Crime & Courts

How to stop holiday package thefts - and what to do if a porch pirate hits your home

How to avoid being a victim of porch pirates this Christmas holiday season

The Miami-Dade Police Department released a video offering tips on how to avoid being a victim of porch pirates this Christmas holiday shopping season.
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The Miami-Dade Police Department released a video offering tips on how to avoid being a victim of porch pirates this Christmas holiday shopping season.

Someone saunters up the front walk to your home, smoothly scoops a newly delivered package off of your porch before you’ve had a chance to pick it up, then turns and strides off like nothing ever happened.

And just like that you’ve become a victim of so-called porch piracy — theft of items you thought would be secure once they’re left on your property.

Thefts like this might seem pretty brazen, especially when they happen in broad daylight while you or your neighbors could be watching.

But an increasing number of people are falling victim now that online shopping is so quick and easy. Around 25.9 million Americans — 8 percent — have had a package delivered during the holiday shopping season stolen, according to a holiday hazards study conducted last year by www.insurancequotes.com. That’s up from 23.5 million reported porch thefts in 2015.

And with Cyber Monday sales projected to top $7 billion this year, you can bet thieves will eagerly snatch whatever unattended packages they see.

“It’s hitting every neighborhood you can imagine,” Sgt. Trevor McDonald, who works in the Wichita Police Department’s property crimes section, said. “People who are stealing packages are opportunists.”

They tend to watch for delivery trucks pulling into neighborhoods and then follow them — picking up boxes moments after they’re dropped off, he said.

The Wichita Police Department doesn’t track package thefts specifically. McDonald said so far this year he hasn’t noticed an uptick in reports. Overall all types of larcenies in the city are down 3.3 percent between Jan. 1 and Nov. 15, he said — 14,643 compared to 15,145 for the same time period last year.

Larcenies include package and porch thefts, shoplifting reports and vehicle burglaries but not home break-ins or robberies.

But the city did see increases in packages stolen off of porches in 2016 and 2017, McDonald said. And more packages are stolen around Thanksgiving and Christmas because deliveries increase during the holiday season.

McDonald says Wichita Police Department asks officers to keep a lookout for delivery drivers heading into neighborhoods and watch out for following thieves.

But, he said, the best theft deterrents happen before a package hits your front porch. He suggested:

  • Arranging for deliveries at a time when you know you will be at home. Or have a trusted neighbor pick up and hold your packages until you arrive.

  • Having packages sent to your workplace or to a secure drop box, like Amazon Locker. (There are five in Wichita, according to Amazon.com.)

  • Or asking the delivery company to keep boxes at their facilities and pick them up there instead.

“I’ve done that with UPS deliveries,” McDonald said. “You just zoom on in over your lunch hour and everything is there.”

Knowing your neighbors is also key.

“I have several nosy neighbors in my neighborhood and I love them” because they keep an eye out for suspicious characters and alert authorities when something is amiss, McDonald said.

“Become part of your community and that in and of itself will protect you above anything else.”

If you do fall or think you’ve fallen victim to a porch pirate, you should:

  • Check with your delivery company to make sure your package was actually delivered. Sometimes drop-offs are late or delayed.

  • Know exactly what’s in the missing box. You can find that out from the company where you placed the order. If the item has a serial number, get that so you can give it to police.

  • If you see the thief, pay attention to what his or her vehicle looks like and its license plate number. That’s easier to remember than specifics about what a person looks like, McDonald said. Second to that, get the thief’s physical description – gender, approximate height and weight and what they’re wearing – so you can tell an officer.

  • Call 911 and ask for an officer to come to your home. That’s the best way to get your report made quickly, McDonald said. You could also stop by one of the four police substations around town, but they’re only open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • If you have a security camera on your home, get a copy of the video to police. Ask your neighbors if their cameras captured the thief in action. McDonald’s favorite home surveillance cameras are doorbell cameras because they are low and point upward. To increase the chance of getting thieves on film, have one camera pointing toward the walkway leading up to your home and one pointing back toward the door, he said.

McDonald said most of the time, package thieves don’t stop at stealing one box. They bounce from home to home, taking what they find until they’re caught.

Often the stolen goods feed an underlying addiction; many times thieves trade them to dealers for drugs, he said.

Sometimes items will show up on websites for sale.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll get them back.

“The recovery rate on these (thefts) are very, very low,” McDonald said.

If you bought the stolen items with a credit card, your lender might have theft protection that could reimburse you.

If the thief is caught and charged with a crime, you might also get the value of the item back through court-ordered restitution.

“We’re past the days with the Leave-It-To-Beaver neighborhoods. … We can no longer sit behind the TV and expect goodness to rain down upon us,” McDonald said.

“If you become proactive and we talk to our neighbors, we can defeat these criminals.”

Lenexa police were trying to identify a man who stole packages from the porch of a home. Video surveillance captured the incident. This video originally published in Nov. 2016.

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