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Cargo theft and crime targeting trucks: what can you do about it?

The Transport Asset Protection Association (TAPA) says 4,197 incidents of cargo theft occurred between January and June 2019 in Europe. the Middle East and Africa. But this multi-billion-euro problem is just one of the many types of crime targeting trucks that companies face.

The EC Security Guidance for the European Commercial Road Freight Transport Sector report outlines the most common security risks, in particular citing cargo theft, cybercrime and stowaway entry into trucks. This article dives into these security risks, assesses the negative impacts for both drivers and managers, and offers some guidelines to improve security and prevent future incidents.

Cargo theft

Cargo is at its most vulnerable when it is transported by public roads due to the number of unsecured parking locations and the time it takes to get from one point to another. Cargo theft can include hijack, theft from a standing vehicle, theft from a moving vehicle or theft of the vehicle and cargo together.

Cargo theft can happen at any stage of the supply chain, but perpetrators tend to target goods in transit. The biggest risk comes at unsecured parking locations, which leave both the driver and load an easy target. The second biggest risk comes when driving, as a vehicle may be hijacked, stopped by fake police or sent to a fake warehouse.

Violence towards drivers is more likely to happen when the value of cargo goods is high. Some examples of high-risk goods include regularly abused pharmaceuticals, precious metals, cigarettes and high-value electronics.


Direct theft from warehouse facilities is complicated and unlikely to happen in secure areas. Cybercrime, however, has become a popular way to support cargo theft. Criminals can hack into computer systems and steal the identity of a freight company or fraudulently make their own, giving them access to privileged information that they can use to support criminal initiatives, from theft to people smuggling.

Though cybercrime is not violent, it can do serious damage to a company’s reputation, finances, security and supply chain.


Self-smugglers board trucks undetected when trying to enter countries illegally. Often this happens closer to border crossings or at point of origin and is less likely to happen en-route.

In most cases, there is no violence against the drivers if the perpetrators remain undiscovered. However, sometimes, they cause a diversion such as a barrier on the road to stop the truck, which can result in injuries and truck damage.

Even a freight company that is not knowingly involved in people smuggling could still face financial penalties if it occurs. In some cases, goods are damaged, stolen or destroyed at the border due to risk of contamination.

What can your drivers do?

Cargo theft

According to TAPA, 60% of cargo theft occurs in unsecured parking spaces. However, due to the lack of secured parking across Europe, trucks and drivers are often left vulnerable.

Key stakeholders agree that there is a need for a larger network of secured parking. In 2018 the EU conducted a study in which 86% of transport operators and 83% of drivers agreed that there is an urgent demand for safe and secure parking spaces.

Until then, drivers should make sure all doors are securely locked before taking breaks and be aware of all security features and devices, including the panic button, telematics and tracking devices. If your driver is on the road and suspects they are being targeted by criminals, they should contact the back office and police immediately and remain in the cabin with the engine running.


Drivers are advised to develop strong relationship with clients, subcontractors and anybody else they work with during their day. In particular, they should be on alert when dealing with new people. If somebody they deal with does something unexpected, acts suspiciously or changes plans with no explanation, they should report it immediately to the back office.


Most often smugglers will attempt to board trucks close to border crossings. So, it’s wise to avoid stopping close to origins and destinations. Sometimes clearing customs at the border requires drivers to wait before continuing their journey. While waiting, always try to park in a secured parking place with the vehicle secured and communicate with the back office.

What can you do?

As a fleet manager, it’s easy to feel helpless when faced with these issues. However, there are risk management steps you can take to prepare for and prevent future incidents. The EU report outlines a five-step model to manage trucking security risks. In particular, it stresses the need to look at your whole operation and identify where there might be gaps in your security. This helps you assess what is needed, how much budget can be spent in which area and how you can measure the success of security protocols going forward.

So, what questions should you be asking about your current operation? Here are some suggestions.

Risk assessment
  • What goods are your transporting? Are they high risk for cargo theft?
  • Where are they going? Does the destination present a high risk for cargo theft or stowaway?
  • What previous incidents have affected your trucks on their routes? Who was involved and how did it happen?
  • Do you take secure parking locations into account when you plan routes?
  • Do you drive the precise same routes every time or do you alternate the pattern?
  • Are your staff trained in disaster recovery?
  • What do you have in place to detect suspicious activity?
  • Can you identify if a driver takes an unexpected or unusual route?
  • Do you have geo-fencing to track and trace the movement of vehicles and assets?
  • Do you have access to telematics data and are you using it to spot irregularities?
  • What elements are in place to keep your facilities secure?
  • Is your IT security up to date? Are you protected with strong passwords, antivirus software and firewalls?
  • Do your vehicles have extra lock reinforcements?
  • How do you monitor driver behaviour and vehicle information?
Human resources
  • Do you have a member of your team dedicated to truck and asset security? What qualifies them for that position?
  • Do you conduct background checks of your drivers before hiring?
  • How do you train drivers to deal with crime?
  • Do you have processes in place to limit the number of people with access to information regarding how your trucks operate?
  • Who are you partnered with?
  • What sort of security standards do your partners maintain? Are they the same as yours?
  • Do your partners properly train their staff? Does everybody in their team have the necessary certification to do their jobs?
  • Do you have close relationships with all the companies you work with?
  • Do you have a process in place for what to do after an incident?
  • Is there a contingency plan?
  • Do drivers know how to fill out incident forms?
  • Are drivers drilled in how to deal with somebody threatening them?
  • Are cargo units numbered to help identification?
  • Do the goods you transport have any features (such as serial numbers) that would make them difficult to resell on the black market or dark web?

Also remember that the security and risk landscape is always evolving. Just as you would set KPIs, set metrics to monitor security performance indicators (SPI) and use the data to continuously improve performance. To learn more in detail, you can read the full EC report on security guidance here.

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