Stolen packages could put a chill on the holiday season. Here’s how experts say you can thwart porch pirates.

US

A doorbell rings. A notification lights up your phone. You check the front door. A package has arrived! Or so you hope.

Whether it’s a Christmas present, household essentials for the family holiday party or tonight’s takeout, Americans live in a world increasingly delivered to their doorsteps. 

And porch piracy — when a package is stolen right off someone’s front steps in broad daylight — is also increasing, with thieves getting away with billions in goods since 2020. According to estimates from online guides SafeWise and Security.org, the number of stolen packages in the last 12 months alone ranges from 100-250 million in the United States, totaling anywhere between $6-20 billion.

But, that last couple of feet from the doorstep to inside your home is where the greatest risk of package theft from porch pirates can occur, experts say, and consumers should be prepared — especially as this year could set new holiday sales records for online shopping.

The United States parcel shipping industry has unsurprisingly boomed in the post-pandemic era. According to data compiled by shipping logistics analysts at Pitney-Bowes, 58 million packages per day were shipped to addresses across the country in 2022. That’s 674 deliveries per second.

Experts say figuring out the scope of the problem is extremely difficult. Ben Stickle, a professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University and a leading authority on package theft, said some state agencies and many police jurisdictions do not distinguish between types of thefts, whether they are face-to-face robberies or porch pirates. The crime itself is only classified as a felony in eight states.

“A lot of what we know is based on consumer surveys, with sample sizes varying,” said Stickle. “New laws are being introduced as a separate statute to [account] for package theft, but enforcement of those penalties is hard.” 

While there may be increased awareness with the help of technology and some proactive measures from companies, said Stickle, what was once a typical crime of opportunity has developed to a black market of organized porch pirates inventing new ways to swipe parcels, like robbing the delivery truck itself.

“Package robberies from vehicles is something we are aware has become more popular in recent years,” said Master Corporal Lewis Briggs III of the Delaware State Police. “Our mission is always to keep the community safe and prevent these robberies at every step of the transaction.”

Local law enforcement such as police in Gloucester Township, New Jersey, have tried putting out fake “bait” packages with GPS devices to track down porch pirates and get them off the streets.

But not all solutions have been equally effective. Bait packages and doorbell video surveillance cameras to catch package thieves in the act haven’t provided evidence they help prevent the crime, Stickle said.

Stickle’s research into video surveillance camera use, such as the popular Ring doorbell, found “whether some conceal their identity, or others look directly at the camera, they still take the package.” He said he’s not convinced they are a true deterrent. 

“The video is a factor, but only helps police sometimes, and after the package is already gone,” he said.

Meanwhile, shipping companies are turning to new tools, even as the industry faces its own headwinds. For example, UPS, one of the major four shipping companies alongside Amazon, FedEx and the Postal Service, is using artificial intelligence and analytics to determine high-risk deliveries and help prevent loss through the entire process. The four major shippers account for nearly 98% of all U.S. packages delivered, according to national shipping data. 

Industry analysts like Pitney Bowes said the sheer volume of holiday packages means shipping companies have a hard time just keeping up with daily logistics like vehicle availability or properly vetting drivers — which is why you might see a delivery dropped off by a rented U-Haul truck, for example.

“It will take a combination of efforts on all four parties, consumers, retailers, distributors, and law enforcement,” said Stickle. “Retailers usually end up taking the brunt of the problem by shipping new items and accepting losses.”

How to prevent package theft

There are a few things law enforcement agencies and experts recommend to help prevent package theft:

  • Requesting a signature requirement for a package to be delivered
  • Scheduling a delivery time for when someone is home
  • Asking a neighbor or community member to bring in any packages while you are away
  • Using a smart locker or secure device for packages

Stickle said smart lockers, which offer an extra barrier for anyone trying to quickly nab a package off a stoop or inside the front door of an apartment building, are one of the most tangible solutions. “It’s really time that we rethink the front porch. You know, we don’t design porches to be the center of commerce, but it’s becoming that,” he said.

In addition to new tech, the best way to stay alert in your neighborhood, police say, is to communicate. “Community engagement on social media platforms like the NextDoor app have helped [law enforcement] and neighborhoods stay informed,” said Briggs.

This holiday season, as the envelopes and boxes fly across the country by the billions, It’s important to stay informed about the risks with porch pirates on the prowl and know how to keep those last few feet from your doorstep to your home open for delivery.

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