Tamper Evident Labels

Written by Robert Mac
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Tamper evident labels are an important element in reducing the risk of theft--or worse, terrorism--in the supply chain. The shipping industry is rife with petty theft that quickly adds up; companies lose millions of dollars in lost revenue daily. In fact, many shipping companies expect to lose profits due to theft and write it into their operating budgets.

How Criminals Get Away with It

Most in-transit theft isn't a one-time job where a brazen thief steals an entire load of VCRs, but rather the continual slow leak of pilfered goods that accumulate over time. If a thief can steal and make it look like the crime didn't happen--by resealing boxes, for instance--he can continue to work unnoticed. If a visual inspection shows that no cargo was taken, management won't know where the leak is.

Consider how far goods are sent: from the manufacturers plant to the warehouse might be thousands of miles. In theory, many different sets of hand could have access to those goods; when a recipient discovers that a parcel has been pilfered, it could have been days and miles ago. It's very difficult to figure where the crime happened if there are no signs of it.

Tamper Evident Labels Make It Doubly Hard for Pilferers

Since theft is so prevalent, some companies use tamper evident labels, which work in two ways. As a visual deterrent, they inform would-be thieves that if they try to pilfer cargo, it will be plainly obvious at the next stop in the supply chain. They tell thieves that a particular parcel is under extra protection, and to move on to another target.

On the other hand, if a thief does remove tamper evident labels, his fate is sealed; they will expose his racket, which had been secret until then. Once management knows where the crimes are being committed, they can much more easily track down the source. A good thief will never try to announce his crimes, but that's exactly what tamper evident labels do.

How Tamper Evident Labels Work

If seems like it's from science fiction, but it's just smart technology: tamper evident labels leave behind hidden messages after they are removed, and they can't be reapplied. Once the label is gone, a message ("open") appears, letting anyone who visually checks the cargo to know that there has been some foul play.

What if the criminal tries to use more labels to reseal the box? Some tamper evident labels have sequential numbers on them, so if a thief reseals a box with the same kind of label, the numbers won't match. Again, it's easy for the authorities to notice that someone has been tampering with the cargo.

The labels get even smarter, too; some of them reveal their hidden messages after the theft, so the thief doesn't even know he's left a red flag at the scene of the crime. Other high-tech labels can detect vibrations or temperature ranges that cargo is exposed to; this lets shippers and receivers know that the cargo was properly handled or not. There are other seals, locks, and security measures that also help reduce the risk of cargo theft in the supply chain.

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