Many tools are utilized to combat cargo and trailer theft, but few tools are as effective as a simple and free service every driver, fleet manager and shipper already has in their arsenal: awareness.

“Theft is somewhat preventable,” Sam Rizzitelli, national director for transportation at Travelers Inland Marine division, told Fleet Owner during a symposium held by Travelers and Northland Insurance in partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute last week in Windsor, CT, at Travelers’ Claim University. “It’s really about becoming the path of most resistance. Thieves are going to steal, it’s who they are going to steal from?”

Travelers employs a Specialty Investigations Group (SIG) dedicated to cargo theft, but that group is only as effective as clients allow it to be, Rizzitelli said.

“Reaction time is critical,” he says. “We ask our customers to contact our SIG team immediately before even calling in a claim to get the process rolling because we want our SIG team engaged quickly. Greater response time equals greater recovery.”

(To read more about cargo theft, including new techniques used by thieves, click here)

Rizzitelli noted some steps that carriers can take to prevent theft, such as using landing gear or kingpin locks.

“How you lock your trailers is important,” he says. “A cheap padlock is not going to do it, but if you lock your landing gear, the thieves are not going to be able to hook up to the trailer and steal it.”

He also advised dropping trailers when possible in “recognized, secure lots.”

Technology and tracking improvements within the supply chain have helped reduce the number of incidents, but the risk of theft is still there, Rizzitelli said.

“Most of the risk is on the carriers,” he points out. “But don’t miss the risk to shippers. They might lose a customer [because a theft results in an undelivered load] even though they would be fully covered [for the loss].”

Still, the number-one step carriers and shippers can take to prevent cargo theft begins within.

“It boils down to relationships,” Rizzitelli said. “The transportation industry relies on relationships, whether it is regulations or risk. The thieves are ultimately praying on bad communication [between shipper and carrier]. If carriers partner with those within the supply chain, the communication is better.”

This includes taking steps to get to know each other, the business and paying attention to routines such as if a driver arrives earlier than expected. Also get to know local law enforcement and when something seems amiss, check. Rizzitelli related a story about a shipper whose own employees unwittingly assisted in stealing a load.

“The driver showed up and he couldn’t back the trailer into the dock, so the shipper’s [employee] went out and did it for him. They then loaded the trailer and off went the thief with the load,” he said.

To assist law enforcement, Travelers has a “sting” trailer equipped with multiple cameras and tracking.

“Law enforcement will request the use of the sting trailer based on the fact that they have theft problems,” said Scott Cornell, national program manager for SIG. “This particular tool can’t get us a load back, but it’s about a partnership [with law enforcement].”

That same type of partnership Rizzitelli suggests shippers and carriers alike develop with police and each other.