Some simple – and some badass – ways to prevent cargo theft

TORONTO, Ont. — Cargo crime continues to be a growing problem in Canada, with annual losses widely reported to be in excess of $5 billion.

It could be even higher than that, notes Ron Hartman, director of security solutions with security firm AFIMAC, since many carriers are reticent to report thefts, fearing rising insurance premiums, reputational damage and general embarrassment. Speaking at a Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) seminar about techniques for safeguarding freight throughout the supply chain, Hartman shared some obvious solutions (perimeter fencing, security cameras, employee background checks) as well as some less-orthodox and more extreme (dare we say, badass?) ways to bust cargo theft attempts.

“Most crimes involve internal conspiracies,” Hartman revealed, before outlining ways to ensure cargo thefts don’t originate from within.

One tactic is to employ an undercover strategy, in which an investigator – under the guise of a new employee – joins the company and susses out potential sources of criminal activity within the organization. Typically done with the help of a security firm, Hartman says this strategy embeds an investigator into the workforce, where they look for suspicious activity such as employees visiting areas they shouldn’t be, unfamiliar cars parked on site or near the facility, discussions about theft, overall employee morale and frequent unauthorized visitors.

“You take on a new hire, maybe a summer student, and you integrate that individual into the demographic and note any irregularities they find,” Hartman explained.

Another unorthodox way to deter theft is “breach testing,” in which carriers engage a third-party to attempt to breach their security systems. This puts guard services, camera systems, perimeter fencing and overall business practices to the test, as the investigator attempts to uncover information about loads, routing and how to carry out a theft, revealing a company’s security weaknesses.

“Our customers have found that to be a very valuable tool,” Hartman said.

For drivers transporting high-value loads, certain rules should be in place, including a no stop rule that requires them to travel 500 kms or so from their pick-up location before stopping, and designated fuelling locations en-route. Hartman said it’s a good idea to occasionally enlist the help of a third-party security firm to covertly follow drivers to ensure they’re adhering to these rules.

“We find a lot of cargo escorts happen with cross-border shipments,” Hartman said, though he didn’t mention what an escort tells the US CBP officer at the border. (“I’m just following that truck with the high-value load to see where it stops for fuel,” is likely not the appropriate answer).

Random driver audits that involve covertly following a driver allow the fleet to ensure its protocols are being followed. If the following driver witnesses a theft attempt, calling the police will result in a faster response since it is considered to be a “crime in progress.”

Hartman said all drivers and employees should be trained on cargo crime and drivers equipped with a robbery procedure card, so they know what to do in the event they’ve been victimized. If approached by cargo thieves, drivers should look out for their own safety first, relinquish the load, and then report the event to authorities. Lost personal items such as jackets, wallets or anything else that could contain important information about cargo and routing should be reported to the fleet immediately, Hartman advised.

If a load is stolen, Hartman said the cargo could be discovered for sale at local flea markets or on Websites such as E-Bay and Kijiji. (But often, organized crime is behind cargo thefts and the good are quickly stored, repackaged and exported).

Victimized fleets should conduct an internal investigation, examining who within the organization had access to information about the stolen load.

“Determine the employees who had access to the load and its documents,” Hartman suggested. “Make it a policy so no one feels targeted. Consider employees who were recently let go or reprimanded or maybe passed on a promotion.”

If an employee with a modest income shows up at work in a new BMW after a load has gone missing, be suspicious, he added.

However, it’s easier to prevent a crime than to solve one, Hartman noted, pointing out a cargo security program begins with easy-to-implement measures such as appropriate lighting at entrances, No Trespassing signage, warnings that security cameras are in use, functioning alarm systems, proper locks and seals and the presence of concrete blocks and motes in the yard to prevent access to loads.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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