TRUCKING THEFT PREVENTION
Knowledgeable truck drivers are the best theft prevention tools available. While there are physical ways to protect a trailer or cargo from getting stolen—such as king pin locks, gland hand locks, and sturdy padlocks—having drivers that understand the mindset of the criminal and avoid putting themselves and their equipment in situations where theft is most likely to occur is the absolute best way to avoid becoming a victim.
Theft prevention means not making the equipment and cargo easy targets. Thieves like to find trailers sitting in unsecured lots. Trailers should stay attached to the tractor, or dropped only in a secure and well-lit yard. Thieves also look for unattended tractor-trailers left idling at truck stops or rest areas. They wait until the truck driver leaves to go inside, then drive off with the entire rig. Some organized crime groups will even go as far as to stake out a distribution center or warehouse, waiting for valuable freight to be loaded onto a truck. They will then follow that truck, sometimes for hundreds of miles, and look for an opportunity to high-jack it.
Cargo theft can occur anywhere and it happens more frequently on weekends, especially long holiday weekends. You don’t have to be a sitting duck, though; there are steps you can take to help ensure you are not a victim of cargo theft. Outlined below, we explain where thieves typically strike and how you can avoid their traps.
When cargo theft happens, it’s usually in one of two ways: the entire trailer and its contents are stolen, or the trailer is broken into and only the contents are taken. In some situations, however, a thief will drive off with the tractor and trailer!After hours at carrier terminals and truck stops are the heaviest hit locations. If you plan to park a trailer at your terminal, backing it against a wall is always a good idea. Make sure the area is well-lit, install cameras, fence off this area and make sure it is locked. If you regularly leave freight at your terminals, especially with targeted or high-value products, hiring after-hours security personnel is a good idea. When parking at a truck stop, you have less control over the security, so park in a well-lit area and back the trailer doors against a wall or something that will prevent the doors from being opened (not a chain-link fence, as they can easily be cut).
Obviously, theft prevention requires more diligence the more valuable the cargo. The most desirable commodities for cargo thieves are items that can be easily sold on the black market. The list includes: food and beverages, clothing, electronics, housewares, metals, pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and alcohol. An integral part of the cargo security team, truck drivers should not discuss details of their cargo, their route or destination in truck stops, over the radio, or on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Drivers should also routinely use air cuff locks and check the seals on their trailer doors every time they stop. If truck drivers feel like they are being followed or targeted, they should communicate with the home office or law enforcement immediately, and if necessary, keep moving until they reach a safe, secure, heavily occupied location. Communication is a vital part of theft prevention.
Drivers that pick up high-value and/or targeted freight should be especially watchful and careful during and immediately after loading. Theft rings target shippers with these types of product and have been known to follow trucks after they leave a shipper. As soon as the driver stops to fuel, rest, etc., they are at serious risk of having their load stolen if cargo thieves have followed them. It is wise to fuel up before picking up your shipment and driving at least 250 miles before stopping. Most thieves will not follow a truck for this distance. This might seem like an inconvenience to the driver, but it’s a simple, proactive step a driver can take to ensure a lot less headache down the road. Theft rings do not necessarily need to follow a truck, either; if they know where a load is going, they can assume the route, and will likely have operations set up at specific truck stops along the way. Always be aware of your surroundings – a great message for life in general, but it certainly applies in preventing cargo theft. And, there are, of course, more heavily targeted truck stops across the US, just as there are more heavily targeted states. Drivers should be extra vigilant while in CA, FL, NJ, TX, GA, and IL, as these states have the most reported cargo thefts.
Trucking companies have a big role in theft prevention, since they have the ultimate responsibility to the shipper and receiver. Do a thorough background investigation of your drivers. Although not required by law, some carriers also include a criminal background check of all applicants. By now, everyone must have an understanding on how necessary background checks are to a supply-chain security program. The strict scrutiny of potential employees is critical to eliminating losses. The most important thing is the necessity to run a criminal check in every county that a potential applicant has lived. Many times, you will see carriers conduct a criminal check only in the county of current residence. This is done primarily to save money.
Instead, run a report showing every known address where a person has lived, and then run a criminal check in each of those counties. The number of “hits” will likely triple. This it is not wasted money, but money well spent in protecting everyone’s assets.
Shippers should be careful not to allow excessive transit time on targeted or high-value loads. For example, if a shipping lane is 1,000 miles, that’s a 2-day point on a single driver. If you can avoid it, try not to ship that distance on a Friday for a Monday delivery appointment. It adds an extra day based on transit, and means the load will sit for approximately 24 hours longer than needed. And, in this example, the sitting time would be over a weekend when more thefts occur. Unattended loads are the easiest targets for cargo thieves, especially if they are not in a secured area. When possible, running shipments straight through, and opting for a team when necessary, brings sitting time on a load to the lowest possible level, thereby decreasing opportunities for theft.
Educating employees and having an overall Anti-Theft Strategy that is well documented and well communicated is a great way to start. Truck drivers aren’t the only ones who need to understand the policy. It applies equally to every member of the company team, from office workers to managers to mechanics and drivers. Knowing what measures should be taken to avoid cargo theft, what to do if confronted with a theft situation, the preventive steps to take to avoid it, and the proper procedures for what to do if a theft occurs, are all part of a well-managed plan.
As good as truck drivers and trucking companies get at theft prevention and cargo security on the road, criminals will always find new and inventive ways to circumvent the security processes and get what they want. Drivers need to be diligent always and be suspicious of anything that looks even remotely out of the ordinary. Open communication between drivers, trucking companies, and law enforcement are key to minimizing the likelihood of cargo theft. As representatives of the trucking company, drivers have the right, the authority, and the obligation to keep cargo safe within the confines of the law. Knowing what criminals are looking for and avoiding those behaviors is a huge part of that responsibility.
Moving freight safely and securely is a priority for all truck drivers. While highly valued commodities are always theft targets, hazmat shipments capable of environmental damage must also be protected with the utmost care.
Here is a list of tips all truckers should follow if they’d like to avoid being hijacked:
On the Road
• Be alert when leaving. Criminal surveillance often begins at, or within a mile of, your origin.
• Do NOT discuss your cargo, destination, or other tip specifics on open channels or near people you do not know.
• Look for vehicles following you, especially if there are three or more people in a car.
• If you believe you are being followed, call 911 and your dispatcher immediately.
• If you believe you are being hijacked, try to keep your truck moving.
• Avoid being boxed in. Where possible leave room in front of and behind your truck.
• Leave your truck in a secure parking lot or truck stop if possible. If not, be certain someone can watch your vehicle.
• If team driving, always leave one person with the truck.
• Never leave your vehicle running with the keys in it; shut off the engine and lock the doors.
• If possible, do not stop in “hot spots” – unsafe or high crime areas.
• Always lock the cargo doors with padlocks.
• Use seals to prevent and identify tampering.
• Use an engine kill switch.
• Be sure to lock tractors and trailers with the latest high-security locking devices.
• Criminals know about electronic tracking systems and how to dismantle them; check your system regularly, and notify dispatch when it’s not working.
• If you drop a trailer, use a fifth wheel lock whenever possible.
Use common sense
• Never leave your truck unattended while it is running. Per a study by the Opinion Research Corporation in 2007, 21% of Americans have left their car unlocked and 33% have left their vehicle running while unattended. Hopefully no truckers are a part of this group. And keep in mind that some insurance companies don’t cover an unattended vehicle that is left running.
• Develop relationships with law enforcement in the areas where you operate. Several multi-jurisdictional cargo-theft task forces around the country do nothing but investigate trailer-load thefts. They know who the thieves are and where they like to take their stolen bounty. Make it a point to know every one of these groups. Quick action and communication are the keys to successful recovery and preventing future crimes.
Concealed tracking devices on products and on trailers can increase chances of locating stolen shipments. Also, consider geo-fencing those tracking devices. After determining the route each truck intends to take, create a geo-fence around it. You will be alerted should a tracking device move outside the established route which is helpful in a situation where the driver may be inside the truck stop, sleeping or otherwise not aware that the shipment has been stolen, or not able to notify anyone.
If you notice suspicious activity, report it to authorities and alert drivers in the area. If you are a victim of cargo theft, report it immediately. Be sure to have an accurate description of your equipment along with up-to-date license plate numbers and VINs which will aid authorities in recovering your equipment, and hopefully the freight as well.
Cargo theft rings have become highly sophisticated operations, and all parties involved in a shipment need to be on alert and aware of potential dangers and points of vulnerability to ensure the safe transport of goods. Being alert, cautious, communicative, and forming law enforcement relationships, are the keys to reducing theft for all shippers and drivers. Be safe out there and don’t let it happen to you!