Cargo Theft Is a Big Problem: Stealing Big Rigs Is National Crime Wave Fought by Chicago FBI Joint Task Force

Cargo Theft Is a Big Problem: Stealing Big Rigs Is National Crime Wave Fought by Chicago FBI Joint Task Force

Cargo theft does not get that much attention in the media, and many folk don’t know that it is a big problem – but it is. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stealing commercial shipments (computers and pharmaceuticals are popular targets) has become increasingly popular over the past five years.

The FBI has found that it’s become so lucrative to steal semi-truck cargo (as well as cargo on a train, or stored in a warehouse) that there are criminal enterprises organized to handle cargo theft around the country – and over the years, they’ve become more violent.

By 2011, joint task forces dedicated to cargo theft had been established between the FBI, state, and local law enforcement in five (5) national transportation hubs, including Chicago (the other four are Miami, El Paso, New York, and Memphis).

Until recent years, no one bothered to keep track of cargo theft. It was not a part of the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and even now, we don’t really know how bad the problem is because the companies who have had their cargo stolen often keep quiet about it, because they don’t want the bad press and the higher insurance rates. So the estimate given by the FBI of $30 billion in cargo stolen each year in the United States may be a lowball.

Truckers and Cargo Theft

When a truck driver is the target of cargo theft, his rig may get stolen while he’s stopped for a meal or to catch a few hours sleep. However, truckers have been hurt in armed hijackings of their big rigs. In fact, during the 2011 FreightWatch supply chain survey, over 80% of those surveyed believe that cargo theft will be a continuing problem for the next five years, even more so than terrorism, and 74% reported that cargo theft was impacting their operations: some in a major way, others more moderately.

FreightWatch found that industry leaders opine that (1) shipments becoming more valuable; (2) the economy tanking; and (3) cargo theft being a “low risk, high reward” type of crime are the main reasons that truckers are seeing an increasing danger of cargo theft.

Bloomberg Businessweek Calls It The 21st Century Version of Highway Robbery

Last week, Daniel Grushkin covered this story in an article published by Bloomberg Businessweek entitled, “Cargo Theft: The New Highway Robbery,” and described how in June 2009 a trucker took an afternoon break at a Tennessee truck stop, on his way from Louisville, Kentucky to Memphis, Tennessee with a full load of $10 million worth of pharmaceuticals. While he was in the shower, the big rig was stolen.

The Businessweek story is worth the read, as it described how that one theft was enough to endanger the country’s drug supply. One single big rig.

Americans need to know that cargo theft is a major problem, because of the impact of the thefts – like this one news story provides. However, Americans also need to know that anytime they see a cargo truck on the road – big, moving fast – that there is a possibility that the semi-truck is being driven by thieves. Who may or may not know how to drive that truck very well, and who clearly do not care about abiding with federal and state trucking regulations.

We all need to be aware that cargo thefts are happening, and if you see something suspicious regarding a loaded tractor-trailer truck, trust your gut and call the cops, have law enforcement check it out.

If you’re at the IHOP and you think there is something hinky about the way some guys are checking out an 18-wheeler, then you might well be a witness to cargo theft.

Be careful out there.

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