Craig Johnson

Defeat Porch Pirates: Tips for Avoiding Package Theft

Package thieves get bolder and smarter every day. Here's how you can outwit them and stop them from stealing your package.

Defeat Porch Pirates: Tips for Avoiding Package Theft
Your best chance of thwarting package theft is to employ one of two strategies, which we give examples of here. | PeopleWhiz

Every day it seems we're able to get something else delivered at home. Meals, shoes, groceries, even a new car. A benefit of working from home and homeschooling, both of which got more popular during the pandemic, is that someone is usually home to intercept a package as soon as it's delivered.

Porch pirates, though, responded by hitting quicker and in disguise. With so many uniformed delivery people walking up to doorsteps throughout the day, who is going to notice one more person in matching pants and polo shirt, maybe carrying a decoy box or a clipboard?

Plus, they might know when your package is coming before you do. Porch pirates stalk delivery vans. In April 2020, the Los Angeles Police Department video-recorded an SUV apparently doing just that. Moments after a delivery, the camera captured a man exiting the SUV, crossing the street, and snatching the package, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

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Last year C+R Research surveyed 2,000 people about the problem and found that 36% had fallen victim to porch pirates in the past 12 months. The average value of the stolen parcel was $109. Very few pirates are caught, just 11%, but thankfully 73% of the victims said they eventually got a refund.

The most common antitheft response by the 36% who were victimized was to install a security camera, either the doorbell kind or another camera system around the home.

54% of shoppers saying that the risk of package theft makes them fearful of buying online.

Here are some useful tips and ways to defend yourself against porch pirates.

Sign Up for Delivery Texts

Delivery updates have become more immediate and sophisticated, especially once your package is out for delivery. By text you can receive a link to a detailed progress report, sometimes including a map on which you can track the delivery truck as it nears your home. It's like having a doorbell camera that can see for miles. Even plain text alerts can tell you when the driver is near and, most importantly, the instant the package has been dropped off so that you, someone else in the home, or a neighbor can get it.

If you've been leery about giving out your mobile phone number because you don't want spam texts, you can rest assured in the case of delivery companies. In our experience, delivery companies really do only use the phone numbers for texting delivery updates and alerts.

Man employed a remote-controlled robot on his doorstep to scare off a package thief.

Ship to a Locker Near You

With 54% of shoppers saying that the risk of package theft makes them fearful of buying online, delivery companies have responded with services to instill confidence. You may have seen banks of lockers outside a grocery store, inside a drug store, or even in the breezeways of office buildings just off the sidewalk. Next time you make an online purchase, see if you can choose to have the package delivered to a convenient locker location instead of your home. Amazon and UPS both make use of lockers.

Buy Virtually, Pick Up Locally

Major retailers have seen the benefits of in-store pickup, not only in securing your purchase from theft but also in bringing you into the store. Whether you're shopping online at Best Buy, Walgreens, Office Depot, or Target, you can most likely pick up the order at a local store. The turnaround time is faster than delivery, and you cut delivery trucks and porch pirates out of the equation.

UPS has partnered with retail locations to receive deliveries, which is convenient when the site you bought from has no brick-and-mortar presence where you live. If the website you buy from uses UPS, chances are good that you can direct your deliveries to a UPS Store or to a pickup location (called a UPS Access Point) inside a local retailer.

Install a Camera

A doorbell camera system, which can cost up to $200, won't prevent package theft, but it will document it. Of course, as doorbell cams rise in popularity, so do pirates wearing disguises. An evasive posture and a low-fitting baseball cap are sometimes all it takes to prevent identification in video footage—not to mention how Covid-19 normalized mask wearing, which used to be a surefire sign of a bandit.

Indeed, when NBC News talked to 40 law enforcement agencies who'd signed onto a program to access Ring doorbell camera footage, the reporters learned that "the flood of footage generated by Ring cameras rarely led to positive identifications of suspects, let alone arrests."

Still, responders in the previously mentioned C+R Research survey said that their doorstep cameras brought them peace of mind. Like real-time delivery alerts, the cams let you know the instant your package has been dropped off so you can react before a pirate can.

Ship to a Workplace or Leasing Office

Some office mailrooms don't mind employees receiving a personal package now and then. Ask yours. Similarly, the leasing office at your condo or apartment complex might gladly receive occasional packages for residents.

A secure USPS mailbox bank in an apartment lobby provides lockers for parcel delivery. 

Mailboxes Are Steadily Improving

With all this talk about what major retailers and delivery services are doing to combat package theft, let's not forget the U.S. Postal Service. In residential neighborhoods and apartment complexes across the country, the latest mailbox banks incorporate parcel lockers right next to private slots. These modern mailboxes makes having your items shipped to your home by USPS as secure as an Amazon locker.

How it works: Your mail carrier places the package in the locker and shuts the door, which releases a numbered key. He or she drops the key in your mailbox with your mail. Later, you simply use the key to open the locker that has the matching number, and retrieve the package. When you close the locker, the key stays held in the lock.

Final Thoughts About Outsmarting Package Thieves

Your best chance of defeating porch pirates is to employ one of two strategies: Use technology (text alerts, webcams) to monitor deliveries to your home, or ship to lockers. You generally have three days to retrieve a parcel from an Amazon locker. The old-fashioned technique of asking a neighbor to check your porch on delivery day and take the box in for you also works.

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