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10 Tips to Send Porch Pirates Packing

As the holidays collide with COVID-19, expect a surge in package theft

Holiday packages at front door

Chad Robertson / Alamy Stock Photo

En español | Televisions. Golf clubs. Baby clothes. A bottle of gin. Sticky-fingered porch pirates have recently pilfered all of these, and much more.

The crooks — also called “box bandits” — scoop up packages delivered to front doors before the recipients retrieve them. Some swoop in on foot or bikes; others skulk in by car. Thieves even have been known to “tailgate” behind delivery trucks.

Such piracy shows up on police blotters across the country from Brooklyn to the Bay Area. And television news shows, social-media outlets and online neighborhood groups increasingly publish footage to catch these modern-day buccaneers.

Doreen Frances Oswald, 64, of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, has been charged with burglary and theft, the Walton County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office says. She allegedly stole two packages in front of a home in Point Washington, Florida, about 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 5. Oswald was charged after the sheriff’s office posted the video on Facebook and Twitter.

In July, a thief outside El Paso, Texas, was arrested after being caught on a home security camera. The footage showed the man in a car with his 6-year-old son; the boy left the vehicle and snatched a UPS package from a victim's doorstep, authorities said. The video also showed that the package, which contained $136 in lamps, had been delivered just three minutes earlier. The boy's father, 26, told authorities he was high on crystal meth when he told the boy to steal the package.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans ripped off

Some 18 percent of Americans had a package stolen between March and June, during the first four months of the pandemic, with an average loss of $106, according to a survey for ValuePenguin.com, a financial website owned by LendingTree. One respondent reported losing $4,800 worth of items from a single package.

Other survey findings:

  • More than 54 percent reported multiple deliveries stolen in the previous 12 months. In this period, the average loss was about $110, and Americans age 75 and older suffered the largest average loss, $210.
  • About 43 percent of respondents had had a package theft at some point.
  • 33 percent of respondents had done nothing in the previous year to prevent package thefts.

More people want deliveries

Amid anxiety over COVID-19, holiday spending is expected to drop 7 percent this holiday season, falling to $1,387 per household, from last year, a recent survey by Deloitte found. But more people said they planned to have items delivered: 73 percent, compared to 62 percent in 2019.


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Such projections have Federal Express girding for a “surge in volume during the upcoming holidays, on top of peak levels of demand we've already experienced during COVID-19,” says Sederia Gray, a FedEx spokeswoman.

"Even as many customers shop and work from home, unattended deliveries create opportunities for thieves to steal packages before the resident collects them,” she warns. “The sheer volume of shipments expected this season may create increased opportunities for so-called ‘porch pirates.’ “

10 tips: Don't let a Grinch steal your package

Here are tips from law enforcement, the U.S. Postal Service and delivery firms:

1. Retrieve a package as soon as it arrives. Or avoid delivery by using ship-to-store or curbside pickup.

2. Use a tracking feature to check online when a package is scheduled to arrive. UPS, for examples, has UPS My Choice to help track and reroute package deliveries.

3. Request that your package is sent with the “signature required” feature so it can't be delivered without one.

4. If you're not going to be home, set up a specific delivery time when you will be. Or have the package sent to a trusted person who will be home.

5. Choose an alternative pickup location.

  • FedEx has more than 14,000 sites in the U.S. including FedEx Offices, FedEx Ship Centers and retailers including Walgreens, Albertsons, Kroger and Dollar General.
  • UPS Access Point locations for pickups include the UPS Store, Michaels, CVS, Advance Auto Parts and self-service lockers.
  • Amazon uses Amazon Lockers
  • For a fee, USPS offers a "Package Intercept" feature, although not all parcels are eligible.

6. If you are leaving town, ask for your shipments to be held. USPS’ free, "hold mail" requests must be for at least three days and for a maximum of 30 days. 

Fed Ex accepts vacation holds for up to 14 days; it also will store your delivery for free for up to five days at many locations.

7. Consider a security camera. Some signal your phone, tablet or personal computer if your doorbell is rung.

8. Instruct delivery firms where to leave your package so it isn't visible from the street. It could be the side of your house. Or a hiding place.

9. Get an app. The FedEx mobile app lets package recipients electronically sign for a package, request a vacation hold or choose a hold at one of its locations. Some security cameras let you use an app to watch over your home from your smartphone. UPS lets you track your shipment on its app.

10. Though not common, leading up to the holidays some law enforcement agencies let local residents have packages weighing less than 50 pounds shipped to their stations for pickup later. The Round Rock (Texas) Police Department is hosting "Operation Front Porch” for the third year through Dec. 18. And in Tampa, Florida, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has debuted "Operation Pinch-A-Grinch,” which runs through Dec. 21.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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