Safeguarding Supply Chains: How to Prevent Yard Theft

As the technology and operations of global logistics have become increasingly complex and advanced, so too have the bad actors that target them. The industry faces increasingly sophisticated threats from organized crime groups employing advanced tactics to steal valuable cargo, individuals who resort to fraudulent tactics, and companies who are falling on hard times trying to survive. With each market shift in the shipping industry, new opportunities to exploit weaknesses also emerge. In order to safeguard shipments and minimize losses while maintaining the efficiency of yard operations, logistics providers must employ robust and dynamic security measures to stop these new threats.

Here’s a far-too-common scenario: a logistics broker receives a call from what appears to be a reputable carrier offering to transport a high-value shipment of automotive supplies. The caller provides all the proper credentials, and the deal seems completely legitimate. Fast forward a week, and the shipment has vanished into thin air, leaving behind a trail of forged documents and disconnected phone numbers. This is just one example of the complex theft operations targeting supply chain yards today.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll unpack the intricacies of yard theft, explore the most vulnerable targets, examine the methods employed by criminals, and provide actionable strategies to fortify your defenses.

Common Targets of Theft

To effectively combat and prevent yard theft, it’s crucial to understand what thieves are going after. Recent data from CargoNet and law enforcement sources highlight several high-priority targets for theft:

  • Automotive Supplies. Engine oil, fuel additives, and other car-related products are popular commodities on the black market.
  • Paints and Solvents. These items are easily resold and difficult to trace.
  • Personal Care and Hygiene Products. Items like high-end soaps and shampoos, detergents, deodorants, diapers, hair products, and other personal care products are in high demand and can quickly be liquidated.
  • Household Cleaning Supplies. Everyday items like glass cleaners, kitchen degreasers, stain removers, and other cleaning products are easy to resell.
  • Energy Drinks. Popular, pricey, and easily transportable, these items are especially attractive to thieves.
  • Mixed and Assorted Nuts. These high-value food items are easy to transport, lack serialization, and have a long shelf life, making them ideal for resale.

What do these items have in common? They all share certain characteristics that make them ideal targets: high value, easy transportability, lack of serialization, and ease of resale. For instance, a stolen shipment of energy drinks can be quickly distributed through various illegal channels without raising any suspicion, making it a lucrative haul for criminals.

Common Types of Yard Theft

Now that we’ve looked at some of the common targets of yard theft, let’s examine some of the ways that theft occurs. The methods employed by thieves have evolved far beyond simple break-ins and burglaries. Today’s criminals use sophisticated techniques that often blur the lines between cybercrime and physical theft. Here are some of the most prevalent types of yard theft:

Fictitious Pickups

This method of cargo theft is like a high-stakes game of impersonation, similar to the “social engineering” tactics used in some types of cybercrime. Criminals meticulously research legitimate carriers, stealing their identities to orchestrate elaborate fraud schemes. They might gather extensive information on the carrier, forge credentials, use voice-over-IP phone numbers with area codes matching the impersonated company, and create convincing fake email accounts to communicate with brokers, posing as a legitimate carrier.

For example, a thief might contact a broker posing as “John from ABC Trucking,” a reputable carrier. The thief provides all the correct information, including insurance details and DOT numbers. Once they secure the load, they either pick it up themselves using forged credentials or subcontract it to an unsuspecting legitimate carrier, only to divert the shipment later.

Double/Triple Brokering

This scheme involves multiple layers of deception. A criminal might pose as Carrier A to book a load, then broker it to Carrier B, who unknowingly picks up the shipment. The thief then instructs Carrier B to deliver to a different location, where the goods are offloaded and disappear.

Shipment Diversion

A legitimate driver picks up a load but, en route, receives a call from someone claiming to be from dispatch, instructing them to deliver to a new address due to “last-minute changes.” The new address is often a temporary storage facility or cross-dock where the thieves take possession of the goods.

Falsified Appointments

In this scheme, thieves manipulate appointment schedules to gain access to yards or warehouses when security is potentially lax. They might exploit vulnerabilities in online booking systems or provide false information to secure appointments at off-peak hours or during shift changes. Once inside, they have a window of opportunity to locate and steal high-value cargo with less scrutiny.

 

Cargo Hijacking

While less frequent than other methods, cargo hijacking remains a serious threat. In this brazen tactic, thieves forcibly seize control of a truck and its cargo, often using intimidation or violence.  Hijackings can occur while the truck is in transit or even within the confines of a yard if security measures are inadequate.

Paperwork Fraud

This method relies on creating convincing forgeries of crucial documents. Thieves might produce fake Proof of Delivery (POD) documents, claiming a shipment was delivered when it was actually stolen. This tactic can buy criminals valuable time, often days or weeks, before the theft is discovered.

Other Theft Methods

While less common, traditional methods still pose a threat:

  • Physical break-ins to poorly secured yards or warehouses
  • Inside jobs involving corrupt employees with access to shipment details
  • Cybersecurity breaches to access shipping information and orchestrate thefts

These schemes highlight the critical need for enhanced verification processes and the importance of using secure, technology-driven solutions to track shipments and verify identities at every step of the supply chain. As the industry evolves, so too must its defenses against increasingly sophisticated criminal operations.

 

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Recovering Stolen Items and Recouping Losses

Despite best efforts, thefts can still occur. When they do, quick action and thorough documentation are crucial. With consumer products, even if product occurs, it often times is destroyed due to the chain of custody being broken.

Law Enforcement Tactics

Time is of the essence when reporting theft. Contact local law enforcement immediately and provide as much detail as possible. This includes:

  • Shipment information (contents, value, tracking numbers)
  • Driver details and vehicle descriptions
  • Any available surveillance footage or witness accounts

Law enforcement may involve multi-jurisdictional task forces, as these thefts often cross state lines. Your cooperation with these efforts is critical for any hope of recovery.

Insurance Coverage and Claims

Review your cargo insurance policies regularly to ensure adequate coverage. In addition, review your carrier contracts and your bill of lading templates to make sure there are in line with your needs. When using a broker, is the broker the carrier of record or is your process the underlying carrier? When filing a claim:

  • Provide thorough documentation of the shipment and theft
  • Be prepared for scrutiny; insurers will investigate for any signs of negligence
  • Keep detailed records of all communication regarding the claim
  • Create a task force to assess other high risk areas of your operation to close any immediate gaps

Recovery Challenges

Recovery of stolen goods is often an uphill battle:

  • Fictitious pickups leave no legitimate carrier to pursue
  • Time delays in discovering thefts can significantly reduce the chances of recovery
  • Lack of serialization on many targeted goods makes identification nearly impossible once they enter the black market
    • Even if recovery occurs, consumer products often have to be destroyed to eliminate any consumer risks
 

Preventative and Protective Measures for Yard Security

Implementing a layered approach to security is key to preventing yard theft. Let’s explore some practical strategies.

 

Carrier Vetting

Establishing a trusted carrier network is one of the best ways to safeguard high-value shipments. New carriers should be thoroughly vetted, including verifying each carrier’s USDOT (United States Department of Transportation) numbers, checking for up-to-date insurance certificates, and reviewing safety ratings, customer reviews, and the historical performance of each carrier before allowing them to gain access to the yard. This comprehensive evaluation helps build a reliable, trusted network and keep potential fraudsters out.

Develop a standard carrier contract and make sure all approved carriers are under contract. In soft freight market conditions, this is a relatively easy task. When the freight market turns and capacity is hard to find, leverage contracted brokers as back up carriers who are already under contract. Last minute spot freight with unapproved and non-contracted carriers creates immediate risk and exposure.

Identity Verification

Implementing a system for confirming carrier information, including driver’s licenses, trailer tags, and tractor DOT numbers, is another important security measure. For high-risk shipments, you may consider requiring biometric verification to further enhance security. These kinds of thorough protocols help minimize unauthorized access and prevent social engineering fraud tactics.

We are seeing more facial recognition and biometric verification in passenger travel, example airports, and we will see this trend continue to evolve into the logistics and warehouse industry in the years to come.

Staff Training

It’s essential that all employees working the yard adhere to security measures. That means conducting regular training about current theft tactics and the red flags to watch for so everyone is well-prepared to identify and respond to potential threats. Regular process audits should occur at minimum every six months to verify the established processes are being followed, and supervisors are refreshed on what to do in exception cases.By establishing clear protocols and standardizing processes, you can cultivate a culture of awareness that will help safeguard against theft and security breaches.

Physical Security

Physical security measures should not be overlooked. Make sure the yard has proper lighting throughout, secure fencing, and controlled access points with gate arms. For areas that are considered high-risk, employ on-site security personnel who can provide gate management, additional monitoring, and rapid response in case of any suspicious activities.

Capable Yard Management System

A Connected yard management system (YMS) enhances visibility and control over the movements within a yard. Connected is defined as one that is integrated with your Transportation Management System (TMS), Warehouse Management System (WMS), and your gate access control. This system utilizes real-time tracking technology, such as RFID or GPS, to monitor the location of trailers and containers throughout the yard. By ensuring that every movement is logged and visible, a YMS can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access and theft. Alerts can be configured to notify yard managers of any irregular activity, such as trailers moving out of designated zones or being accessed at unusual times, enabling rapid response to potential security breaches. YMS systems also eliminate common mistakes around incorrect trailer pickups. Any time you have a trailer picked up that went to the wrong customer, is an indication of a clear process failure that can be remedied.

Yard management systems can also integrate with other security measures, such as surveillance cameras, motion sensors, and gate control systems, to create a comprehensive security framework. Access controls can be set to require verification of vehicle and driver identities before entry or exit to ensure that only authorized personnel are in the yard. By automating and centralizing the oversight of all yard activities, a YMS helps quickly identify and neutralize potential security risks.

Tiered Shipment Categories

To manage yard security efficiently, categorizing shipments based on their value and commodity type. For example, you can organize shipment tiers:

  • Tier 1 could include high-risk, high-value items such as electronics and pharmaceuticals.
  • Tier 2 could cover automotive supplies and branded consumer goods, which carry a moderate risk.
  • Tier 3 could consist of lower-value, bulk commodities that pose the least risk for theft.

By establishing a security hierarchy for shipments, you can apply progressively stricter security measures for each tier. This ensures that the more valuable or risk-prone a shipment, the higher the level of security it receives.

Best Practices to Keep Yards Safe from Theft

Here are some best practices to implement that can help reduce yard theft:

  1. Conduct regular security audits of your yard and processes to identify supply chain security risks
  2. Stay informed about emerging theft trends and tactics
  3. Collaborate with industry partners and law enforcement
  4. Implement a “trust but verify” approach with all carriers and drivers
  5. Use load boards cautiously and verify all information with independent background checks
  6. Establish protocals with carriers on approved truck stop locations for high risk cargo
  7. Be wary of shipments requiring high cargo insurance liability ($250K+) 
  8. Pay special attention to loads with extended transit times or long layovers
  9. Establish clear roles and responsibilities at each shipping location that are accountable to check-in procedures
  10. Use phone number verification tools to check for VOIP numbers
  11. Regularly update and test your emergency response plans

What does this mean? Shippers that have high value freight have to require this of carriers to protect themselves.

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How Vector Can Help Prevent Theft

Vector’s Connected Facility solution offers powerful solutions to achieve supply chain security. Our digital check-in, electronic bill of lading, and yard management platform improves yard operations, automates workflows and connects your suppliers, carriers, and customers through a digital thread eliminating theft:

  • Digital Documentation
    • Eliminate vulnerable paper-based processes
    • Securely store sensitive data and access shipping documents in real-time
      • Electronic Bill of Lading (eBOL) can be shared with the end receiver in advance of delivery so no BOL maninpulation can occur
    • Real-Time Visibility
      • Track shipments and assets throughout your yard, reducing cargo loss from theft or innocent mistakes
      • Identify suspicious patterns or unauthorized movements quickly
    • Automated Gate Check-In and Verification
      • Streamline driver and carrier verification processes, resolving discrepancies faster
        • Verify the broker of record the driver is hauling for
      • Reduce human error in identity checks
  • Integration Capabilities
    • Connect Vector’s yard management software with existing security systems
    • Create a comprehensive, data-driven security ecosystem
  • Customizable Alerts
    • Set up notifications for unusual activities
    • Respond quickly to potential security threats
  • Data Analytics
    • Analyze patterns and trends to identify vulnerabilities
    • Continuously improve security measures based on accurate data
  • Mobile Accessibility
    • Enable remote monitoring and rapid response
    • Improve reaction times to suspicious activities
  • Lower Insurance Premiums
    • Enhanced security features make your business a safe bet for insurers

Yard Security in 2024 and Beyond

As the world of supply chain security continues to evolve in 2024, staying ahead of threats can be challenging. By understanding the tactics criminals employ, implementing an in-depth defense strategy, and leveraging cutting-edge technology solutions like Vector, businesses can protect supply chains and significantly reduce their risk of yard theft.

Remember, security is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your procedures, stay informed about emerging threats, and invest in the right tools and technologies. With vigilance, preparation, and the right partners, you can create a secure environment that protects your assets and ensures the integrity of your shipments.

In this new era of sophisticated and organized theft techniques, your yard’s overall supply chain security is only as strong as your weakest link. By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide and partnering with innovative solution providers like Vector, you’re not just protecting your assets—you’re safeguarding the future of your business.

  • Digital Documentation
    • Eliminate vulnerable paper-based processes
    • Securely store sensitive data and access shipping documents in real-time
      • Electronic Bill of Lading (eBOL) can be shared with the end receiver in advance of delivery so no BOL maninpulation can occur
  • Real-Time Visibility
    • Track shipments and assets throughout your yard, reducing cargo loss from theft or innocent mistakes
    • Identify suspicious patterns or unauthorized movements quickly
  • Automated Gate Check-In and Verification
    • Streamline driver and carrier verification processes, resolving discrepancies faster
      • Verify the broker of record the driver is hauling for
    • Reduce human error in identity checks
  • Integration Capabilities
    • Connect Vector’s yard management software with existing security systems
    • Create a comprehensive, data-driven security ecosystem
  • Customizable Alerts
    • Set up notifications for unusual activities
    • Respond quickly to potential security threats
  • Data Analytics
    • Analyze patterns and trends to identify vulnerabilities
    • Continuously improve security measures based on accurate data
  • Mobile Accessibility
    • Enable remote monitoring and rapid response
    • Improve reaction times to suspicious activities
  • Lower Insurance Premiums
    • Enhanced security features make your business a safe bet for insurers

Yard Security in 2024 and Beyond

As the world of supply chain security continues to evolve in 2024, staying ahead of threats can be challenging. By understanding the tactics criminals employ, implementing an in-depth defense strategy, and leveraging cutting-edge technology solutions like Vector, businesses can protect supply chains and significantly reduce their risk of yard theft.

Remember, security is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your procedures, stay informed about emerging threats, and invest in the right tools and technologies. With vigilance, preparation, and the right partners, you can create a secure environment that protects your assets and ensures the integrity of your shipments.

In this new era of sophisticated and organized theft techniques, your yard’s overall supply chain security is only as strong as your weakest link. By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide and partnering with innovative solution providers like Vector, you’re not just protecting your assets—you’re safeguarding the future of your business.

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