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How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Impacting Cargo Security

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With the widespread outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, keeping people safe and healthy is everyone's top concern. 

To help protect front line supply chain workers, we've seen many facilities institute mandatory temperature checks and face coverings for drivers and dock workers, more personal protective equipment and new procedures that allow for social distancing. 

But the coronavirus isn't the only thing to be wary of during the pandemic.

Though people are rightfully the priority, it's important for shippers and carriers to take a heightened approach to protecting their cargo too.

Cargo thieves and con artists have taken advantage of the supply chain volatility to steal freight and defraud shippers, carriers and 3PLs. 

According to CargoNet, there was a 300% year-over-year increase in cargo theft activity in April.   

This means we all need to work together to protect the supply chain, taking a more proactive and preventative approach to cargo security.

Let's look at a why cargo theft has been on the rise, some common methods, and how — whether you are a shipper or carrier — you can better protect the global supply chain. 


Why the Pandemic is Impacting Security

According to CargoNet, there was a 300% increase in cargo theft in April (compared to 2019 figures). 

There are three key issues — arising in response to the COVID-19 crisis — driving the increase in activity:

  1. Non-violent offenders are being released from prisons and jails
    In an effort reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the private and public prison systems, many non-violent offenders — like cargo thieves — are being released into an environment where work is scarce and many goods (food, beverage, household essentials, medical supplies) are in high demand. 
  2. Law enforcement is limiting its scope
    Since many jails and prisons are releasing non-violent offenders, in several highly populated regions, police officers have been instructed to focus their resources on violent offenses. Furthermore, there is less routine motor carrier regulation enforcement on highways (e.g. the postponement of International Roadcheck Week). 
  3. Normal business operations have been upended
    Many companies have had to lay off employees, leaving behind skeleton crews to handle ongoing operations, and many of the employees still working (that have the ability to do so) are at home with laptops instead of in the office. All of this combines for increased opportunities for scammers to defraud shippers, carriers and 3PLs. 


Not All Cargo Theft Looks the Same

There are multiple types of cargo theft, and different types of cargo thieves.

Whether it's a broken seal and a couple pilfered cases of product, a stolen truckload, or a misrouted payment, theft causes supply chain disruption.

Here are some of the more common things to watch out for. 


Professional Cargo Thieves:

  • Will often pose as a legitimate trucking operation
  • Own their own truck and have a commercial driver's license
  • Have a fence (a.k.a. a buyer) where they can quickly sell 45,000 lbs. of stolen goods 
  • Often equipped with signal jamming/detection devices 

Professional thieves are at least somewhat organized and less opportunistic. They are more likely to engage in a pre-planned robbery as opposed to a spur-of-the-moment stick up.  

Some of them are brazen enough to target more sensitive commodities (like pharmaceuticals) but will often steal consumer packaged goods (canned foods, beverages, toilet paper) and electronics. 


Amateur Cargo Thieves:

  • Are involved in the supply chain in some way (sometimes truckers)
  • Generally inexperienced thieves
  • Do not have a fence (buyer) for an entire truckload
  • Often armed and more prone to violence than professional thieves

Most often, amateurs will burglarize a parked trailer at night, and may be involved with prostitutes and drug dealers that target drivers.


Social Engineering (Con Artists): 

  • Pose as legitimate companies, often a carrier or shipper
  • Use phone and/or email to gain the trust of shippers, carriers and 3PLs
  • Leverage real 3PLs and/or carriers to unwittingly move freight
  • Will use these fraudulent tactics to steal money, cargo or both

Social engineering is the manipulation of people to build trust and ultimately, influence action or obtain confidential information. One of the most common examples is email phishing. 

While cyber security is an increasing concern with the amount of people working at home, email and phone scams are also a common method to defraud businesses.  


How Shippers & Carriers Can Protect Against Theft

Whether you work in procurement, drive a truck or check-in people at the guard shack, everyone in the supply chain can adopt best practices to keep freight safe.

Here are best practices for both shippers and carriers. 


Driver Security Best Practices:

  • When parking, back the trailer against a wall or another trailer if possible.
  • Utilize padlocks or glad hand locks on your trailer, and secure your tractor with high-security locking devices, such as steering column locks.
  • Whenever possible, arrive to the pick-up location well-rested, showered, fed and with a full tank of fuel to minimize in-route stops. 
  • Be on alert and proceed cautiously if a vehicle strikes your trailer lightly from behind. Thieves commonly use this ploy to get you to exit your vehicle so they can attempt to rob you. 
  • Be aware of vehicles that seem very familiar — they may be following you from location to location as they look for an opportunity to rob you. If you feel you are being followed, drive directly to a police department or flag down a police cruiser.


Shipping Facility Security Best Practices:

  • Keep stationary freight in secure, well-lit areas with fences, controlled access and CCTV whenever possible.
  • Secure all trailers (loaded and unloaded) with high-security compliant barrier seals in combination with hardened padlocks. Utilize king pin locks for unattached trailers.
  • Remove keys from all facility equipment (e.g. pallet jacks, forklifts) and place them in a secure location.
  • Do not treat any alarm signal as a “false alarm.” Cargo thieves will trip facility alarm systems multiple times before breaking-in (to give law enforcement and facility managers the impression that the system is broken). 
  • Carefully document license plates, identification numbers, and descriptive information for tractors, trailers, containers and container chassis. Police agencies will need this information to open an investigation in the event of an incident.


Procurement & Operations Security Best Practices:

  • Watch out for rates that are too good to be true, especially from carriers/brokers you do not have a relationship with. 
  • If a new, unfamiliar contact reaches out to you from a current provider, independently verify that the person works there. 
  • If you are using a third-party warehouse, independently confirm pick-up and delivery before issuing any payments.
  • Verify that the tractor, trailer and driver information of the person on your dock matches the one your carrier/broker gave to you. 
  • If you are shipping to a new customer address, search that location online and verify it is a legitimate receiver.  


Best Protection Against Cargo Theft: Trusted Providers

Everyone in the supply chain is susceptible to attempts from thieves and scammers. No matter what your role, the best way to mitigate your company's risk is to rely on trusted providers.

That isn't to say all new customers or vendors are dangerous, but in these volatile times, don't let your security procedures sit on the back burner — take a preventative approach to double-check and verify information, especially from people and companies you are unfamiliar with. 


Whether you are a shipper with freight to move, or a carrier looking for a load, working with an established 3PL that takes this topic seriously, like CargoNet security winner Coyote, can help.