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What Can You Do About Holiday Package Theft?

What Can You Do About Holiday Package Theft?
By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

You've been anxiously awaiting delivery of those high-end, noise-cancelling headphones that you found online for half price, the perfect holiday gift for your music-loving squeeze.

The delivery service gives you a time, and so you rush home from work that day, eager to tastefully wrap the gift. But there's nothing there. Nothing on the front step. Nothing in the front hallway. Nothing left with a neighbor.

If something like this has happened to you, you're far from alone. The sheer quantity of goods that people are buying online for the sake of convenience — 1.5 million package deliveries per day in New York City — has placed severe strains on delivery systems at the same time it is attracting thieves eager to swoop in and make off with packages left on porches and front steps.

The New York Times estimates that 90,000 of those packages, or about every 16th one, are either stolen or disappear without explanation.

And it's not just New York. One recent study of "porch pirate" rates in the country found that cities in the West had the highest theft rates, with San Francisco claiming the top spot.

In addition, the market research firm C+R Research conducted a national survey of 2,000 people who had shopped online in the previous year and found that 36% had packages stolen.

If you are like most people, your first reaction when you think you've had deliveries stolen is to contact either the seller or the delivery company. And that's the right thing to do, because most of the time you can have the product redelivered or receive a refund. The more established the retailer, the better will be your chances — Amazon is particularly reliable — but as C+R found in its survey, 27% of the victims reported that they'd gotten nothing.

How to Reduce the Risk of Theft From Porch Pirates

So when you buy online, convenient though it may be, you're always running a bit of a risk. So what should you do to reduce the risk of porch-pirate theft?

There are many ways. Here are a few:

  • If possible, have your deliveries made to your workplace. Be cautioned, however, that many employers are now prohibiting employees from doing that.
  • If possible, arrange for deliveries to be made to a neighbor who will be home, and inform the delivery service of that location.
  • If possible, use a package-collection service like New York-based Pickups Technologies, which charges $4.99 for a single delivery or $9.99 per month.
  • Invest in technology that may scare porch pirates away. Motion-activated porch lights are one example, but a higher-tech option is video doorbells. These devices detect motion and then notify you via your phone, tablet, or PC, allowing you to see and speak to front-door visitors from anywhere.
  • You could also go a step further and invest in Amazon's Ring video doorbell, which will automatically enroll you in the Neighbors social-media app, which allows users to share video of detected people with fellow subscribers within a five-mile radius. In addition (and somewhat controversially, some believe), Ring is also partnering with an increasing number of police departments — 677, as of Dec. 1 — to give them a portal into active investigations. That is, police will know who has the Ring devices installed and can request videos from them.

Then again, you could eliminate all this paranoia in one simple, old-fashioned way: Do your shopping in a brick-and-mortar store.

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