Cargo theft has been around for centuries. History has seen robbers attacking merchants on trading roads to pirates seizing ships at sea to bandits on horseback robbing stage coaches. Fast forward to today. Trucks have replaced horse-drawn wagons, and today’s cargo theft perpetrators are often part of international crime syndicates. The global economic crisis increased demand for black-market goods. But cargo theft statistics are difficult to track.
Today’s major cargo thieves in the United States are sophisticated, organized and generally not home grown. Thieves are often recruited and trained by Cuban crime syndicates, then sent to Florida to establish their operations. In California, violent gangs such as MS-13 (also known as Mara Salvatrucha) have been known to finance their activities through cargo theft. In Canada, the Chinese Triad crime organization is becoming a major player in the cargo theft arena. There are even concerns that money generated by various U.S. organized cargo theft rings is being funneled to terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah to fund future attacks against the United States.
Cargo theft statistics vary, but it is generally agreed upon that cargo theft is a multi-billion dollar problem each year in the United States. Exact numbers are impossible to determine in that many cargo crime incidents go unreported. The most recent cargo theft statistics available continue to be sobering.
Freight Watch International recorded a total of 193 incidents of cargo theft in the United States during the third quarter of 2016. The average value per theft was $120,536. Third-quarter incidents were up 14 percent from the second quarter of 2016, but the average dollar value per theft fell by 26 percent. Compared to the third quarter cargo theft statistics from 2015, incidents rose by 7 percent, while values dropped 38 percent.
Fourth quarter 2016 statistics are still forthcoming. For the entire year of 2016, Cargo Net, a cargo theft and recovery service provider, reported 1,614 incidents of cargo theft, heavy commercial vehicle theft, supply chain fraud and other intelligence events across the United States and Canada. Eight hundred and thirty-six of these were direct cargo thefts. The average loss per theft was placed at $206,837.
California continued as the worst state for cargo theft, up 36 percent for the year, followed, once again, by Texas in second place. New Jersey took over the third spot from Florida in 2016.
In December 2016, AFN Logistics listed the ten worst counties in the United States for cargo theft:
- Los Angeles County, CA
- Dallas County, TX
- San Bernardino County, CA
- Cook County (Chicago), IL
- Miami-Dade Country, FL
- Harris County (Houston), TX
- Tarrant County (Fort Worth), TX
- Middlesex County (Edison), NJ
- Will County (Bolingbrook), IL
- Riverside County, CA
And, according to AFN, the following location types were the hardest hit:
- Warehouse/distribution center
- Parking lot
- Secured yard
- Unsecured yard
Cargo Net reported that food and beverage commodities remained the most stolen category of cargo in 2016. Alcoholic beverages, meat products and non-alcoholic beverages were the most stolen items, respectively. Electronics were the next most stolen commodity but the costliest category with $45.6 million in losses reported across the United States and Canada. Cargo theft was the most common on Friday and Saturday. Monday and Tuesday were the most common days to report an incident.
As mentioned earlier, because so many incidents go unreported, quoted cargo theft statistics don’t match exactly. But it is universally agreed that cargo theft is a major economic threat, particularly to the retail industry. And it continues to grow.
This article was originally posted in 2016 and was updated July 26, 2017.