Porch pirates steal an estimated 260 million packages by 2021

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You may not be the only one who likes to have packages delivered to your home.

During the holiday season, as home deliveries rise due to gift buying and giving, so do the chances of so-called porch pirates snatching packages from your front door, experts say.

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

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

Online sales remain high since 2020

Indeed, in the second quarter of 2020, just as the pandemic erupted in the US, online sales rose to 16.4% of all retail sales, up from 11.9% in the previous quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Although the share has fallen to 14.8% as of the third quarter of this year, it remains higher than before the pandemic.

Add to that the anticipated holiday shipping frenzy that hits every December, and there could be more packages going missing this month than ever. The total annual loss from this type of theft is estimated to be $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 in recent weeks,” Murray said.

“This may be in part because many people have returned to the office at least part-time this year, compared to the past two years,” she said. “And since everyone knows there’s an avalanche of deliveries at this time of year, there’s every reason to believe the bad guys are using this as an opportunity.”

It’s a “very low risk, very low skill” crime

Besides being more likely, 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 to increase is that there is very low risk and very low skill involved,” Stickle said. “It takes no skill to walk up and steal a package.”

How to protect against package theft

There are ways to protect against porch pirates. While security cameras can help, they’re not always a deterrent – meaning it’s worth taking other steps to ensure your packages arrive safely.

If possible, sign up to receive an email or text message when your package is supposed to arrive and when it has actually been delivered, Murray said. You can sign up for the notifications with any of the major delivery services – the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. If you order on Amazon, the notifications are generally automatic.

However, this also means keeping an eye on your email and text messages. “Checking your email once a day or whatever isn’t enough,” said Murray.

Once you have received the delivery alert, collect the package immediately or call the neighbors who are at home to collect it. “You don’t want packages left out for hours, day or night,” she said.

You could also try scheduling delivery on a day and time you know you’ll be home, Stickle said. “Or have it delivered to an alternate address, such as work or a trusted neighbor,” he said.

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

“In other cases, you must select this option when you make the purchase or before it ships,” she said.

If your package is stolen, please contact the shipper

If your package does get stolen despite your best efforts to prevent the theft, there are a few things you can do.

To get started, you can contact the store where you made the purchase. “They’re not obligated to replace the item or give a refund, but they often will,” Stickle said.

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

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