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The Retired Investor: Cargo Theft Is Bain of Business in America
By Bill Schmick, iBerkshires columnist
04:25PM / Thursday, July 20, 2023

Retail theft in general is a growing problem in the United States and organized crime has long considered that cargo is its most lucrative target. Crooks have used everything from road pirates to sophisticated computer hacking to rake in billions of dollars and that number is increasing each year.
Possibly the fastest-growing segment of theft in the U.S. is related to cargo. The commercial shipment of freight moving by railroad car, truck, and aircraft, as well as storage, warehouses, distribution, and consolidation facilities, is the red meat for cargo pirates.
It is a large industry that accounts for anywhere between $15 to $35 billion in thefts per year. Depending on what is inside a container truck, for example, thieves can walk away with thousands to millions of dollars in stolen goods. Common targets this year include food, beverages, auto parts, solar panels, vehicle batteries, tires, and pharmaceuticals.
You may think there are plenty of higher-value products that should have made the stolen goods hit list and you would be right. However, the resale of stolen products is just as important as the product itself. Consider the difficulty in identifying stolen avocados or sirloin steak. How would you know a solar panel was pilfered, or a tailpipe?
Thus far in 2023, cargo theft has experienced a 41 percent increase from 2022.  Tactics range from targeting refrigerated trucks to Mission Impossible scenarios where criminals are disguised as legitimate drivers, employees, or business representatives. They also use high-tech "sniffers" to detect GPS trackers manufacturers placed in or on high-tech cargos. Cyber robbers hack into dozens of companies exploiting transportation and shipping systems to forge invoices and delivery documentation. This allows bad actors to brazenly pick up cargo from warehouses and other distribution centers offering forged documents and steal containers full of goods in front of unknowing employees and or security guards.
Behind this crime wave are professionals with organizations that are capable of evading federal, state, and local police, as well as corporate security including insurance agents. As retail crime continues to rise, a handful of states have attempted to stiffen penalties on those that steal in groups. Other states may follow. However, much of what needs to be done to stop further spikes in retail crime lies in updating and focusing on American crime policies. For example, most police departments do not have a separate category to distinguish retail thefts from other kinds of robberies and larceny.
Many of the sophisticated people orchestrating retail crimes tailor their tactics to recent criminal justice reforms. In many cases, mobs employ hundreds of freelancers to steal goods. Changes in bail policies make it easier to entice people to steal because they won't spend time in jail should they get caught. The amount of money stolen to trigger a felony charge is another issue. You would think that upping the penalty for stealing would simply be a commonsense solution to retail theft of any kind, but not in this country.
Some argue the problem is too complex for such simplistic solutions. Others question whether increasing sanctions such as an automatic felony for retail crime, in which the thief spends more than a year in prison, is an effective deterrent. Since 2000, at least 39 states have increased the value of stolen goods required to trigger a felony charge.
Over two decades, researchers found no change in property crimes in states that increased penalties versus states that did not increase the amount required to warrant a felony charge. Go figure.
The retail industry is urging state governments and law enforcement to go after the mob bosses and masterminds behind the crime scene. To do so, organizations such as the National Retail Federation want lawmakers to enact statutes that would create a new category of crime — organized retail theft.
This new category would give law enforcement a tool to combat the crime surge. Exactly how the statutes are used is up to the discretion of police and prosecutors and therein lies the rub. Critics say discretion could lead to racial disparities in the justice system and probably has in several states.
As in everything else in America, retail crime and its solution are a politicized issue and will likely remain so, leaving the industry to fend for itself. One step that a few large retail chains are using is to simply close their doors in areas where they are experiencing high crime. Although that may be a highly visible act to counter smash and grab theft, it does nothing for the continued upticks in cargo crime, car theft, and so much more.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.


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