By Kelly Riddle

Nearly every company, business, government and consumer in the world is dependent to some degree on the transportation and cargo industry. This makes private investigations a ready-made fit for a large industry that battles an increasing problem with organized crime, pilferage, equipment thefts and international border concerns.


In the post-9/11 world, government compliance has become a myriad of frustration and confusion for the industry. For example, one analysis concluded that there are more than 25 different jurisdictions charged with managing U.S.-Canadian cross-border freight movements. Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration Customs Enforcement and other premier law enforcement agencies all have their requirements for transportation companies. Since the inception of the Homeland Security agency, every law enforcement department has had to rethink its duties and responsibilities while being reconfigured and set back into a new puzzle.

During this transformation process, executives within the transportation industry have repetitively been given different and often conflicting marching orders. The average company assigns the task of security to a mid-level or senior executive who is already overtaxed and who has little, if any, experience with security compliance. Budgets are quickly developed with assumptions that adding or upgrading CCTV systems or other technology will bring the company up to speed with security. This “patch the hole and move on” tactic has been costly and mostly ineffective to date. Even with all of the new regulations and technology available, transportation and cargo thefts continue to increase.


Organized crime has found this industry to be particularly fruitful because of the relative ease in attacking their prey and only getting their hands slapped when caught. Since this is a white collar crime that affects “large” companies and those that insure them, the victimless crime continues to be perpetuated. Making the most of technology, organized groups of criminals have been productive in infiltrating the businesses of their victims.

They typically have someone obtain a job in the warehouse of popular manufacturing or distribution warehouses to gather intelligence on shipments. Armed with this information, they are able to discretely place a GPS device in the load to allow their compadres to tail the shipment from a distance. When the driver stops for any length of time, they move in and hijack the load with little to no effort. To no surprise, the states with the main interstate thoroughfares are also the hardest hit.


According to FBI figures, in 2017 California and Texas were the two hardest hit states when it comes to cargo theft. Texas, with its proximity to Mexico and international trade, is an obvious choice. Likewise, California is a good staging ground for loads coming out of the seaports. Both Texas and California have major highways that intersect and cross through their states, allowing great opportunity for criminal activity. Prosecution often becomes entangled in these and other locations due to the mobility of the shipment through various jurisdictions.

Other useful information related to transportation and cargo thefts evolve around the business cycles. The most opportune time for thefts is when there are less people around and the longest time between the theft and the chance for discovery. The weekends are therefore the best time for thefts to take place and are usually not found until Monday when workers return to their normal shifts.

Armed with this knowledge, investigators can more readily identify trends and help clients become more proactive. There are many factors that make the recovery of stolen equipment and cargo more successful and include:

    1. Rapid reporting of theft to law enforcement. Although few jurisdictions have a task force specifically for these types of crimes, getting the items entered on National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the particular state’s similar system allow recovery when officers come in contact with the unit. A private investigator can benefit their client by ensuring that the information has actually been entered and broadcast in a timely manner.
    2. Rapid on-scene investigation by a private investigator is also crucial. Statistics have shown that if a load is not recovered within the first 24 hours, the success rate dramatically decreases. For those transportation, cargo and insurance companies that work closely with private investigators, the theft of an 18-wheeler or the cargo is immediately reported to the local PI and response to the theft location is mandatory within a two- to four-hour framework. The information gathered by talking to the driver, witnesses, reviewing CCTV video and acting as a liaison with law enforcement is crucial.
    3. Developing a team effort with law enforcement officers who work in auto, fraud and other divisions will allow information, leads and intelligence to be shared.
    4. Reviewing crime trends in the area helps to identify new methods being utilized by the criminal element. Some of these include special methods for stealing or hijacking loads, areas where truckers are often paid thousands of dollars for the load in exchange for delaying calling law enforcement, areas where makeshift paint booths are set up to disguise the equipment, etc.
    5. Working with the client to authorize rewards and flyers to be posted at truck stops, industrial areas, or similar settings.

While these types of investigations are not usually “tough” investigations, there are circumstances that arise that create obstacles such as the load being taken into Mexico, driver involvement, arguments between the driver and employer over pay issues giving the driver an idea that they can hold the load hostage until paid, lack of law enforcement response, failure to add the information on NCIC, and inability on the part of the owner to prove ownership through titles and related issues.

In a review of investigations conducted by Kelmar Global, we discovered that an aggressive response time, immediate canvass of the areas, interviews that generate leads, utilization of B.O.L.O posters and rewards as well as working with our extensive law enforcement personnel and sources were responsible for the following statistics:

  • 77.2% located and recovered in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area (2006–2010)
  • 60.7% located and recovered in the Houston area (2006–2010)
  • 47.3% located and recovered in the South Texas/border area (2006–2010)
  • 69.1% located and recovered in Mexico (2006– 2010)

The PI can be a huge asset to their client in helping not only recover the loads but working through these types of situations. Developing a plan of action and being able to institute this when a loss occurs is instrumental in the successful recovery of stolen cargo and equipment.

Kelly E. Riddle is the President of Kelmar Global as well as a certified member of the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators.