How To: Prevent Package Theft
You can’t stay home indefinitely waiting for your packages to arrive, but how can you be sure a thief won’t swipe them off your doorstep? Almost $6 billion worth of packages were stolen in 2020—here’s how to protect your purchases.
Porch pirates used to limit their activities to the holiday season, when there would be packages on every doorstep after the delivery truck passed through. With the recent surge in online purchasing, however, it’s open season: Every neighborhood and apartment complex becomes a shopping mall for thieves, and the increase in contracted delivery services has made it less suspicious to see people out of uniform carrying packages to and from an unmarked truck or vehicle. Stolen packages cost you money, time, and energy, so it’s worth taking a little time to prevent the packages from being stolen in the first place.
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Time required: A few minutes to a few hours, depending on your strategy
Estimated cost: Free to $400
Before You Begin…
There are two basic approaches to preventing package theft. The first is to avoid having the package delivered to an unattended step in the first place, and the second is to make your front step or delivery area intimidating to the thieves so they don’t take the chance. For apartment dwellers, the best option is to redefine where the package is delivered, unless you can convince your landlord to provide a safe delivery area. In all cases, if you’re having something particularly expensive delivered, such as a laptop, or something that can easily be resold, ask the shipper to package the item inside another box to reduce its appeal to thieves. You can recycle or reuse the extra cardboard, and it may make the difference between your new laptop becoming someone else’s new laptop.
Tips for Preventing Package Theft
- Carefully consider where you’ll have your packages delivered.
- Track the packages after ordering so you’ll know when they’ll arrive.
- Band together with your neighbors.
- Keep your delivery area visible and some of your home security measures obvious.
- Should you observe a thief snatching a package off your porch or a neighbor’s doorstep, it’s fine to shout, take a photo, and get as much information as you can about the thief and their vehicle, but do not engage or chase the thief. People who have been caught can behave unpredictably, and your safety is more important than whatever is in the box.
- Use caution when installing home security devices, especially if you’ve climbed a ladder for added height. If the equipment needs to be mounted on a second story or wired through the exterior, consider hiring a professional to install.
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STEP 1: Get a P.O. box or use a locker.
One of the easiest ways to prevent package theft is to avoid having the package delivered to your home at all. A P.O. box rented from the United States Postal Service or a UPS store is a safe, alternative location for package delivery for a small fee, and it will also protect your mail from being rifled through. Boxes can also protect you when you’re on vacation: There’s no need to stop your mail or change your routine. This may limit your pickup times to open hours, however, and not all packages can be delivered to a P.O. box, so assess when you’re most likely to pick up your mail and packages and make sure it works with your schedule. Amazon Locker, an option in most areas, will deliver your package to a secure lockbox located in a business in an area that you specify. When it is delivered, you’ll be notified, and upon your arrival at the location, you’ll request a code. The number of the locker and the access code will be texted to your phone or sent to your email and will be good for about 10 minutes while you access your locker and claim your package. If you miss the time window, the access code will be invalid and you’ll have to request it again. This is a secure, free way to protect your deliveries. The only drawback is that you’re limited to the open hours of the business in which the locker is located for pickup. UPS offers a similar service with their UPS Access Point network, which you can set up through their website to divert packages sent to your address.
STEP 2: Track your package, subscribe to delivery alerts, provide delivery instructions, and require a signature upon delivery.
Online ordering and delivery technology has advanced to the point where you can practically track your package from moment to moment once it’s left the shipping warehouse. All of the major carriers offer free basic tracking notifications so that you can receive text or email confirmation of each step of the shipping process—some even let you watch your package move from stop to stop for the last half hour before it lands on your step. Knowing exactly when your package will arrive allows you to plan to pick it up promptly. Most shippers will also allow you to add specific instructions to place a package in an alternate location, or at a neighbor’s house, and for particularly important packages you can require a signature for delivery. Requiring a signature may cause some inconvenience if you’re not at home when the package is delivered, but it ensures that you’ll accept the item safely into your own hands when you sign for it.
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STEP 3: Have a package delivered to another location, reschedule a delivery, or place a delivery on hold.
Can you have your package delivered to your workplace? Do you have a friend or neighbor who works from home and is willing to accept the package? Send the delivery there so you’ll know it’s safe. In addition, if you’ve signed up for delivery updates from UPS, FedEx, or USPS (and a number of other carriers), there’s often a function in your delivery notification that will allow you to reschedule the delivery for another day or place the delivery on hold for you to pick up at a distribution center.
STEP 4: Pick up your package from a drop-off location.
In addition to Amazon Locker and UPS Access Points, many companies that have a brick-and-mortar presence offer an option for you to ship directly to a store (often for free!) and pick up the item there at your convenience. Take advantage of these options so you can be comfortable knowing where your packages are until you can safely collect them.
STEP 5: Enlist your neighbors’ help.
You’re in a meeting and get the notification on your phone that your important package has been delivered early. What can you do? Call or text a neighbor who might be home and ask if they can grab the package from your step and hang on to it until you get home. With the uptick in package theft, it might be a good idea to talk with a few trusted neighbors ahead of time and agree to pick up each other’s packages if they’re delivered when the homeowner isn’t there and either move them to a less obvious location or let each other know who has the package. There’s peace of mind in knowing that others are watching out for your property.
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STEP 6: Keep your porch or front door in clear view.
Don’t make it easy for thieves to shop your front step. Tall hedges that conceal the front door make it easy for a thief to saunter up, check out the options, squeeze or shake the packages to see if there’s anything of interest, and then walk confidently away as if they belonged there. An open, visible delivery area makes it easier for neighbors to see that something has been delivered and harder for thieves to casually swipe a delivery with nobody noticing. If your beautiful front-door landscaping is overgrown, grab a pair of pruners or loppers and get to work.
STEP 7: Install a security camera or invest in a home security system.
While some thieves are bold enough to walk right up to a front door with an obvious doorbell camera in place, most will either make an effort to conceal their identity in doing so, which will make their appearance more suspicious to neighbors or passersby, or skip the house entirely. A good security camera will allow either you or your security monitoring company to see the thief, record their identity, call the police, and sometimes even speak to the thief before they leave the area, startling them into dropping your packages and leaving. You’ll want these cameras to be visible so they work as a deterrent, but you’ll want to mount them high enough that an enterprising thief can’t just swat at them to redirect the monitoring away from their location.
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STEP 8: Add home security window and yard signs to your property.
Regardless of whether you actually have a home security system or not, placing stickers in the window or signs in the yard that suggest you do are a deterrent to thieves. They’ll assume they’re on camera in your yard and will think twice about running up to the front door. This won’t deter all thieves, of course, especially if your package is inviting and is labeled with a brand that promises a big payoff, but it may deter the thief long enough that they choose to move on.
STEP 9: Install a motion-activated spotlight.
All thieves prize obscurity—they want to look casual and like they belong, not be in the spotlight, literally or figuratively. Especially during the winter months when it gets dark early—in many cases, deliveries will be made in the dark during this season—a motion-activated spotlight will draw a thief’s movement into clear relief for everyone to see, drawing immediate attention. In many cases the sudden bright light (which may also prevent the thief from being able to see if anyone else is watching) will be enough to cause them to change direction and leave. And if not, the light will make it easier for your security camera to capture good detail about the thief’s identity and alert the neighbors that there’s someone roaming around.
Package theft is a common and surprisingly upsetting crime: While it doesn’t entail the same sense of violation that a home invasion does, it still means that someone was on your property taking your things and perhaps has access to something personal to you. In addition, the inconvenience of filing a report with the police, filing a report with the company that shipped the product, the expense and time of reordering the item, and assessing how to make sure it’s not stolen again is a hassle that nobody has time for. Taking a few simple steps to ensure that your packages get where they belong is an easier way to go.