with thieves, providing information or access to shipments.
  • Criminals are exploiting stolen/fake motor carrier and broker identities to obtain freight, which then misdirect it from the intended receiver so they can steal the cargo.

Technology has also played a significant role in enabling cargo theft. Criminals can use GPS tracking, electronic communication, data from TMS software, and online research to identify potential targets and track shipments, making it essential for companies to bolster their cybersecurity and adopt secure communication protocols.

The Internet’s Role

The internet has revolutionized not just legitimate commerce, but also the world of cargo theft. Criminals can access vast amounts of information online, allowing them to research and select targets more efficiently. They can also use the dark web to connect with potential buyers for stolen goods.

Additionally, online marketplaces have made it easier for thieves to quickly offload stolen cargo. E-commerce platforms offer a cloak of anonymity, making it difficult for law enforcement to trace illegal transactions.

Strategies for Cargo Theft Prevention

To combat the growing challenge of cargo theft in America, businesses need to implement proactive strategies and best practices. These measures are essential for safeguarding their supply chains and minimizing the risk of theft.

Enhanced Security Measures

One of the fundamental strategies for cargo theft prevention is the implementation of enhanced security measures. This includes the use of advanced security technology, such as GPS tracking, electronic seals, and secure communication channels. Trucks and cargo containers can be equipped with tracking devices to monitor their location and status in real-time. Access control systems and surveillance cameras can deter theft attempts.

Employee Training and Vigilance

Employees within the supply chain play a crucial role in cargo theft prevention. Companies should invest in training programs to educate their employees on security best practices. This includes recognizing suspicious behavior, verifying the identity of individuals involved in cargo handling, and knowing how to respond in case of a theft attempt. Vigilance from all personnel can help prevent theft incidents.

Secure Facilities and Storage

Securing facilities and storage areas is equally important. Warehouses and distribution centers should have controlled access, proper lighting, and security personnel. Access to sensitive areas should be restricted, and inventory management systems should be in place to track goods at all times. Loading and unloading areas should be monitored to prevent theft during the handover process.

Collaboration and Information Sharing

Collaboration among stakeholders in the supply chain is essential. Businesses, law enforcement agencies, and industry associations should share information about cargo theft incidents and trends. This collaborative approach can lead to a more effective response to theft attempts and the identification of criminal networks involved in cargo theft.


Given the role of technology and the internet in cargo theft, companies must also focus on cybersecurity. Protecting data related to shipments and security protocols is critical. Cyberattacks can disrupt tracking systems and expose vulnerabilities, making it necessary to invest in robust cybersecurity measures.  Keeping TMS data secure and away from unwelcomed eyes are key in preventing theft.

Cargo Insurance

Cargo insurance is a risk management strategy that provides financial protection in case of theft. While it may not prevent theft, it can help mitigate the financial impact by covering the value of stolen goods. It’s advisable for businesses to review and update their cargo insurance policies to ensure they are adequately covered.

Regulatory Compliance

Ensuring compliance with industry regulations and security standards is another critical aspect of cargo theft prevention. Compliance helps to create a culture of security within the supply chain and ensures that businesses are implementing industry-recognized best practices.

Public Awareness and Reporting

Public awareness campaigns can encourage individuals to report suspicious activities related to cargo theft. These campaigns can be coordinated by law enforcement agencies, industry associations, and businesses to engage the public in the fight against cargo theft.

In a landscape where cargo theft continues to surge in America, the need for action is clear. Cargo theft’s impact is significant, affecting industries across the board.  Enhanced security measures, employee training, facility security, collaboration, and cybersecurity are all crucial elements. Additionally, cargo insurance, regulatory compliance, and public awareness play a significant role in addressing this challenge. By implementing these strategies and simply just paying attention to industry trends, businesses can better protect their supply chains and reduce the risk of cargo theft.

PFA Helping Businesses Face Cargo Theft

If your business has been recently affected by theft or you have general questions on how to protect your business. Contact our experienced staff today and secure your operations. PFA specializes in managing all kinds of situations brokers often face, we even offer many bonds and claims processing in-house for easy and fluent communication when any circumstance occurs.