Cargo Theft a Growing Part of Organized Retail Crime

Cargo theft among organized crime groups will likely increase in the future according to Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser for the National Retail Federation.

As retailers, mall security and law enforcement professionals continue to clamp down on store theft and fraud, “we can expect criminals to take the path of least resistance,” LaRocca says. “Cargo, if the opportunity exists, remains a lucrative and vulnerable target.”

Half of the 129 retailers surveyed this year by the NRF said they were victims of cargo theft in the past year. The majority (57.4%) of these organized retail cargo thefts occurs between the distribution center and the store.

What’s more, the survey reveals retailers are victimized at other points along the supply chain, including between the manufacturer and the distribution center (39.7%), at the distribution center (22.1%), and as merchandise moves from one store to another (22.1%).

According to the FBI, cargo is any commercial shipment moving via trucks, planes, rail cars, ships, etc., from point of origin to final destination. If merchandise is stolen at any point in between—highway, truck stop, storage facility, warehouse, terminal, wharf, etc.—then it’s considered cargo theft, LaRocca adds.

In a cargo theft case, the victim can be a manufacturer, shipping company or retailer. Stolen goods have a significant financial loss, and affect not only store inventory levels but the customer experience as well, LaRocca says. And in most cases, “these thefts have a significant impact on local and state tax revenue as well.”

Victims work with local law enforcement agencies and the FBI if interstate nexus, or connection, is achieved, LaRocca adds. If the case has an international nexus, federal law enforcement will work with their legal contacts overseas and other international law enforcement partners.

What can retailers do to combat cargo theft?

Manufacturers and retailers should select a reputable firm to transport goods, LaRocca advises. “Keep details of the shipment, especially highly desirable goods, on a need to know basis. In advance of the shipment, identify the quantity and timeline for delivery.”

Retailers have been working with manufacturers and law enforcement to address cargo theft incidents and many companies are now sharing information, LaRocca says. Advancements in technology can provide quick identification of suspect goods and GPS tracking of shipments worldwide.

Last year the FBI added Cargo Theft to the Uniform Crime Report, which elevates the awareness of the issue and begins the process of determining the losses and scope of the problem, LaRocca says.

Nearly 95% of retailers surveyed said they were victims of organized retail crime in the past year. More than 10% of these crimes included some level of violence such as physical assault and/or battery.

The safety of employees and service providers is a top priority, LaRocca says. “Many companies develop policies and train employees to avoid placing themselves at risk. The financial losses, potential customer service issues and brand impact pale in comparison to the severity of these incidents when someone is injured.”