My first experience with cargo theft was one summer during university. I was working the graveyard shift on a loading dock and noticed a co-worker putting boxes of new appliances into a strategically located garbage bin, which only he was allowed to empty. It was obvious he was taking out more than trash.
From crimes of opportunity to complex fraud, cargo theft takes $5 billion a year out of Canada’s economy, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. In 2020, Ontario had the dubious honor of being tops in North America for commercial cargo theft.
Covid has aggravated the problem. There’s a lot of freight moving, and carriers and warehouses are hiring fast. Poor background checks, desperate times, and the perception that cargo theft is a victimless crime have turned a lot of people into crooks.
Already too late
One thing I’ve learned since my nights on the docks is that by the time you involve law enforcement it’s probably too late. Most police forces don’t have dedicated cargo theft units and it may not be clear who has jurisdiction anyway. Your local cops? The shippers? The receivers?
The Criminal Code doesn’t help matters. Courts don’t differentiate between cargo and property theft, so penalties don’t always match the seriousness of the crime. Crooks are back on the street in no time.
The best time to talk to the cops (or your insurance carrier) is before you lose a load. Ask them how to properly report theft information so recovery efforts can start right away when it happens.
Unfortunately, many truckers are reluctant to report cargo theft. With almost zero chance of finding the stolen loot they don’t want the publicity.
What I find most ironic is that the police will tell you they are too busy chasing serious criminals (whose activities are funded by cargo theft) to worry about cargo theft. Methinks the coppers might be guilty of putting the cart before the horse.
One of my favorite scenes from the HBO drama The Sopranos is where a crew hijacks a truck at gunpoint to steal DVD players and Italian suits.
It rarely happens that way in real life. Most cargo theft by organized crime involves fraud, not violence. Mobsters operate like sophisticated freight brokers, with the latest technology, trucks and warehouses, and use load boards, often on chaotic Fridays. But they do it with fake identities and nefarious motives.
In my trucking days I got stuck with a load of used tires consigned to a farmer’s field. In this case nothing got stolen but the fifteen grand it cost for disposal.
Cargo theft is profitable, often making 30 cents on the dollar. It helps when the bad guys can back up to a door, flash bogus paperwork, and get your dockworkers to load up the goods they plan to steal.
I agree with Officer Vito Pedano of the Peel Regional Police in Ontario, who said: “Whenever I see high values of loads being stolen, it’s gonna be inside jobs — 99.9% of high-value loads are monitored and secured. When they go missing, something internally is happening.”
As families struggle with Covid-induced financial pressures, the person responsible may be one of your own.
I know from experience how hard that can be to believe. We had a cargo theft problem at MSM until we installed fake cameras in the warehouse and yard. Almost instantly the stealing came to a halt. We had a mole!
Whether they’re acting independently or they’ve been recruited by organized crime (who pay better than you do), it’s naive to think there’s zero chance a “loyal” employee would rob you blind.
In a 2019 Today’s Trucking poll, 32% of respondents said that employee background checks are one of the best strategies to protect against cargo theft.
The number should be 100%.
Your employees are targets for criminals and they’re also your first line of defense. Now is not the time to cut corners on your hiring practices.
For what it’s worth, Tony Soprano was bribing an employee of the trucking company to know which loads to hijack. Just saying!
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