Keep An Eye on Your Cargo

by Katy de Vries

TORONTO, Ont. – It’s fall and the trucking industry is braced for the time of year when cargo and equipment theft is at its highest.

For the past five years Markel Insurance Company of Canada has been tracking cargo theft statistics and found that from September to December thieves will basically steal anything and everything.

“We know from day-to-day experience that cargo theft is on the increase,” said Ed Knoblauch, Markel’s vice-president of claims. “Canadian carriers report over $1 billion in losses and claims each year.”

According to Markel’s statistics, this fall’s cargo theft rate should be even higher than last year’s. But there are some simple things that truckers can do to help reduce the likelihood of falling victim to cargo theft.

“Weekends are notorious for stolen vehicles and loads because usually the units are left in an unfenced parking lot or yard and are generally not being watched by anyone,” said Knoblauch.

Nearly 40 per cent of thefts occur on Saturday and Sunday and 75 per cent happen on Friday nights and Monday mornings, according to Markel’s data.

Another phenomenon Markel is seeing more regularly is vehicles carrying high-end goods being tailed.

So it’s a good idea for drivers to keep an eye out for any signs they are being followed, warned Knoblauch.

“We’ve also noticed more drivers being tailed from their loading point and having their vehicles stolen from beneath their feet if they are in a truck stop having their lunch or taking a break,” said Knoblauch.

In many such cases, the thief has a pretty good idea of what type of cargo is in the trailer, but where the perpetrator gets the information is often a mystery to both the victim and police, said Knoblauch.

“In some instances, drivers will switch off half way through a trip, but in order to maintain the paperwork, the drivers will post the bill of lading right on the exterior of the trailer for the next guy. But with this method the thief knows exactly what he (or she) is stealing, so it’s definitely something to avoid,” added Knoblauch.

Last fall, a trailer was stolen from the yard of Lyle Davidson of Oceanside Carriers in Truro, N.S. It never turned up again. For a small carrier, one trailer is a big loss financially and operationally, he said.

“After it happened, for my own piece of mind, I rented a small plane to fly over the forest areas in search of my trailer and going on any tips I may have gotten in regards to its whereabouts,” said Davidson. “But I had no luck.”

Knowing what he knows now, Davidson admitted a tracking system might have been the way to go.

Although tracking for theft is not the primary aim of Cancom Tracking’s products, it is a definite side benefit to implementing tracking technologies, said Mike Ham, senior vice-president of Cancom Tracking.

“Unfortunately theft is in our business and everyone is looking for ways to either curb it or reduce it. We’ve been in the business for 14 years and we get at least one customer a month wanting assistance with a vehicle that has gone missing,” said Ham.

But there are two schools of thought on whether tracking systems can act as a deterrent for thieves.

“Some companies out there widely advertise that they are satellite tracked, while others want to put everything into stealth mode (keep it a secret),” said Ham.

“I think it is just different attitudes. There are as many people that argue maybe it’s best to promote it and try to get people to avoid stealing as there are those who say ‘Go ahead and steal it and I’ll find you.'”

The increasing phenomenon of companies using their trailer space for warehousing is perhaps contributing to the steady increase in theft.

“I would certainly not dispute that if a trailer is full of a valuable commodity it does contribute to theft,” said Ham.

“Because it is certainly easier to steal a trailer than to break into a warehouse.”

Cancom offers geofencing capabilities to help combat this problem.

“If everyone marks on their computer screens where the trailer is supposed to be, alarms can be triggered if it is moving from that spot unscheduled,” said Ham.

In the future, just being able to track and communicate with vehicles may not be enough, added Ham.

Typically, if a thief cannot steal the tractor, then he cannot pull the trailer, said Ham. Since 9/11, anti-theft technology, such as global logins, biometric readings attached to ignition starts and even the ability to shut trucks down while in motion, have been looked at by the U.S. government, said Ham.

“We may be mandated by government in the future as to what type of technologies we may have to implement on board our vehicles,” said Ham, adding that governments are currently considering how they want to mandate, implement and control such technologies.

All of this aside, if you should find yourself in a situation where your equipment or cargo has been stolen, the insurance company should be contacted first and foremost, said Knoblauch.

“We have the ability to do grid searches and if we are notified of the theft within the first 12 to 24 hours, we have a good success rate in finding the vehicle. But the longer you wait to report it to us, the more the odds go down,” said Knoblauch.

Usually the thief unloads the cargo at a warehouse and leaves the vehicle in another location, said Knoblauch, adding Markel has a 90 per cent success rate of locating the vehicle. (Sometimes they even find the cargo.)

Particularly frustrating is the lenient sentencing of cargo crooks handed out by the court system, which often makes it easy for thieves to be back on the prowl within a short time of serving their sentence, said Knoblauch.

“From a business standpoint, it makes sense to implement procedures for what to do if cargo is stolen. You’re putting the driver and customer into jeopardy and really, after a few theft claims with one customer, you may not get any more business from them, not to mention paying a deductible and investigation costs. Most prudent trucking companies do have procedures in place beforehand as opposed to simply trying to pick up the pieces afterwards,” said Knoblauch.

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