Logistics Technology
Supply Chain Management

60% of Small Businesses Had Shipments Stolen in the Past Year—These 6 Tips Will Keep Your Cargo Safe

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Inventory and supply chain managers need to step up security measures at warehouses and mitigate employee-enabled theft or suffer the loss of thousands of dollars to cargo theft.

Increased supply chain bottlenecks and rising financial stress have set the stage for the highest levels of cargo theft seen yet. As more goods are staged at loading docks and left unattended in warehouses, along with increasingly sophisticated cyber-threats of supply chain networks, the risk of cargo theft to small and midsize retailers has never been greater.

You can only mitigate risk when you understand it, and we’re here to help you.

We surveyed[*] 320 inventory management managers in small or midsize retail businesses (SMBs) in May 2022 to understand their logistics strategy. Of those respondents, 194 (60%) experienced cargo theft in the past 12 months.

This report is a deep dive into the experiences of those 194 businesses, the factors at play in the theft, and the actions SMBs are taking to mitigate the risk. We’ll provide insights and recommendations so you can come up with the best strategy for your business.

Key highlights

  • Unsecured assets: Of SMBs that had cargo stolen in the past 12 months, only 39% report investing in securing their large assets, such as warehouses, despite over half of cargo theft occurring there (55%).
  • Inside jobs: Among SMBs impacted by cargo theft, 33% indicate that theft was enabled by employees and 30% say it was enabled by vendors. 63% of companies report performing background checks on logistics/inventory management employees.
  • Cybertheft: A quarter of thefts (27%) occurred due to a cybersecurity breach.
  • Lost revenue and gaps in insurance: 96% report losing money because of the theft, despite 80% filing at least one insurance claim for it. Only 2% report they didn’t lose any money because the theft was covered by insurance.
  • Reporting thefts: Police are often called, but it can be hard to prove a crime took place. 80% of SMBs have filed at least one police report for theft. Among respondents that didn’t file, not having enough evidence to prove the crime is the top reason (68%), followed by not knowing exactly where the cargo was taken (44%).

What is cargo theft?

Cargo theft is the criminal act of taking goods, whether in whole or in part, during commercial transportation via any pipeline system (e.g., railroad car, semi truck, aircraft, or ship), storage facility (e.g., warehouse), staging platform or depot, or from any other step in the supply chain process prior to purchase by the end customer.

Types of theft range from pilferage, inside jobs (i.e., employee-enabled), fictitious pickup by false actors, hijacks, cyber-attacks used to manipulate delivery information, organized crime rings, and many others. Cargo theft does not include theft after the goods are purchased by the end customer (e.g., shoplifting or porch pirates).

How much financial damage does cargo theft cause? Let’s look at how much money SMBs lost in 2021 due to it.

total amounts SMBs lost to cargo theft in 2021

The majority of cargo theft resulted in $20,000 or less in loss (76%) with only five or fewer incidents a year (79%).

So cargo theft isn’t a death by a thousand cuts as shoplifting tends to be—instead just one incident can leave you in a financial lurch. And with only 2% of businesses reporting they lost nothing because it was covered by insurance, you need to take the necessary precautions to secure your purchased inventory.

Where is cargo theft happening? Majority of cargo theft occurs at the warehouse or the truck

High-volume train robberies made the news[1] earlier this year, with startling videos and photos shared online, but only 15% of our SMB respondents experienced cargo theft from a train in the past 12 months. It’s warehouse and truck robberies that are the most prevalent at 55% and 52% of respondents, respectively.

Where cargo theft has occurred in the past 12 months

Staging and storing inventory in a warehouse is common practice and nearly unavoidable for retailers, but it is the most high-risk place for cargo theft. Warehouses are easy to identify, often left unguarded, house a large amount of goods in a concentrated area, and have helpful loading areas. This leaves them susceptible to nearly all types of cargo theft, from inside jobs to random grab-and-go robbery.

The next most common place for theft is the truck and/or trailer driving the inventory from one place to another. Trucks are the most susceptible while at rest stops and loading docks where cargo thieves can distract or deceive the driver and/or the trailer is left unattended. But thieves can also attack trucks in transit by coerced stops (i.e.,deceiving the driver so they pull over or, less commonly, posing as police performing a traffic stop).

What you can do: Hire smart and train vigilant employees


  • Protect your business by performing background checks on all employees. If you’re using third-party logistics (3PLs) and other partners, be sure the security measures they have in place, such as background checks, align with your expectations and goals.
  • Provide ongoing training (you can include having employees attest to compliance at the end of the training), and ensure employees know how to/are encouraged to report suspicious activity.

Now let’s take a look at the factors that were in play during the cargo theft experienced in the past 12 months.

How is it happening? Warehouse break-ins and employees are top liabilities

We already know that warehouses are where the highest amount of cargo theft occurs, but what enables the theft to happen in the first place?

Here’s the breakdown of what SMBs report as key factors that enable cargo theft.

Factors at play that enabled the cargo theft

We’re not surprised to see that a break-in at a warehouse is the top way cargo theft occurred (39%), since warehouses are the most common place for robbery. A break-in can happen from lax security measures, unattended and unlocked building openings, and/or weak structural integrity (e.g., broken or old loading dock doors). The thieves can be informed of weaknesses by your own employees, a vendor’s employees, and/or just observing the warehouse over a period of time. And speaking of employees…

A third of SMBs (33%) report that their employees enabled the theft and 30% report a vendor’s employee did so. Employee enablement can range from knowingly or unknowingly disclosing key information that allows thieves to break into the warehouse or trailer, helping by purposefully leaving doors unlocked, and, unfortunately, being the criminal themselves.

Twenty-seven percent of SMBs report that a cybersecurity attack on their logistics data was an enabling factor. Hackers can access your supply chain management system to manipulate vendor data in their favor, view work schedules to see where/when they can commit the robbery, and gain insight on the location of the most valuable items to focus their efforts.

The next two factors are a bit out of your control: 23% of businesses report their individual cargo container was stolen from the transportation vehicle and another 23% report the entire truck/trailer/ship was taken. These are large-scale, highly-coordinated attacks and your best response is to involve law enforcement, and potentially the FBI[2], to help with recovery efforts.

What you can do: Increase surveillance


  • Install more cameras. Especially on and around your large assets such as trucks and the warehouse. Even the presence of cameras can be a theft deterrent.
  • Post-crime, the footage captured can be your strongest evidence when filing the police report and insurance claim.

What can be done? Employees are a high-risk factor, but warehouse security needs to be taken more seriously

While 79% of SMBs experienced only five or fewer thefts of cargo in the past 12 months, the risk of theft is present every day. Here’s what businesses are doing to prevent cargo theft from occurring in the first place and what you should be doing, too.

How SMBs are guarding against cargo theft

The top action taken is to perform background checks on employees (63%). Next comes training employees on how to safeguard the cargo in transit and at rest (58%) and investing in security technologies such as surveillance cameras (51%). And while your employees are a high-risk factor in enabling theft, the employees at your partners’ companies are an even higher risk.

Forty-one percent of SMBs are performing thorough evaluations of their third-party logistics (3PL) partners and another 41% are conducting risk assessments for their supply chains. Both of these actions can greatly reduce the chances of theft and should be taken seriously.

Only 39% of respondents report investing in securing their large assets, such as the warehouse and trucks. And with warehouses being the top target for theft, this is an action you should absolutely be taking.

What you can do: Perform physical & cybersecurity risk assessments


  • Work with your IT leader to strategize your security protocols using technology, focusing on the warehouse.
  • Perform at least an annual risk assessment on your supply chain processes, partnering with HR, IT, and operations to get a holistic view of risks and ideate ways to mitigate them.
  • Offer cybersecurity training. Just as employees can be the weakness in the physical defense of your inventory, they’re also a key liability in your cybersecurity, too. So be sure to include training on password best practices and keep your systems up to date.

If your supply chain has been hit with a cyberattack, check out Gartner’s, “How to Respond to a Supply Chain Attack”[3] for tips on the best actions to take.

What happens after the theft? SMBs are filing theft reports, but not recouping losses through insurance

The majority of our SMB respondents are filing police (80%) reports for cargo theft, which is an especially helpful action to take in combating organized crime rings. Cargo theft typically falls into two categories: pilferage (think opportunistic, small-time thieves who steal just part of an inventory load) or organized crime (large-scale, sophisticated groups). The latter has typically been[4] the most prevalent and most harmful.

Here’s the breakdown of how many SMBs filed a police report in the past 12 months.

police reports filed for cargo theft in past 12 months

Filing a report can achieve multiple things:

  • The police can help track down the stolen goods and catch the thieves. Your report helps the police identify macrotrends in theft and maybe help identify/find organized crime rings that target cargo specifically.
  • The report can be used to support your insurance claim.
  • The process of gathering evidence to submit the report can help identify weaknesses in your security protocols and provide insight on where to focus your efforts.

And while businesses may fear public scrutiny and a loss of the trust of their clients if they report cargo theft, it seems that small and midsize businesses are generally filing reports. Only 20% report either not filing or not being sure if their company did and 12% think they should have.

Now let’s get into the reasons for not filing:

reasons for not filing a cargo theft police report

Sixty-eight percent say they were unable to gather enough evidence to prove the crime occured. Evidence can include the time/date/location of the incident, description of possible offender, description and values of cargo stolen, and any surveillance footage you can provide. Reporting incidents is a rather involved matter that requires time for investigation on your part. Each state has different requirements.

Forty-four percent say that they’re unsure or unable to prove from where the cargo was stolen, which is a common issue when inventory is in transit. The police report must be filed in the city/county where the crime was committed, but when trucking across multiple counties, it can be difficult to know at which stop along the way the truck was attacked.

What you can do: Allocate resources as needed to investigate thefts


  • When you’ve lost thousands of dollars worth of inventory coupled with the lost revenue from not being able to sell it, the time investment to investigate and file a police report can be worth it.
  • Even if the police are unable to locate your stolen cargo, use the information gathered to improve security processes and measures to prevent future theft.

Now let’s look at how many SMBs filed an insurance claim in the past 12 months.

insurance claims filed for cargo theft in past 12 months

The majority of SMBs (81%) are filing insurance claims for cargo theft, but there are risks in filing that need to be considered carefully and discussed with your cargo insurance provider. For starters, you may not get any money back or recover the stolen goods. As stated before, but I want to stress as it’s surprising: Only 2% of our survey respondents report that their insurance covered the total cost of the loss. Other risks include your premiums going up and the loss of time and resources used to complete the claim.

What to do: Reassess your insurance coverage based on your risk profile.


  • The type of cargo you transport and where it travels through are two key factors that make up your risk profile for cargo theft. For example, food and beverage tend to have fewer security measures in place at the individual item level (it’s tough to get IoT devices or even RFIDs on fruits and nuts, for instance). For another example, California and Texas ports and highway rest stops are the nation’s top hotspots for theft.
  • Take all this into consideration when discussing your insurance coverage options with your provider so you know your areas of risk are appropriately covered.

6 tips for keeping your cargo safe

Now that you understand the current landscape of small and midsize business cargo theft, it’s time to assess your areas of risk and decide where to invest efforts for prevention and recovery.

Here’s a recap of the recommendations we shared throughout this report:

6 tips for cargo theft prevention

Survey Methodology

* Capterra’s 2022 Cargo Theft & Reverse Logistics Survey was conducted in May 2022 among 194 U.S. inventory management managers in retail small or midsize businesses to learn more about the cargo theft experienced in the past 12 months. Respondents were screened for size of business (1 – 1,000 employees), their involvement in returns and reverse logistics management at their retail company (very to extremely involved) and that they had experienced cargo theft in the past 12 months.

Sources

  1. Thieves in LA are looting freight trains filled with packages from UPS, FedEx and Amazon, Cable News Network
  2. Cargo Theft User Manual [PDF], Federal Bureau of Investigation
  3. How to Respond to a Supply Chain Attack, Gartner
  4. Cargo theft up as thieves take advantage of increased traffic, idled shipments, FreightWaves

Looking for Supply Chain Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Supply Chain Management software solutions.

About the Author

Olivia Montgomery, PMP

Olivia Montgomery, PMP

Olivia Montgomery is an associate principal analyst at Capterra, covering IT project management and supply chains, with a focus on the benefits of a closely-aligned IT team with operations to drive digital transformation. Olivia pulls from her experience as an IT PMO leader and her humanities studies to deliver data-driven insights for small-business leaders. Her work has been published in Forbes, CIO Dive, The Digital Project Manager, and TechRepublic. When not researching tech trends, you can find her jumping horses or re-watching Jurassic Park.

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