Trailer Theft: How to Protect Your Valuable Assets

August 25, 2023

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Key Takeaways

In this article, we’ll explore effective strategies that organizations can take to safeguard valuable trailers and cargo from theft so that you can mitigate risk, improve operational efficiency, and protect the bottom line from theft-related incidents.

In an era of rapid globalization and intricate supply chains, organizations in physical operations play a pivotal role in keeping the global economy running smoothly and efficiently. However, incidents of commercial trailer theft and cargo theft pose significant challenges to companies across physical operations. 

According to the latest Supply Chain Risk Trend report, cargo theft is on the rise, increasing by 17% in the second quarter of 2023, compared to the second quarter in 2022, with major theft hotspots occurring across California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois. As shortages in labor and supply chains persist, it’s important for organizations to take proactive measures to mitigate risk and operational disruption. 

What makes organizations vulnerable to trailer theft?

Organizations can become vulnerable to trailer theft due to a variety of factors such as increased demand or limited security measures. Here’s a closer look at the leading drivers of theft:

  • Changing or strained supply chain logistics: New vulnerabilities to your assets are exposed when supply chain logistics are strained or undergoing strategy rehauls. For example, high demand for products can often lead to an escalation in theft due to increased shipping traffic. Alternatively, strained or disrupted supply chain logistics can lead to idled shipments—according to FreightWaves, idled shipments are becoming increasingly targeted by thieves, since they see shipment backlogs as lucrative theft opportunities. Supply chain innovations such as friendshoring, nearshoring, and vertical integration may also pose a risk for asset theft if an organization lacks robust security protocols that are not yet established and time-tested. 

  • High value goods: Certain products inside trailers are more commonly targeted for theft due to their value, high demand, or ease of resale. In 2023, the top commodities that are targeted include food and beverages, electronics, solar power generation equipment, and automobile supplies and parts. Metal wiring, power tools, heavy machinery, and construction materials are also attractive to thieves due to their high resale value and relatively low resale regulations. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, scrap metal in particular can be considered a high value target for thieves due to ongoing and universal demand for supplies within the metal market. Pharmaceuticals and chemicals are also frequent targets due to high demand for controlled substances. 

  • Weak security measures: According to the National Equipment Register, risk management and physical security are often considered to be a non-critical cost. However if security measures are inadequate, criminals may exploit vulnerabilities in the system. Insufficient GPS trackers, lack of surveillance and alerting systems, lack of employee training on theft prevention, or weak physical security measures for facilities and vehicles can make it easier for theft to occur. 

How do trailers and cargo get stolen?

Commercial cargo and utility trailer theft can be carried out through various methods, and thieves often employ different strategies to successfully execute their theft operation. Here are some common methods of commercial cargo and trailer theft:

  • Facility burglaries: Unauthorized forced access into a commercial property or business is a common way that theft is executed. According to CargoNet, the single most targeted location type for cargo theft are warehouses and distribution centers. Criminals may stake out the property ahead of time to understand security protocols and surveillance systems, gaining information that may assist in a break-in such as facility layout, access, and entry points. 

  • Unhooked trailers: Physical theft of the trailer itself is another common way that theft is carried out. According to FreightWaves, unhooked trailers are an extremely easy target for thieves. Without proper security devices and locks such as hitch locks, coupler locks, or padlocks, criminals may simply hook up the trailer to their own vehicle and drive off with it. This can happen when the trailer is left unattended in a parking lot, rest stop, or industrial area without proper security measures and surveillance in place.

  • Fraudulent paperwork and documentation: Other escalating threats to trailer security are strategic thefts and fictitious pickups. Criminals may use counterfeit documentation to deceive shipping companies or authorities. This can involve using fake or stolen identities, fake bills of lading, shipping orders, or other paperwork to make it seem like they have the legal authority to move the trailer or cargo. 

  • Insider involvement: Individuals working within the organization may sometimes be involved in theft. According to FreightWaves, the majority of insider theft assistance activity falls within the unauthorized disclosure of information category (47% of the time) or process corruption (42% of the time). These actions can include providing information about valuable cargo, access codes, or disabling security systems to assist criminals in stealing trailers and cargo.

  • Trailer break-ins: Criminals may physically break into the trailer using tools such as crowbars, bolt cutters, or lock-picking sets, to steal cargo without taking the trailer itself. This is typically done when the driver is away or sleeping, when a trailer is parked in a secluded or poorly monitored area, or is parked at an unsecured rest stop.

  • Hijacking: Hijacking is when criminals self-organize to forcefully take control of a heavy-duty truck hooked up to a cargo trailer. In extreme scenarios, a hijacking may involve armed individuals who force the driver to stop and surrender the trailer and its contents. Hijackers typically target commercial vehicles transporting valuable goods such as electronics, pharmaceuticals, luxury items, or cash.

8 ways to secure your trailer and prevent theft

It's essential to be proactive about physical security and take appropriate steps to secure your trailers against theft. By implementing the security measures detailed below, you can reduce the risk of facility break-ins and potential losses due to theft:

  1. Educate workers on trailer theft prevention basics: Training and educating your workforce on security best practices will help reduce the risk of losing valuable assets and equipment. A few basic education opportunities include dedicated training sessions led by security professionals, posters and visual aids around high risk areas, and coaching on where to park and how to arrange high value materials within a trailer. CargoNet's Security Tips and Best Practices recommend being extra vigilant during holidays, which are at higher risk for theft from demand increases and high shipping volume. Additionally, removing and securing keys from all facility equipment and never treating alerts as false alarms are recommended practices employees should follow.

    Educate workers on trailer theft prevention basics

  2. Storing or parking trailers in secure parking areas, lots, and yards: Parking areas, lots, yards, and other work facilities can be hotspots for thieves targeting trailers, especially when the trailer is parked and unattended. Securing lots and yards with proper fencing, alarms, gates, lighting, and surveillance cameras can work to deter theft. Enforcing best practices for parking at rest stops and public areas reduces the risk of theft as well. Whenever possible, drivers should park in well lit and populated areas with visibility to security cameras or personnel. Positioning trailer doors against a wall or obstruction can make it harder for thieves to access the cargo.

    Ensure cargo trailers are parked in secure lots

  3. Invest in security specific personnel: Dedicated security personnel play a critical role in preventing and responding to theft incidents. Security personnel are trained to build protocol, recognize suspicious behavior, and respond promptly to any security threats, including theft attempts. A security team should take a proactive approach to identifying vulnerabilities and implementing security systems and preventative protocols such as background checks on contractors or seasonal staff. In the event of a theft incident, a dedicated security team can initiate immediate action, increasing the chances of recovering stolen goods. 

  4. Install cameras with AI detection for added security: Forward, side, and rearview cameras with AI detection can not only help secure a trailer and deter thieves, but it can streamline theft investigation if the incident is caught on camera. Video footage of a theft occurring in action can also be used for employee training.

  5. Install an asset tracking device with robust geofencing capabilities: Tracking devices and geofencing provide a proactive security solution to protect valuable assets from theft and unauthorized access. Modern GPS tracking and fleet management systems enable real-time monitoring of trailer locations, reducing theft detection time. Geofencing also plays a pivotal role in preventing trailer theft–you can set virtual boundaries around safe areas, enabling instant alerts or alarm systems when trailers move beyond these zones. The enhanced visibility and rapid response capability offered by GPS tracking improve the chances of recovering stolen trailers and streamline theft investigation with the help of law enforcement.

  6. Invest in IP site cameras with AI detection: Prominently place IP site cameras at yards, lots, and work facilities to help improve safety and deter thieves. Cameras provide real-time video feeds and event data, significantly boosting theft prevention and response times. Cameras that have AI detection capabilities can give you an additional layer of protection to recognize objects, people, and activities. You can also use AI to detect suspicious behaviors like unauthorized access or trailer scouting and loitering. Many AI powered cameras also offer intelligent alerting systems, which can instantly notify security personnel or authorities when potential risks are identified, enabling quicker response times.

    Invest in IP site cameras with AI detection to boost trailer theft prevention

  7. Invest in quality anti-theft devices such as trailer coupler locks and wheel locks: Anti-theft devices such as trailer wheel chock locks, ball locks, door locks, and other types of locks are essential tools in preventing trailer theft. Trailer hitch pins, pin locks, and tongue locks play a crucial role in ensuring trailers are securely attached to heavy-duty trucks. This prevents trailers from being forcibly detached from vehicles and deters theft when the trailer is parked or unattended. Safety chains will add additional protection in the event of a trailer being forcefully detached from a vehicle. By making it difficult for unauthorized individuals to hitch or move the trailer with these anti-theft devices, potential thieves are deterred.

  8. Install an engine immobilizer and panic button: Vehicle theft often goes hand in hand with trailer theft. According to the Transported Asset Protection Association, 85% of all cargo theft in North America involves trucks. Meanwhile, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that only 57% of stolen vehicles are ever recovered, making it imperative to add additional security to vehicles attached to trailers. Anti-theft devices such as engine immobilizers and panic buttons installed in vehicles attached to trailers can be a powerful tool in stopping trailer theft in its tracks. An engine immobilizer allows you to remotely disable the engine's ignition system, making it challenging for thieves to hotwire or drive away with the trailer. If a hijacking occurs, panic buttons enable quick distress signals, which can keep your trailer from being stolen.

Three ways Samsara helps protect trailers from theft

Gain complete visibility into your operations with Samsara’s smart risk detection tools, such as AI-powered video and real-time GPS tracking, to prevent theft or recover stolen assets. Here’s more detail about how Samsara protects your trailers and bottom line: 

  1. Protect valuable trailers with real-time monitoring and AI-powered video: Samsara’s Connected Operations Cloud offers an integrated solution to proactively prevent trailer theft through AI-powered and intelligent monitoring tools. Deter thieves and criminals by adding 360° Video Visibility into your trailers with side, rear, and interior video from third-party cameras. For trailers stored in company lots, yards, or work facilities, Samsara’s AI-Powered Site Visibility gives you additional real-time video monitoring and alerting capabilities into your worksites, so you can get real-time alerts of suspicious activity or unauthorized access into your facilities.

  2. Accelerate response times with instant and reliable risk detection: Samsara offers reliable, real-time alerting to improve theft detection and response times, increasing chances of theft recovery. If a trailer moves when it shouldn’t or moves outside of an authorized location, you can get alerted in real time through GPS-based geofencing or with wake on motion capabilities. Samsara’s Asset Tracking solution provides advanced alerting and GPS tracking tools so that you can quickly locate and follow stolen trailers, and provide exact GPS coordinates to the authorities. In the event of a trailer break-in, door and cargo sensors allow you to immediately get notified of suspicious door activity or cargo movement, so that you can protect valuable trailer cargo from theft while in transit. For trailers attached to trucks or powered equipment, Samsara’s Engine Immobilizer and Panic Button enables you to interfere when theft occurs by remotely immobilizing the vehicle and alerting the back-office with exact GPS coordinates. 

    Draw zones around risk areas and get alerted of trailer theft

  3. A single dashboard to streamline trailer theft investigation: Samsara’s Connected Operations Cloud gives you a single, consolidated dashboard to power not only your physical security program, but your entire fleet and asset operation. This enables you to simplify your technology stack and minimize the complexity of multiple logins and siloed visibility. With the Connected Operations Cloud, you have access to one centralized view of all your assets, vehicles, and worksites. Whether you're on site or on the go, Samsara offers centralized video investigation capabilities and intelligent stream searching so that you can remotely pinpoint how and when the theft occurred, improving response times and security protocols. For larger and more complex operations, Samsara’s open API and wide list of turnkey integrations enable you to connect disparate systems and ingest data from various sources to improve visibility, increase data access, and drive better decision-making.

Looking for an integrated solution to prevent theft, respond to incidents quickly, and mitigate risks by securing your operations end to end? Reach out for a free demo or trial of Samsara’s Connected Operation Cloud today.