Beware of the Porch Pirates


Online shopping is a great time saver during the holiday season but the packages that are shipped are providing a great opportunity for theft. Last year, 591 million packages were sent through the US Postal Service between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. According to insurancequotes.com and Consumer Affairs reports, approximately 23 million packages from the USPS, FedEx and UPS were reported as stolen and over 4,000 customers filed complaints against shipping companies for missing packages.

Sources from the Cincinnati Police Department and the US Postal Inspection Service say that the reason for the increase in package theft during the holiday season is because people usually aren’t home when their boxes are delivered. This gives thieves who follow delivery vehicles, also known as “porch pirates,” the chance to pick up the unattended parcels after delivery. Mail theft is a federal offense and if prosecuted carries a five-year jail sentence for the criminal.

Both sources say that while it’s impossible to delay the delivery of the items you ordered, there are a few ways to prevent them being stolen.

“Really the best way to make sure your package arrives is to use a signature confirmation. Of course, for many people that isn’t possible, so the next best option is to have it delivered to the workplace or have a neighbor or relative take it in for you,” said Lt. Stephen Saunders, Public Information Officer with the Cincinnati Police Department.

However, before having any items you order shipped to your work address, check with your employer to see if you’re allowed to have personal mail delivered. If you have your packages delivered to your home, make sure that a relative or neighbor will be available to receive the item. Your packages are then delivered to a secure location with little chance of them being stolen by someone waiting for the delivery.

To prevent daytime robberies – like package or mail theft – homeowners have started to install webcams or smart security systems with cameras pointed directly at the driveway or front door. This allows the resident to monitor who is approaching their home. If they’re a victim of theft, the video recording can be used as proof when filing a police report.

“Video images are helpful because you have an image of the thief unless of course, they aren’t looking at the camera,” said Alejandro Almaguer, Postal Inspector. “If you combine this image with US Postal Services tracking scan information – which records the exact time of delivery – then you can include all of this information on the police report.”

If you don’t have a nearby relative or a trustworthy neighbor, consider renting a Post Office box or utilize a brick and mortar pick-up site like the UPS Store or an Amazon Locker location. Before using these services, make sure to read and understand the rental agreement.

Officials with the Cincinnati Police Department strongly recommend coordinating a neighborhood watch not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year. The objective of a watch group is the safe monitoring of a neighborhood by the people who know it best. If someone sees something out of place during their watch, they report it to the authorities who come and determine if more action is necessary. Knowing that there is a neighborhood watch in effect discourages thieves and keeps packages safe on the porch.

Online ordering has made it simple to shop quickly both during the holidays and the rest of the year, but having your items delivered requires a little extra caution. When placing your order, think about where it should be delivered and whether or not it’s a safe spot. Additional tips for timely delivery and package safety is available from the US Postal Service at usps.com.

Sandra Guile is the Community Outreach Specialist for BBB. She promotes BBB’s message of marketplace ethics through public speaking engagements, presentations, media relations, press releases, web content, and other written materials. Contact Sandra at (513) 639-9126 or sguile@cincinnati.bbb.org. Your BBB is located at 1 East 4th Street Suite 600 Cincinnati, Ohio 45202 – to reach the office, call (513) 421-3015.