How To Prevent Package Theft: 10 Proven Steps to Keep Deliveries Safe
No one can stay home indefinitely waiting for their packages to arrive, but how can they be sure a thief won’t swipe them off the doorstep? Package theft is a growing problem; here’s how homeowners and renters can protect their purchases.
As online shopping has become more popular, the rate at which packages are stolen from customers’ porches has also risen. In fact, a 2022 study from Security.org showed that 49 million Americans had a package stolen just in the last year, and the trend is showing no signs of stopping. According to Dr. Ben Stickle, associate professor of criminal justice administration at Middle Tennessee State University, package theft is particularly pervasive because it is a relatively easy crime to commit. “Package theft is a low-entry crime with almost no risk,” he says. “There is some skill involved with stealing a car, and it’s high risk to break into a home, but it takes no skill to walk up and steal a package.” So-called “porch pirates” seem to be widespread and willing to take risks to steal packages from people’s homes; but how can a homeowner or renter prevent package theft? First, it’s important to understand what a porch pirate is and how they operate.
What Is a Porch Pirate?
In recent years, people who shop online may have heard the phrase “porch pirates.” But what is a porch pirate? These thieves target unattended packages on people’s doorsteps, stealing them if the resident isn’t home to collect the parcel upon delivery, and sometimes even immediately upon delivery before a resident can get to the door. 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 online purchasing becoming more popular, 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 money, time, and energy, so it’s worth taking a little time to prevent the packages from being stolen in the first place. The following package theft solutions can help homeowners and renters protect their purchases, and help them understand what to do if their package is stolen.
Time required: A few minutes to a few hours, depending on the strategy
Estimated cost: Free to $687
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Before You Begin…
For those wondering how to stop porch pirates, there are two basic approaches. The first is to avoid having the package delivered to an unattended step in the first place, and the second is to make the 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 the landlord can provide a safe delivery area. If not, it may be a good idea to look into the best apartment security systems that include a door camera. In all cases, if the item being delivered is particularly expensive, 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. The extra cardboard can be recycled or reused, and it may make the difference between your new laptop becoming someone else’s new laptop.
Tips for Preventing Package Theft
- Carefully consider where to have the packages delivered.
- Track the packages after ordering so you’ll know when they’ll arrive.
- Band together with your neighbors—ask if they will bring in packages when you’re not home, and offer to do the same. Additionally, let your neighbors know if you had a package stolen so they can stay vigilant.
- Keep the delivery area visible and some of your home security measures obvious.
- Get a parcel locker.
- Have packages delivered to the office or a P.O. box.
- Opt to have the deliverer obtain a signature upon delivery.
- Have the deliverer leave the package at the back door rather than on the front porch.
- Should you observe a thief in the act of snatching a package, it’s fine to shout, take a photo, and get as much information as possible about the thief and their vehicle, but do not engage or chase the thief. “I wouldn’t recommend getting involved physically,” says Stickle. 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 when climbing a ladder for added height. If the equipment needs to be mounted on a second story or you’re unsure of where to place security cameras, consider hiring a professional to install the security system.
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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 at 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 any mail from being rifled through. P.O. boxes can also protect homeowners when they are on vacation; there’s no need to stop the mail or change routine. Pickup times may be limited to open hours, however, and not all packages can be delivered to a P.O. box. Amazon Locker, an option in many areas, was developed to avoid customers having their Amazon package stolen. Amazon will deliver packages to a secure lockbox located in a business in a specified area. When it is delivered, the recipient is notified, and upon arrival at the location, they’ll request a code. The number of the locker and the access code will be sent by text or email and will be good for about 10 minutes while the recipient claims the package. If they miss the time window, the access code will be invalid and they’ll have to request it again. This is a secure, free way to protect Amazon deliveries. The only limitation is the open hours of the business in which the locker is located for pickup. UPS offers a similar service with its UPS Access Point network, which can be set up through the UPS website to divert packages.
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 packages can practically be tracked from moment to moment once they leave the shipping warehouse. All of the major carriers offer free basic tracking notifications with text or email confirmation of each step of the shipping process—some even show the package as it moves from stop to stop for the last half hour before it reaches its final destination. Knowing exactly when the package will arrive makes it easy to plan to pick it up promptly. Most shippers will offer the option to add specific instructions to place a package in an alternate location, or at a neighbor’s house, and for particularly important packages, it’s possible to require a signature for delivery. Requiring a signature may cause some inconvenience if the recipient isn’t at home when the package is delivered, but it ensures that when it does arrive, it will be received safely.
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STEP 3: Consider insuring high-value packages.
For packages containing expensive or valuable items like technology or jewelry, it may be worth paying for shipping insurance. Shipping insurance is typically provided by the shipper, and it may be offered as an optional add-on at checkout. Insured packages that are lost, stolen, or damaged are covered up to the declared value of the package. For the buyer, this will mean receiving a full refund for the stolen item. A good rule of thumb for deciding on whether to get shipping insurance is to weigh the value of the item against the risk of something happening to it. For example, a single book being delivered during a time the recipient will be at home probably isn’t worth insuring, but a pair of expensive headphones may be a different story.
STEP 4: Have a package delivered to another location, reschedule a delivery, or place a delivery on hold.
According to Stickle, “The best thing that you can do is have [packages] delivered to someone that you know is home.” Is there a nearby friend or neighbor who works from home and is willing to accept the package? Send the delivery there to guarantee its safety. In addition, sign up for delivery updates from UPS, FedEx, or USPS (and a number of other carriers). There’s often a function in the delivery notification that will allow the customer to reschedule the delivery for another day or place the delivery on hold to pick up at a distribution center. Some carriers also offer the option to schedule a delivery for a time someone will be home to receive it. This option is available for some select items at checkout on Amazon, and other carriers like FedEx charge a small fee for scheduling delivery.
STEP 5: 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 to ship directly to a store (often for free) so customers can pick up the item when it’s convenient. These options can help customers be comfortable knowing where their packages are until they can be safely collected.
STEP 6: Enlist your neighbors’ help.
In an ideal world, it would always be possible to schedule package delivery for when somebody is at home. But if a package gets delivered unexpectedly, the recipient can call or text a neighbor who might be home and ask if they can grab the package and hang on to it until the recipient gets home. With package theft becoming one of the most common household crimes, 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 recipient 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 7: Keep your porch or front door in clear view.
Another simple method for package theft prevention? 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 the home’s front-door landscaping is overgrown, the resident can grab a pair of pruners or loppers and get to work.
Additionally, homeowners and renters can take steps to keep packages out of view until they can be collected. According to Stickle, “Package theft is mostly done by opportunity, which mainly has to do with how visible the package is to the roadway. The more easily the package can be observed, the more likely it is to be stolen.” He notes that if the package is brightly colored, or shows clues to what is inside, this can also increase its chances of being taken. The package recipient can leave a note asking the delivery person to place the package in a designated spot that is out of sight, or have them deliver the package to the back door.
STEP 8: Install a security camera or invest in a home security system.
In many cases, the sight of a doorbell camera will cause a package thief to rethink their mission. But some thieves are bold enough to walk right up to a front door with an obvious doorbell camera in place and take what isn’t theirs. There is not much that police can do about a porch pirate, and often it is only worth it to report package theft if there is video footage. A good security camera or one of the best home security systems (such as Vivint or ADT)will allow homeowners or renters and their 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 the packages. A 2019 study by Stickle by Stickle found that only 10 percent of porch pirates disguise themselves, with many looking right into the home’s security camera. Capturing the crime and its perpetrator on tape may well be the only way to apprehend them. There are many types of security cameras to choose from, but what is most important is that they are visible enough to work as a deterrent. They should also be high enough that an enterprising thief can’t just swat at them to redirect the monitoring away from their location.
STEP 9: Add home security window and yard signs to your property.
Most security systems come with yard signs bearing the company name for homeowners to place in the yard—but do security signs deter crime? Regardless of whether the home actually has a home security system or not, placing stickers in the window or signs in the yard that suggest it does is a deterrent to thieves. They’ll assume they’re on camera and will think twice about running up to the front door. This won’t deter all thieves, of course, especially if the 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. It’s advised to place the signs out in the open in places that are visible from the street. It’s also a good idea to use generic signs noting that there are cameras on the property, as thieves can easily search online for the names of fake security companies. While having a real security system will deliver the best results, the appearance of protection will go a long way toward discouraging thieves while allowing the resident to save on home security costs.
STEP 10: 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 the security camera to capture good detail about the thief’s identity and alert the neighbors that there’s someone roaming around. Most DIY security systems include motion-activated spotlights among their equipment offerings.
Package theft is a 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. Many homeowners and renters who are unsure of what to do if a package is stolen wonder, “Do police investigate stolen packages?” and unfortunately, the answer is usually no. 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. Learning some methods for how to prevent package theft, and how to protect yourself from package theft, can help ensure that your packages get where they belong.