‘Porch pirates’ stole an estimated 260 million packages in the last year. How to prevent theft on your doorstep

Personal Finance

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You may not be the only person eager for packages to arrive at your house.

During the holidays, as the volume of home deliveries surges due to gift buying and giving, so does the chance that so-called porch pirates will grab parcels right off your front step, experts say.

Over the last year, an estimated 260 million delivered packages were stolen, according to a report from SafeWise, an online guide to security and safety products. A year ago, the estimate was 210 million.

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“Package thefts unfortunately are on the rise, perhaps in part because of the increase in online shopping that started with the pandemic in 2020,” said Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog for U.S. PIRG, a nonprofit consumer advocacy research group.

Online sales remain elevated since 2020

Indeed, in the second quarter of 2020, just as the pandemic took hold in the U.S., online sales jumped to 16.4% of all retail sales, up from 11.9% in the previous quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. While the share is down to 14.8% as of the third quarter of this year, it remains higher than pre-pandemic. 

Add in the expected holiday shipping frenzy that hits every December, and there could be more packages disappearing this month than ever. The total annual lost to this type of theft is an estimated $19.5 billion, according to SafeWise.

“Anecdotally, police and sheriff’s departments in communities across the country have reported that porch pirates have been a huge problem the last several weeks,” Murray said.

“This could be in part because many folks have returned to offices at least part time this year, compared with the last two years,” she said. “And, since everyone knows there’s an avalanche of deliveries this time of year, there’s every reason to believe the bad guys use this as an opportunity.”

It’s a ‘very low risk and very low skill’ crime

On top of there being more opportunities, it’s a fairly easy crime to commit, said Ben Stickle, a criminal justice professor at Middle Tennessee State University who studies package theft.

“The other aspect of this crime that makes it unique and likely to continue increasing is that there’s very low risk and very low skill involved,” Stickle said. “It takes no skill to walk up and steal a package.”

How to guard against package theft

There are ways to guard against porch pirates. While security cameras can help, they aren’t always a deterrent — which means it’s worth taking other steps as well to ensure the safe arrival of your parcels.

If possible, you should sign up to receive an email or text message when your package is supposed to arrive and when it’s actually delivered, Murray said. Each of the major delivery services — the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx — lets you sign up for the notifications. If you’re ordering on Amazon, the notifications are generally automatic.

However, this also means you need to keep an eye on your email and texts. “Checking your email once a day or whatever doesn’t cut it,” Murray said.

Once you receive the delivery alert, fetch the package immediately or call a neighbor who’s home to retrieve it. “You don’t want packages sitting outside for hours, whether day or night,” she said.

You also could try scheduling the delivery for a day and time you know you’ll be home, Stickle said. “Or get it delivered it to an alternative address like work or a trusted neighbor,” he said.

Alternatively, you can pick up your package from, say, a UPS or FedEx store or an Amazon Hub Locker, instead of having it delivered. Sometimes you can make the choice after your package has shipped, Murray said.

“In other cases, you need to select this option when you make the purchase or before it’s shipped,” she said.

If your package gets stolen, contact the shipper

If your package ends up stolen despite your efforts to prevent the theft, there are some things you can do.

For starters, you can reach out to the retailer you made the purchase from. “They’re not required to replace the item or give a refund, but they often will,” Stickle said. 

You also could try requesting a refund from the delivery company if that doesn’t work, although they often require the shipper, not the recipient, to file a claim, according to ConsumerReports.org.

“I also encourage people to reach out to the police, but only about 5% to 8% do that,” Stickle said.

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