Cargo Theft 2024 Outlook: ‘I Think We’re in for a Rough Time’

A year after a truck and tractor trailer containing $400,000 worth of goods was stolen near Miami, police arrested a father and son allegedly involved in the heist.

Antonio Crespo-Alba, 52, and his son, 31-year-old Antonio Crespo-Garcia, were arrested Nov. 3 in Medley, Fla. both charged with three counts of burglary and grand theft, according to Miami-Dade County jail records. The stolen goods, which included footwear, cigars, over-the-counter medications and perfumes, were tracked via a GPS device within the trailer.

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The theft occurred Nov. 4, 2022, but Medley police were able to recover both the truck and the trailer the next day. The truck was found abandoned but the trailer that was loaded with the items was still missing. Crespo-Garcia denied any involvement with the theft of the tractor, the trailer and its cargo load.

Cargo theft like the Miami incident has since grown into a nationwide problem for law enforcement. Cargo theft prevention and recovery solution CargoNet has recorded 692 instances of cargo theft across the U.S. and Canada in the third quarter of 2023, a 59 percent increase versus a year ago.

“I see this continuing. I don’t see this getting better, I see this getting worse,” said Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at CargoNet. “I think we’re in for a rough time in 2024.”

Like in the second quarter of 2023, CargoNet said that much of the increase is due to ongoing shipment misdirection attacks, a kind of strategic cargo theft in which actors use stolen motor carrier and logistics broker identities to obtain freight and misdirect it from the intended receiver so they could steal it. In total, criminals stole over $31.1 million in shipments in the third quarter of 2023.

Lewis told Sourcing Journal that CargoNet is recording 50 thefts per week on average, but marked 32 thefts alone on Nov. 6, further illustrating his point that cargo theft is “going in the wrong direction.”

In a recent example of the lucrative impact cargo theft can have, Illinois police last month recovered nearly $5 million of high-end sneakers including Nikes, Yeezys, Supremes and Ugg boots from a warehouse in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood where a theft ring targeted freight trains.

According to CargoNet, documented strategic cargo theft events increased a whopping 430 percent year-over-year and theft of a loaded conveyance such as a full trailer increased 4 percent from last year’s third quarter. These kinds of thefts were most common in California, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Illinois.

CargoNet also recorded a significant increase in the “other” category, which combines several categories of reports like identity theft complaints, hostage loads, late shipment complaints and other kinds of criminal intelligence records.

The massive increase in strategic cargo thefts, where a bad actor poses as a legitimate freight broker or carrier who then offers to arrange shipping services for a customer at a discounted rate, is driven by a subpar vetting process as freight booking apps becoming more commonplace, Lewis said.

“What’s changed is they realize that they can get away with stealing a load virtually from anywhere in the world. If I can steal one at a time, why not steal four or five?” Lewis said. “We’ve gone from a phone call to verify that this is the person I’m really talking about with some vetting, to today—where when I use a ride share app, they don’t know if I’m a criminal or gangster, or if I’m even Keith Lewis. They’re just coming to get me. That’s what we’re seeing in the supply chain on the virtual load boards, how easy it is to get this done.”

Another tip from Lewis: “If you’ve got 15 trucking companies registered to the same P.O. box, there’s a red flag there.”

Lewis said that CargoNet posts about “a dozen or so” daily intelligence alerts to give members insight into bad actors. These alerts include names, phone numbers and MC numbers—which identify a carrier who transports regulated commodities for hire in interstate commerce—so users can block them via their transportation management systems.

The speed at which current logistics and trucking companies operate at, under demands for faster delivery, is holding cargo theft prevention back, according to Lewis. While he acknowledged that costs would go up alongside declining revenue, he said more businesses in the cargo ecosystem will have to “slow their roll” in the vetting process to prevent more theft.

“The supply chain industry has to fix this themselves,” Lewis said. “If people want to live on the internet and give their stuff away, without vetting who’s getting it, it’s going to get worse and the vetting is going to have to get better.”