They don’t fly the Jolly Roger and nary a one bears a shoulder-perching parrot, but authorities warn that with the holiday shopping season approaching, porch pirates will sail their land yachts looking for packages to pilfer.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales attracting clicks, police and shipping security organizations warn residents to watch for their home deliveries or find alternatives to the traditional stoop drop.
“We’re going to see thefts really pick up in the next couple of weeks as Black Friday comes and goes,” said Officer Joe George, crime prevention specialist for the Albemarle County Police Department. “It’s not so much a problem most of the year in the rural areas, but it is in the urbanized areas because there are more people and more targets of opportunity. During the holidays, it’s a problem everywhere.”
Porches across the country are target-rich environments, according to statistics compiled by a variety of trade organizations. Pitney-Bowes research shows more than 13 billion packages were shipped across the country in 2018. The U.S. Postal Service says it holds claim to handling more than 6 billion of those. Shipping is a $119 billion industry in the U.S. alone, and 49% of Americans buy online and ship it home at least once a month.
It’s also becoming more common to have that package delivered and then stolen.
About 11 million homeowners had a package stolen off their front porch last year, according to research firm Edelman Intelligence, which estimated that 23 million Americans have had at least one holiday package stolen from the front porch or mailbox since 2014.
Nearly 74% of packages were stolen off porches during the day when residents were at work. The average value of stolen packages was between $50 and $100, according to Edelman.
“[Pirates] are definitely out there,” said Tyler Hawn, spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department. “We had a slew of package thefts off porches in the University of Virginia Grounds area when many students were out of town a month or so ago. That often increases during the holiday season.”
With online buying a part of the cultural norm — Pitney-Bowes estimates that about 70% of Americans 35 and older and 57% of those between 15 and 34 years of age buy online monthly — protecting purchases when they reach the porch is a growing concern
“There are a few things you can do, including having packages delivered to where you work, if the boss lets you, or deliver it to a post office box,” George said. “Definitely get a track number so you know when it’s likely going to arrive and you can make arrangements.”
Amazon customers can have packages delivered to Amazon package hubs at Charlottesville’s Whole Foods, Peebles retail store in Waynesboro’s Willow Oak Plaza and the Peebles store in Louisa.
Package lockers that secure to porches and houses are available commercially, including BoxLock, ParcelGuard, Landport and iBin, but they can cost several hundred dollars for installation. Packages also can be held at UPS or FedEx centers or stores and U.S. post offices.
Placing surveillance cameras on porches may not thwart thieves, but it will give police some clues as to suspects.
“If there’s a camera, it can be helpful to us because it gives us more information on suspects, but it doesn’t stop it from happening,” Hawn said. “If you can send the package to an address where you know someone is there to receive it or someplace you know is going to be safer, that’s the best way.”
“These are crimes of opportunity,” George said. “The bottom line is, if there’s a package visible on your porch, that’s an opportunity.”