1999 FLEET/TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Food is the No. 1 commodity stolen by cargo thieves in the United States, and truck thefts are a prime problem area.Due to the sheer volume of trucks on the road, and the ability to repackage grocery product and put it back into the local economy, grocery trailers are prime targets of thieves, according to Gail Toth, executive director of the Transportation Loss Prevention and Security

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Food is the No. 1 commodity stolen by cargo thieves in the United States, and truck thefts are a prime problem area.

Due to the sheer volume of trucks on the road, and the ability to repackage grocery product and put it back into the local economy, grocery trailers are prime targets of thieves, according to Gail Toth, executive director of the Transportation Loss Prevention and Security Council, part of the American Trucking Association, Alexandria, Va.

Cargo thefts nationwide account for $6 billion in losses annually, she added. Toth addressed the trucking security issue at a session of the Private Fleet Management Institute held here Jan. 16 to 22. The conference is sponsored by the National Private Truck Council, Alexandria, Va.

Loads carrying canned goods, produce and diapers can all be targets of thieves, Toth said. Trucks transporting electronics and computers are in the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, Toth added.

"Eighty-five percent of all cargo in the U.S. is transported by truck," she told the audience of transportation specialists from all industries.

"[Cargo theft] is a pretty expensive problem," Toth added, noting that some of the blame can be laid on truck drivers who do not lock their trucks when making rest stops. While hijacking an entire truck is a rare occurrence, it is on the rise, she added.

Trucks are a target for single thieves, loosely organized crime and cargo theft groups, Toth noted. Members of some loosely organized crime groups, such as the Russian Mafia, Asian gangs or Ecuadorian cargo theft groups, will sometimes take warehouse jobs in order to see the company's computer log and set up a cargo theft.

"Interstate 95, on the East Coast, has become very dangerous," she said, although "California and Florida are the biggest problem areas."

States including New Jersey and Florida have set up task forces with local law enforcement agencies to address the issue and to prosecute cargo thieves, she added.

The Transportation Security Council offered several tips to help deter theft attempts, ranging from simple solutions such as putting locks on trucks, to advising companies to have a security policy and teach employees that policy.

The council also recommended that companies do background checks on all employees, not just truck drivers; that they initiate an in-house loss-prevention program and make a theft tips hotline available to employees so they can report incidents of theft anonymously. Other advice included not locating an employee parking lot near a warehouse, and limiting the number of visitors to the distribution center.

Other recommendations include not advertising on shipping containers and maintaining communication with drivers at all times. Drivers are advised not to park their trucks at remote truck stops, and not to talk on the CB or cellular phone about what kind of load they are carrying or where they are going.