During Thanksgiving weekend, some parts of the supply chain will slow, and many trucks will park for days. Trailers and warehouses will be secured but often unattended. Some warehouses may not unload trailers right away.
That's when thieves will strike, according to Keith Lewis, CargoNet's vice president of operations. Their preferred method of attack will be the quick pilfer: opening up the trailer door and stealing what they can.
"Loaded products are sitting there," said Lewis. "Trucks are parked, so the bad guys are rifling through the back of the trailer."
An average of 123 thefts occurred in the days leading up to Thanksgiving or the days immediately after, according to 2015-2019 data from CargoNet, a theft-prevention service.
And thieves were not content with cargo: An average of 144 trucks, trailers, chassis and containers were stolen, too. CargoNet reported thefts were highest in California, Texas and Georgia, and occurred in 24 states and provinces during this time frame.
On average, thefts peaked the day before Thanksgiving with 23. The thefts continued on Friday and Saturday with an average of 21 events each, CargoNet reported.
"The old adage is, 'cargo at rest is cargo at risk.'"
Transportation Lead and Crime and Theft Specialist at Travelers
Scott Cornell, transportation lead and crime and theft specialist at Travelers, said thieves generally cannot resist parked trailers and overloaded, unattended warehouses. Those targets are abundant during holidays and three-day weekends.
"The old adage is, 'cargo at rest is cargo at risk,'" said Cornell.
Cornell said there is another benefit for thieves to steal over the holidays. "It's going to take longer for people find out [cargo] is gone."
The 2020 holiday season comes after a third quarter where thefts jumped 23% YoY from 2019, according to CargoNet. There were 223 cargo thefts, with average loss of $151,452. Shippers and trucking firms lost a total of nearly $33.8 million in cargo — costs that get passed, ultimately, to the consumers.
A sampling of stolen goods
Lewis said the biggest trend he has seen in 2020 has been pilferage. That's when thieves get into the trailer, steal a portion and leave. It makes recovery harder than when thieves steal the trailer (they sometimes have their own truck to haul it, Lewis said), or when they steal the entire tractor-trailer.
Food and beverage are the top targets, said Cornell. But household goods have risen in popularity, according to Lewis. Cornell agrees food and beverage will remain the top targets of 2020, but household goods rose in Q3 to No. 1 status.
Past robberies during the Thanksgiving weeks from 2015 to 2019 include:
- A $527,863 theft of coffee and peanuts from a warehouse in Union City, Georgia.
- A $481,000 theft of liquor from a warehouse in Orlando, Florida.
- A $414,255 theft of footwear from a secured yard in Kearny, New Jersey.
- A $319,150 theft of candy from an unsecured yard in Douglasville, Georgia.
- A $308,293 theft of televisions from an unsecured yard in Fontana, California.
Lewis said hot spots include the Atlanta area; Selma, Alabama; the Illinois tollways of Cook County; the Inland Empire of California; and Dallas.
California is usually the top state for cargo thefts, Cornell said, but he has been surprised at how much theft has risen in Texas in 2020.
"Texas is really blowing up this year," said Cornell. "Texas is really giving [California] a run for its money."
The theft hot spots tend to be hot spots for other crimes, too, Lewis said, with organized groups playing a role, especially in South Florida, Chicago and Dallas. The thieves will sometimes follow trucks along routes and look for opportunities, he said.
Thieves tend to watch for food, beverages and household goods because they are easy to sell, Lewis said. Food and beverages are also the most common cargo, he said.
How to combat theft
Lewis and Cornell said tracking is a good option, but it is also reactive. The best methods of prevention include driver education and high-quality locks for trailers, Lewis said.
Cornell agreed, suggesting high-security rear door locks and seal locks. Cornell said seal locks are important for food and beverages, because remaining cargo may not be accepted by customers after a partial theft.
Covert tracking is also recommended, Cornell said. With pilferage growing as a theft trend, it's clear would-be thieves have covert tracking on their minds.
But pilferage is hard to track, Cornell said. High-security locking will deter such pilferers, Cornell said.
CargoNet, in its report, cautioned that thefts of electronics have been down in 2020. Instead, thefts of household paper products like toilet paper, cleaning products like disinfectant spray have increased. So too have thefts of personal protective equipment.
"Supply chain professionals can mitigate theft by parking unattended equipment and cargo in high-security yards with tall fences, surveillance video, and high-visibility lighting," the report recommended. "Consider investing in high-security locks and seals to prevent costly trailer burglaries and tracking devices to monitor unattended equipment."
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Scott Cornell's title.