Grand Theft Cargo

No matter what product your company makes, chances are thieves would like to get their hands on it. They're not just interested in high-end electronic gadgets or high-value goods — they'll steal toothpaste if you let them.

"If a thief can sell it on the street and it's not traceable, it's going to get stolen," says George Gazey, senior marine loss control consultant for Fireman's Fund Insurance and a 26-year veteran law enforcement officer.

Even the best security systems won't stop a determined thief, adds Kirk Rider, another senior marine loss control consultant for Fireman's Fund. You can, however, slow them down sufficiently that they'll look elsewhere for easier pickings.

Cargo theft is becoming the crime of choice for domestic and international organized crime elements, say Gazey and Rider. Even elements of the drug trade are turning to this criminal activity. Unlike illicit drugs, the commodities can be legally possessed, are generally untraceable and can be sold through a variety of channels, including "on the street corner."

The investment in obtaining (i.e., stealing) these goods is minimal, and profits are high.

Even if perpetrators are caught and convicted, the penalties for cargo theft are low when compared with other types of criminal activity.

Estimates vary on the size of losses in the U.S. due to cargo theft. A range of $5 billion to $15 billion is often quoted, but the financial impact on a manufacturer can be five to seven times the reported loss, once you take into account the costs to manufacture and transport a replacement product, warranty costs, loss of market share, and customer service losses.

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