As happens every Memorial Day, cargo thieves will come out of hibernation and take their share of contraband during this first of the three summer holiday weekends. But if data published Friday by cargo security research and consultancy CargoNet is accurate, the bad guys will have to stay busy to match their volume over Memorial Day 2020.

Then, cargo theft, measured by the number of reported incidents, rose 35% from levels reported over the 2019 Memorial Day weekend, CargoNet said. The average value of the goods stolen was $308,308, a figure that was skewed by five thefts that each exceeded $1 million worth of stolen goods, according to CargoNet data. Without going into detail, CargoNet executives said the year-over-year increase in the incidence of thefts was unusually high.

Incidents of computer electronics theft in California soared 443% between September 2020 and this month, compared with the same 2019-2020 period, CargoNet said. On average, each shipment of computer electronics was worth $856,993 per full truckload theft and $246,566 per partial truckload theft, according to its data. 

High-value electronics have always been a prime target. However, most of the incidents involved thefts of televisions. Increased end demand and higher prices due to elevated tariffs and components shortages have made computer electronics a desirable target for thieves, CargoNet said. Steven Lang, CargoNet’s manager of marketing and member service, said the firm remains very concerned about large-scale pilferage of computer equipment in California over the upcoming break.

The firm did not break out the number of thefts incidents per year. Over a five-year period starting in 2016, there have been 143 reported incidents of Memorial Day weekend theft in the U.S., which averaged out to 29 thefts per year, according to CargoNet data. The firm actually tracks activity from the Thursday before Memorial Day to the following Wednesday.

Thus far in 2021, the level of theft activity has been relatively subdued, said Lang.

The number of overall incidents might appear small given the volume of cargo that moves in U.S. commerce. However, the overwhelming majority of cargo theft in America goes unreported. Victims are not required to report the incidents to databases that CargoNet and other security interests have access to. Most victims view theft as a cost of doing business and see no need to report the incidents other than to their insurance carriers. Some are concerned that by publicizing the incidents, they shed an unfavorable light on the security of their operations.

Memorial Day will be the first extended holiday since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S. in March 2020 that a large number of Americans will have been fully vaccinated. It remains to be seen how the current situation will affect theft patterns and outcomes. Pandemic-related increases in crime, especially in the disease’s early stages, were a factor in the elevated level of overall incidents in 2020, CargoNet said.

Thefts of truckload shipments were prevalent last year in Miami, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and Southern and central California. There was also an increase in California of fictitious pickups, in which thieves masquerading as drivers pilfer cargo from unsuspecting shippers or brokers.

CargoNet advised supply chain managers to arrange, when possible, for same-day deliveries of short-haul shipments, to embed tracking devices in the shipment and to use high-security locks to prevent trailer burglaries. Drivers should adhere to the “red zone” rule and avoid stopping within 250 miles of a pickup, CargoNet. In a nod to common sense, CargoNet said that drivers should be vigilant in watching for vehicles that may be following them, and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.