911 Help

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Missing / Broken Seal


The truck has arrived for delivery, and the trailer seal, applied by the shipper, is missing or broken. There is no way to determine whether the shipment has been tampered with, or has been exposed to the elements.

CAUTION: The receiver should always be the person to break the seal.

Never ask the driver to break the seal, even if it is pouring rain and he has raingear on and you don’t. (FYI: the driver should have been trained to insist that you break the seal, and to never do it himself.)

If a driver brings you a seal that he claims he has just removed, treat this as a case of a broken seal: the best way for a driver to cover for a missing seal is to bring you a seal he removed yesterday for some unauthorized purpose, and hand it to you as though he is being the most helpful person in the world.


  1. Call us to let you know the seal is missing or broken.
  2. We will ask to you confirm that the Bill of Lading shows that the freight was sealed by the shipper, and that the seal number was written on the Bill of Lading.
    NOTE: Customs and Law Enforcement officers are authorized to break seals to investigate the contents of sealed trailers. When these individuals do break a seal, they will replace the broken seal with a new seal, and will write the number of the new seal, and their identification information, on the Bill of Lading. In these cases, the replacement seal is deemed to be as legitimate as the original seal.
  3. We will verify that the shipment you are about to receive was ordered as a full truckload shipment. If the shipment was ordered as LTL, then you should not expect there to be a seal, as other freight would normally have been added to the pick-up truck, and/or the freight may have been cross-docked. In the case of an LTL shipment, there cannot, by definition, be a missing / broken seal problem.
  4. We will recommend that you tell the driver immediately that there is a missing / broken, and have the driver confirm that he agrees.
  5. We will recommend that you unload the truck with the driver present, and watch carefully for damage or tampering, and count the freight as it comes off the truck: you are watching for evidence that would suggest that the removal of the seal occurred to facilitate unauthorized access to the freight. Photograph anything that appears unusual.
  6. If it turns out that you wish to make an insurance claim, it is much easy to do so if you have unloaded the shipment and retained it in its entirety, so that it is free from additional tampering or damage. If you refuse the shipment, then there is no way to determine its condition when it initially arrived at your dock: damage found could have occurred either before, or after, you refused the shipment.
  7. We will advise the carrier that there is a broken / missing seal, and that you are unloading with the driver observing.
  8. When the unloading is complete, make a notation on the Bill of Lading that the seal was missing / broken, and note anything unusual that you have observed about the freight or the count.
  9. Tell us when you are finished unloading, and whether there is a problem, and we will advise the carrier.


Missing seals are often the result of an oversight by the shipper (he wrote the seal number on the Bill, but forgot to actually install seal on the trailer door), or an en-route misadventure by the driver (he thought he heard a noise in the trailer, or felt the freight shifting, so he broke the seal to investigate). Rarely does a missing seal represent true tampering or theft.

However, a missing seal may be the result of a carrier adding freight to an exclusive-use shipment in order to generate additional revenue. While this would be a brazen move by a carrier, greed can trump logic, so this does happen on occasion.

Or a missing seal may be the result of an unauthorized person checking out the trailer contents while contemplating a theft.

On occasion, a shipper will call us to report some uncertainty about whether the correct freight was loaded onto a truck: since the only way to verify what is on the truck is to have the driver visually inspect it, we will request an e-mailed permission to break the seal, and will pass permission that to the carrier. The driver can then be authorized to break the seal to investigate what is on the truck.

We may also request e-mailed permission to break a seal if the trailer has broken down en-route, and the freight has to be transferred to a different trailer.

However, since an intact seal is your protection against tampering or theft, each broken / missing seal case must be treated as though there is something amiss until it is clear that nothing is amiss.


If nothing is found to be amiss, then there is little or no impact of a missing seal, other than unloading process taking a bit longer than normal.

However, if something is found to be amiss, then there is very likely a claim situation, which will involve insurance companies and their adjusters, and will follow a structured investigation and settlement process as described elsewhere in the “911” section of this website.

Typically, but not always, the truck is unloaded, nothing is found to be amiss, and the freight is accepted.