2017 Cargo theft trends in Canada: top targets and common approaches

In the second quarter of 2017, $17.2 million in cargo was stolen in Canada and the US. While this number is lower than the 2016 figure ($35.1 million), it’s still alarmingly high. And given that the average value of each cargo theft in that early summer stretch of 2017 was $202,774, there’s plenty for the average fleet manager to be concerned about.¹

In fact, many regions in Canada are witnessing a surge in cargo theft. The Insurance Bureau of Canada calculated a total loss of $181 million in stolen cargo and equipment between 2014 and 2017. In the first quarter of this year alone, over $20 million in stolen cargo and equipment was reported.²

A key detail is that the estimated total of $20 million is based only on what has been reported – many more thefts go unreported, so the actual total could be much higher. What is known for sure is that some trends involving target commodities and theft patterns are leaving some regions and certain loads of cargo at greater risk.

Thieves are hungry for food and beverage cargo

Of all commodities that were stolen from fleets earlier this year, grocery cargo tops the list. That should come as little surprise: historically, criminals have favoured food and beverage products because they can be difficult to track and are resold easily. In essence, it’s a low risk, high reward crime.

One major problem with perishables is that the evidence has a short shelf life; once the food is consumed, your chances of recovering it are nil. This isn’t a feature of household items or electronics, which are also major targets for thieves but stand a better chance at being recovered, especially with the IBC’s National Cargo Theft Reporting Program aiming to keep track of cargo theft across the nation.

Aside from grocery and household products, construction materials and tools take a top spot on the list of targeted cargo. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, either: as Canada’s construction boom continues, more resources are moving around, and that high-value material and equipment is attracting criminal activity.

Top targeted products, as reported to IBC in 2017 (Q1 – Q3)

Where is cargo theft happening?

As industry growth ramps up, more carriers are using additional yards to store more product and equipment. The problem is that many yards suffer in terms of security. One news group entered multiple Toronto yards in broad daylight and overtly tried to open truck doors without anyone taking issue, proving that many unsecured truck yards are fair game for thieves.

But some cargo criminals are willing to put in more time and effort for bigger heists. Previously, thieves would often hit up truck stops where they’d break into trailers and make off with the goods, but today more cargo criminals are focusing on shipping facilities and following trucks long distances – sometimes with multiple teams of drivers in a coordinated effort.

Certain regions in Canada see more cargo theft reported than others, and it’s not always related to population density or road configuration. The GTA is a major hub for cargo criminal networks, but carriers in several other cities and provinces are dealing with an escalating problem, as well.

Cargo theft by region, as reported to IBC in 2017 (Q1 – Q3)

 

Holidays are high time for theft

The hectic nature of holidays can help out cargo thieves, who may take advantage of the distraction and unusual schedule. Shipments can be left unattended and warehouses can be shut for long stretches of time, resulting in up to 50% more theft on holiday weekends than on regular weekends.

Labor Day is a particularly dangerous holiday across Canada and the US. The days leading up to Labour Day are just as prone to crime, and although fewer events were reported in recent years, the value of each loss hasn’t decreased – in fact, with major electronics heists on recent Labour Day holidays, there may be more money on the line for carriers who fall victim to cargo thieves than ever before.

While holiday weekends throughout the year are prime time for cargo theft, the weeks leading up to Christmas are considered the peak season. This is when truckloads of valuable goods are moving along major highways as companies, retailers, and households prepare for the gift-giving holiday. It’s also when loads tend to be left unattended for longer periods of time.

Looking ahead

Cargo theft continues to pose major challenges to law enforcement, carriers, and insurers across Canada. Fortunately, more sophisticated approaches and closer cooperation is making gains in how thieves are thwarted and stolen cargo is recovered. Stay tuned for more insights from Northbridge, and in the meantime, you can learn how our experts can help keep your fleet protected.

¹ CargoNet’s Second Quarter 2017 Cargo Theft Trend Analysis. AJOT, July 2017.

²Analysis Report: IBC National Cargo Theft Program Q3 – 2017. IBC, October 2017.