Stop, Thief!

What companies might not know about protecting their goods from cargo theft.


COFFEE, PROCESSED MEAT, frozen shrimp, fine wine-these and other commodities are the targets of modern day cargo thieves. This phenomenon has been steadily growing in the United States and the FBI estimates that cargo theft is costing the U.S. between $15 to $30 billion each year.

As the average trailer load of merchandise is valued somewhere between $12,000 to $1 million-and the cost of insuring that load is skyrocketing-food companies can scarcely afford to remain blasé about protecting their shipments. They need to take aggressive steps to protect trucks in their yards, en-route to their destinations and at the receiving docks. Armed with the very latest information, they can do just that.

What Companies Are Up Against

"These thieves are organized crime. They're a different breed of criminal and you haven't heard that much about them," says Barry Brandman, president of Danbee Investigations of Midland Park, NJ, a company that specializes in the prevention of corporate loss.

"These are groups that were formerly involved with the illegal importation of narcotics into the U.S.," says Brandman. "Unfortunately, when the government took steps to increase boarder security after 9/11 and started interdicting more illegal drug shipments, these organized crime rings were forced to look for alternative sources of income. They turned to domestic criminal activity such as cargo crime and breaking into distribution centers."

According to Brandman, these crime organizations can have membership in excess of three to four dozen people. Their members are specialists in the areas of disarming intrusion detection systems, covert surveillance on facilities and moving targets, tractor trailer and lift truck operations and more. Since these organizations typically pull down hundreds of millions of dollars a year, they can afford to hire the right people to get the job done.

Cargo thieves are interested in stealing product that they can turn a large profit from. Goods that take up more cubic feet and are worth less, such as cereal or canned vegetables, are seldom targeted. Commodities that have higher yields, such as coffee, seafood, meat, beer, wine and liquor, are much more inviting targets.

"We didn't have a lot of theft until about the last two or three years," says Bud Wallace, owner of Wallace Transport, a contract carrier headquartered in Planada, CA, who works with the produce industry. "That is until the price of commodities such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts and dried fruit went up from a dollar a pound to three or four dollars. Why would you steal 40,000 pounds of something that's only worth $40,000, which will probably only get you $10,000 when you sell it to a middle man? Now that almonds are in big demand, you steal a trailer and you can walk away with $30,000 to $40,000."

Companies should start protecting their assets by breaking down the various areas of their supply chains and analyzing each of them for weaknesses that cargo theft rings can-and will-exploit.

The Yard

According to the experts, the first line of defense is the security in the warehouse yard-where trucks are loaded up and staged before hitting the road. These loaded vehicles, left vulnerable by poor security measures, can present a smorgasbord for thieves looking to gorge themselves on stolen cargo.

"The distribution center is one of the riskiest areas, agrees Bill Anderson, director of global security for Ryder System Inc. of Miami. He says the perimeter outside of the yard also requires security consideration. "Perhaps cargo that is being delivered has arrived ahead of schedule, at a time when the distribution center isn't even opened. The driver has to wait with his truck outside the gate or somewhere nearby by. This offers a great opportunity for theft."

Warehouse managers should take a layered approach to the yard, starting with perimeter fencing, making sure that it is adequate to deterring encroachment. An 8 foot-high chain link fence topped with barbed wire outriggers (the type you see on typical high security areas like prisons) is a good deterrent.

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