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Report: Cargo theft dropped by 15% in 2017

However, the threat of cargo theft remains “high” in the U.S., with 54 thefts occurring per month, according to the SCIC.

An annual report compiled by SensiGuard’s Supply Chain Intelligence Center (SCIC) indicates that the number of recorded cargo thefts in the U.S. dropped to 649 in 2017, a 15% decline in volume from 2016 – roughly averaging out to 54 thefts per month in the U.S. or about two per day last year. However, the average value of cargo thefts increased slightly in 2017 – up 0.01% – compared to 2016, the group noted, with the U.S. still ranked “high” on the SCIC five-point risk scale, which ascends from “low” through “moderate,” “elevated,” “high” and finally “severe.”

“While 2017 continued the downward trend in reported U.S. cargo thefts, this does not indicate a decline in risk, but rather that organized cargo thieves are honing in on shipments that they know can be fenced easily,” the group stressed in its report. “Coupled with the average loss value remaining steady, this points to thieves refining their methods to reduce chance of capture or the need to abandon the shipment due to law enforcement pursuit.”

SCIC suspects a “strategy shift” may be one of the reasons why cargo theft is declining. “Organized thieves in the U.S. have long utilized the ‘risk versus reward’ calculation when targeting cargo,” the group stressed. “As such, shifting focus to other methods and products that provide a lesser chance of capture or disruption, thieves can reduce their risk.”

This can be seen in the increase of reported mixed retail load/LTL thefts, where several cases or pallets of goods are stolen versus an entire trailer full of goods, SCIC explained.

“This trend is also evident with the rise of large scale ‘pilferage’ events [as] thieves have learned that valuable intelligence can be gathered while obtaining high value merchandise by penetrating a trailer, stealing some of the product, and then drawing back to see what – if any – response occurs,” the group said. “Pilferage accounted for 15% of thefts in 2017, the highest on SCIC record. This represents a 40% increase over 2016 and a 107% increase since 2013.”

Other U.S. cargo theft trends identified in SCIC’s 2017 report include:

  • Cargo theft was recorded in 35 states in 2017, down from 39 in 2016.
  • Three states accounted for 55% of total recorded theft in 2017: California, Texas, and New Jersey. Overall, geographical "hot spots" have tended to remain largely unchanged, per the report.
  • California, which logged 28% of total thefts for the year, claimed the top spot for cargo theft again, but with a 13% drop in theft rate compared to 2016. Texas, steady at number two, recorded 16% of total thefts in 2017, a slight 2% increase from its 2016 theft rate. New Jersey, still at number three, saw its theft rate increase by 6% to 11% of the U.S. total.
  • Georgia and Tennessee witnessed the biggest spike in cargo thefts in 2017. While Georgia accounted for 9% of cargo thefts in 2017, that was a 76% surge over 2016. In Tennessee – home to 6% of all U.S. cargo thefts in 2017 – the year-over-year surge hit 73%.
  • The average loss value per cargo theft incident in 2017 inched up to $146,063, a very slight increase over 2016. The average value of cargo thefts peaked in 2009 at $554,105, SCIC noted.
  • Consistent with historical trends, weekends persist as the most popular days of the week for cargo thefts. In 2017, 33% of facility thefts and 40% of full TL trailer thefts occurred on a Saturday or Sunday. Those percentages increase to 46% and 55%, respectively, when Fridays are included in the count.
  • For the first time in eight years, “food & drink” was not the most stolen product type. It landed in second place at 16% of the 2017 total; a drop of 14% from 2016.
  • Instead, accounting for 17% of all reported cargo theft, “home & garden” took the top spot in 2017, a 16% increase over its 2016 rate. Third place for 2017 is held by electronics, which accounted for 15% of total thefts, down 4% from 2016.
  • Thefts of “building & industrial” shipments jumped 12% year-over-year to capture fourth place on the most-stolen cargo list (12% of total thefts). SCIC reasoned that thefts of such goods most likely was spurred by the impacts of hurricanes Harvey and Irma last year.
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