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Cargo Theft



Photograph of a cargo ship in the Channel District of Tampa, FL on April 5, 2009 courtesy of Steve Grundy

Steve Grundy

Cargo theft rarely makes the top news stories. Companies hesitate to report theft in fear of a sullied reputation or experiencing an inordinate rise in their insurance rates.

Prime targets are cargo loads that contain cigarettes, pharmaceuticals and electronics.

Cargo theft involves the theft of product from transportation modes such as tractor-trailers, rail cars, cargo ships and/or storage warehouses. When a company chooses not to report a theft that single action fails us all. The criminal(s) gets away with his/her crime and we risk counterfeit products coming onto the market. An arrest of anyone in the theft ring could lead to the arrest of others and thus potentially bringing down an entire syndicate. Reporting theft is crucial to the fight against the problem.


Cargo theft is something I am familiar with even in my industry of wholesale convenience foods. We sell some high volume items, such as cigarettes and tobacco product, making our drivers a target. Even if the entire truck is not stolen, even the theft of some product hurts our bottom line, which in turn hurts our customers. Every time one of our trucks are robbed, we immediately call the police right from the sight of the robbery. Even if the criminal is not apprehended, we still try. For us, it's more important to dissuade the criminal and protect our drivers than to worry what other companies may think of us.

When cargo theft occurs, the first course of action is to contact local law enforcement. Local police investigate the crime, only contacting the FBI if it is found that the stolen cargo has crossed state lines. Although the FBI may become involved, local law enforcement is closely worked with as they may be more familiar with the potential suspects.

When the stolen cargo is a pharmaceutical, the FDA also becomes involved. Stolen pharmaceutical products that require the involvement of the FDA include prescription and over-the-counter medication, medical devices and infant formula. When pharmaceutical products are stolen, they are stored anywhere the criminal wants. Without the required storage and handling, the effectiveness of the product comes into question. Improper storage and handling could actually endanger whoever takes that product. Additionally, the product might be tampered with, which could also prove fatal.

There are seven cargo theft task forces in five U.S. cities, including Miami, Florida, El Paso, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, New York City, New York and Memphis, Tennessee.

The National Commercial Vehicle and Cargo Theft Prevention Task Force (NCTTF) is made up of individuals from the private sector, insurance and law enforcement. Together they lead four committees.

The Best Practices Committee, which works to determine the best practices to be used by law enforcement, insurance companies, the retail industry and transportation companies in an effort to reduce, and hopefully prevent, cargo theft.

The Government Affairs Committee works to develop statutes to be used in all states. Further, they develop funding initiatives to support the Task Force. This committee also works at developing a lobbying network to further the Task Force's initiatives.

The Technology Committee works at identifying specific technology needs for law enforcement, insurance companies, the retail sector and transportation companies.

The Public Awareness Committee aims to create outreach programs in order to make all aware of the devastating nature of cargo theft.

The National Strategy focuses on collecting enough data to stop cargo theft. The National Strategy portends that cargo theft is not only a threat to the U.S. economy but also to the nation's security.

If you work for a company that experiences cargo theft, encourage the reporting of all thefts to local law enforcement. Failing to do so is giving crime a chance to happen. Be known for zero tolerance rather than the one the criminals can steal from because you would rather not tell anyone.

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