Tractor-trailer rigs parked at a truck stop. (credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – That 18-wheeler driving next to you on the freeway might be stolen. Commercial cargo theft is a rising problem across the nation and especially in North Texas.

The new crime trend has thieves hitting 18-wheelers loaded with merchandise.

According to Special Agent Jerry Allen, with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, big rigs are stolen in North Texas all the time. “We really don’t know how big the cargo theft problem is,” he said. “In Dallas alone, we lose four to five loads a week, of cargo.”

The merchandise never makes it to the store and the manufacturer, merchant and state never see a dime of profit.

“The state loses millions of dollars in tax revenue every year,” explained Allen. “In the DFW metroplex our biggest thing [stolen] is electronics. A load of big-screen TVs, wholesale, [costs] $350,000. It goes on the streets of Dallas for $35,000 a load.”

The local cargo theft problem is not only increasing but becoming more organized. In fact, Allen says one of the biggest cargo theft rings, a gang out of south Florida, has relocated some members to North Texas.

“They [the Florida gang] have evolved from hitting random trucks, to specific trucks, to actually targeting warehouses,” said Allen. “Now instead of hitting a single truckload we’ve had a number of offenses in Dallas where they’ve hit a warehouse for multiple truckloads.”

Cargo thieves are even disabling security systems, using forklifts to load merchandise, and then driving off from warehouses in stolen trucks.

The haul can be lucrative for thieves who steal big rigs loaded with everything from tires and TV’s to meat. Allen says in some cases truckers are in on the schemes and are paid off with cash or drugs.

Many large trucking companies have a deductible between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000 per load; so many of the thefts are never reported to insurance agencies. And for years statistics included tractor-trailer thefts in the same reports with car thefts.

“So for instance, when a $100,000 tractor, used to pull a trailer, is stolen it shows up in the same crime analyst stat as a $1,600 1960 Volkswagen,” explained Allen.

There is a new Uniform Crime Reporting System code for cargo theft, that became mandatory in 2010, but it hasn’t yet been implemented by state agencies.