Used Semi Trailers has seen a dramatic rise in cargo theft with organized gangs targeting semi trailers carrying tens of thousands of dollars of goods. In 2009 alone, almost half a billion dollars of cargo was stolen from tractor trailers ($487 million), which is a 67% increased on the prior year.
Examples of thefts include a big rig stolen from a Pennsylvania rest area carrying 710 boxes of electronics; a trailer with 43,000 pounds of paper from Illinois and another trailer full of furniture in Atlanta – all in the space of five short days in January.
In total, thieves accounted for 859 trailer loads in 2009, according to FreightWatch International based in Austin, Texas. FreightWatch monitors trailer theft and shares its information widely amongst industry and government agencies, notably with the Federal Bureau of Investigation which is responsible for crimes committed upon interstate commerce providers.
Thieves will steal almost anything, including the whole rig even when the driver has temporarily left the truck. It only takes a few seconds for an experienced crew to gain entry to the rig and haul it away – cargo and all.
The problem is being reported nationwide, though there are some regional variations which is to be expected given truck traffic patterns. New Jersey for instance, has reported an 87% increase in cargo thefts from $15 million (2008) to $28 million (2009). California, Pennsylvania and Illinois are also suffering from dramatic surges too.
The last time there was such a significant spike in cargo thefts took place in the Sixties, primarily as a result of organized crime gangs hitting tractor-trailer targets, usually with violence. Fortunately, violence is absent most cargo theft incidents and typically target drivers rigs when they are away from them at a rest stop or eating. The lack of violence is also thought to be a consequence of “amateurs” perpetrating these crimes, though organized gangs are undoubtedly also involved.
A typical scenario involves a trucker taking a shower or grabbing some food. The gang will wait and watch until a suitable target presents itself. Lookouts will observe the trucker, establish they are otherwise occupied and the rest of the gang members will perform the theft. Target cargoes are usually those which can be offloaded quickly and easily on the black market, particularly consumables and smaller electronic items. In many instances, the gangs will already know what the truck cargo is because they will trail a potential victim from the factory where the goods originate from. It is common to find the tractor unit close to the scene of the crime, however the trailer is usually repainted and disguised and taken some distance from the scene until the cargo can be offloaded by the thieves or even attempted to be sold on the used semi trailer market.