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ASCM Insights

Treasure Lost, Tech Found: Cargo Theft Spurs Digital Defense


Picture it: wily bandits, masked robbers and seafaring pirates. It sounds like the plot of Treasure Island (and it is). But history has a habit of repeating itself, and thieves are once again riding the high seas, intercepting and boarding merchant vessels, and plundering the ships of their valuable supplies.

In a CNBC story this week, Verisk company CargoNet reports, “Cargo theft incidents were up more than 57% in 2023 compared with the year prior.” This amounts to almost $130 million in stolen goods, a number that likely underestimates the real level of financial loss, CargoNet’s analysis notes. In fact, reports of stolen goods jumped from about 100 per month in 2014 to 220 in 2023. Barry Conlon, founder and CEO of Overhaul, a supply chain integrity solutions company, explains the marked increase this way: Cargo theft is “very, very low risk and very, very high reward.”

And it's not just happening at sea; railroad companies are also suffering: In 2021, Union Pacific stated that thieves ransacked about 90 containers each day, scattering opened boxes all over the tracks. Theft on their local freight trains increased about 160% from the previous year.

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Memphis are hotspots — all busy cities with growing populations. “It’s not uncommon for thieves to target specific cars full of electronics,” a New York Times Magazine story notes. That’s one reason why there’s been such a notable increase in theft: the sheer number of expensive goods that are being bought and sold — and shipped — across the country from internet sales. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that e-commerce sales have reached a staggering $958 billion per year, up from $5 billion in 1998. This shift opens logistics companies to more vulnerabilities than ever before.

Some supply chain organizations are fighting back against cargo theft with smart technology, including digitally locking systems, telematics and real-time tracking. Products are monitored via GPS, but also on a SKU- and a pallet-level. Bluetooth-enabled seals can be hidden in cargo, too. Typically, goods are locked with bolt seals, and the embeddable devices rely on light to detect when doors open. But they’re not difficult to bypass, and light detection is less effective at night. On the other hand, if a smart seal is broken, the company’s security team is notified immediately.

Buried treasures of supply chain know-how

There’s no question that we’re in uncharted waters, so we’ve all got to keep our sea legs about us. Find out how to adopt the latest supply chain tools and strategies at one of ASCM’s upcoming workshops, led by business leaders and industry experts. Sourcing, Procurement and Supply will help you maximize the latest tools and technologies — equipping you to thrive in the rapidly evolving world of sourcing, procurement and supply. And Integrated Business Planning will show you practical approaches to develop more efficient supply chain strategies.

There are four chances to attend one of these valuable events in North America. Once there, you’ll get firsthand insights to help you minimize costs, improve quality, safeguard sources and heighten efficiency. Register today and hoist the sails of professional development!

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted through

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