The Growing Problem of Cargo Theft

November 8, 2011

In the good old days truck drivers might have to worry about weigh stations, speed traps, other drivers not paying attention. Now, truck drivers have to worry about thieves stealing their cargo. Although this has always been somewhat of a concern, the number of thefts has increased dramatically. In the 1960's, when cargo was stolen, it was more of a hijacking than theft. In the 60's, cargo was often stolen by a hoodlum with mob ties holding a gun in the driver's ribs and driving away with the merchandise. In the 2000's, the theft is usually less dangerous but no less frustrating.

In 2009 there was $487 million in goods stolen from truckers in the United States. In 2008 there was $290 million stolen from truck drivers, or a 67% increase. There were over 850 loads stolen in 2009, in 2007 there were 672 stolen. As the national economy struggles, those numbers are likely to keep increasing.

The California Highway Patrol believes that more and more cargo thefts are being performed by individuals rather than organized criminals. The thieves camp out at a warehouse; follow the truck, sometimes for days and often miles. When the truck is left unattended, the thieves steal the cargo. This is usually accomplished in one of two ways. At truck stops, if a driver goes in to eat, use the restroom, or shower, the thieves may break into the rig and drive off with tractor and the trailer. Or, if a driver unhitches from his or her trailer in a drop-lot to run some errands, the thieves may hitch their own tractor to the trailer and take off.

Often, the stolen tractor and trailer or just trailer is found nearby, but the merchandise will have been removed to another trailer. Sometimes the trailer will have been painted or altered in some other way to slow the process of discovering that the trailer once carried the missing merchandise in order to slow pursuit. Unfortunately, more often than not, once the merchandise has been transferred to another trailer, catching the thieves is nearly impossible. The average loss of merchandise when a trailer's contents are stolen was $350,000 in 2009. Of course that problem is compounded in those instances when the thieves keep, destroy, or damage the tractor and or the trailer. For independent drivers, those losses can be devastating.

The most common freight targeted is electronics, food, clothing, pharmaceuticals, and cigarettes. These are items that can be easily resold to either smaller shops that might not be as interested in where the goods originated, or the stolen goods might be sold individually. Perhaps the most dangerous thefts are from trailers carrying pharmaceuticals. In February, 2009, a trailer with over $11 million worth of insulin was stolen. Contaminated medicine bought through the black market presents a major health concern.


Haulers are investigating solutions to the cargo theft. One part of the solution includes knowing what kind of freight is most often stolen. Another solution is knowing what areas have the most threats. Finally, owners are working on better ways to electronically track the merchandise and not just the tractors and trailers.

As the number of cargo thefts increase, cargo companies are cooperating with each other in order to decrease the number of thefts. The cooperation might be limited to loss prevention, but with more people cooperating and keeping an eye out for thieves and helping each other be safer and keeping cargo safe, everyone wins. Insurance companies are also working with and helping the cargo companies do all they can to prevent loss. With the losses of cargo to thieves mounting, hauling companies and drives realize they have to do all they can to stop that trend.

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(800) 240-5811
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Trucker To Trucker, LLC 13330 SR 17 Culver, IN 46511