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​7 Tips to Stop Porch Pirates​

Say ho-ho-no to holiday package thieves with these simple steps


spinner image Porch pirates are all too common during the holiday season and can steal your packages from your front steps.
nadia_bormotova/Getty Images

With holiday shopping — and shipping — comes holiday package theft.

“Porch Pirate Pilfers Package” is a headline that has shown up across the U.S. as online shopping and home deliveries soar. Scoundrels have stolen boxes containing everything from TVs to tree-stump removers in neighborhoods from New York City to Carlsbad, Calif.

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The term “porch pirate” began to be used as far back as 2011, when ABC News called it a “growing problem.” 

By the end of 2023, an estimated 3-in-4 Americans experienced package poaching according to an annual report by Safewise.com, which does industry analysis and tests security systems. Thieves absconded with estimated 119 million packages according to the report. Up to $8 billion worth of merchandise was snatched in 2022, with the average package worth $50, according to Security.org’s estimates.

The art of the steal

spinner image Criminal Justice faculty Ben Stickle MTSU magazine spotlight portraits.  Ben’s research includes the study of “Porch Pirates” theft of delivery boxes.
Ben Stickle of Middle Tennessee State University has studied porch piracy.
Middle Tennessee State University

Ben Stickle is a police officer-turned-academic who led a 2019 study on porch piracy. Stickle, a professor of criminal justice administration at Middle Tennessee State University, and his team analyzed 67 cases of porch piracy captured on door camera video and posted on YouTube. The thieves, successful in all but four cases, netted 98 packages in all. Among his study’s findings:

  • All the thefts analyzed occurred during daylight hours. Researchers said that may have been because camera footage was clearer, because pirates relied on daylight to check for the presence of packages, or because opportunities were greater, since more residents were away from home.
  • The offenders were a nearly even split of men and women; most appeared to be age 45 or younger.
  • Most thieves were on their own, though in some cases, another person acted as a lookout or getaway driver.
  • The crooks mostly drove up in motor vehicles — in two cases, rental U-Hauls — though many were on foot and, less often, on a bicycle or skateboard. (Pirates also have used a golf cart or walked around pushing a baby stroller, news accounts show.)
  • The packages, in most cases, were visible from the street.
VIDEO: 4 Ways to Keep Porch Pirates Away

Porch theft is a common crime because, unlike bank robbery or car theft, it requires little skill, says Stickle, who for six years was a police officer in Bowling Green, Kentucky. And while thieves might be disappointed to snag tree stump remover — instead of an ultra-high-definition TV — the ease of reselling stolen goods on online marketplaces allows them to turn a quick buck, he says.

Because home shipping “has just skyrocketed,” Stickle believes the problem “is doing to continue to be worse.”

How to prevent package theft

1. Retrieve a package as soon as it arrives.

Opt into delivery alerts so you can track your package, and be ready to collect it immediately. If you’re away, arrange for someone to be home when it’s scheduled to arrive.

2. Have the sender require a signature for delivery.

This ensures the package is delivered.

3. Pick up your package someplace else. Using ship-to-store, you can often have an item sent to the major retailer that sold it. Also:

  • Amazon offers in-person counter pickup or self-service lockers, which can be opened with a code sent to you or a smartphone Bluetooth connection.
  • FedEx Delivery Manager lets recipients redirect delivery to a nearby FedEx office, Walgreens, Dollar General or a neighbor, as well as the option to give the driver specific instructions.  The portal allows you to arrange for FedEx to hold packages for you when you’re out of town.
  • UPS Access Point which has pick-up options at UPS stores and third-party businesses such as CVS.
  • U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Package Intercept lets consumers — for a fee — stop delivery or redirect certain packages that are not out for delivery or already delivered. This is not a guaranteed service and conditions apply. That said, U.S. mail and packages can be held at no cost (see Step 4, below).

4. Going out of town?

Tell USPS to hold your mail and packages at the post office or until you request home delivery. Mail may be held for up to 30 days. 

FedEx also allows vacation holds as does UPS, though terms differ.

5. Have the package placed out of sight. Stickle, the criminal justice professor, uses a lockable porch box with numerical codes that delivery personnel use for access. The box can be anchored, for example, to decking or concrete.

Short of something like that, instructing a delivery person to place a package behind a planter, bench or column on your porch can help kept it hidden, Stickle says.

Both FedEx Delivery Manager and UPS My Choice let recipients leave instructions about where packages should be left, such as at a back door, on the side of a house or with a neighbor.

6. Consider a door camera for security. 

With some devices, you can use your phone, tablet or personal computer to see, hear and speak to anyone who has rung your doorbell or triggered motion detectors. However, as Stickle’s study shows, some crooks simply ignore door cams.

That said, if you happen to catch a thief in action, save the footage and alert the police. If it’s U.S. mail that’s been stolen, postal customers are urged to save the video and contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by phone (877-876-2455) or email.

7. Stay informed and work with your neighbors.

Agree to keep an eye out for each other, as well as offer to take in mail and packages. Nextdoor.com, Crime Stoppers and social media posts from law enforcement sometimes spotlight porch piracy.

Stickle remembers from his years as a patrol officer that when a neighborhood was hard hit by crime, until residents took action, “it was almost impossible” for police alone to improve things. “I would really encourage your readers, some of whom may be at home, to keep a careful eye out [and] be involved in their neighborhood,” he says. “And alert the police or other neighbors if you have somebody who looks like they're stealing packages.”

Crooks can be creative, he cautions. Some tail delivery trucks to snap up fresh deliveries or masquerade as delivery drivers, even carrying dummy packages or holding papers and clipboards to hide the fact that they’re up to no good.

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