Tis the season for ‘porch pirates,’ but here are some steps to keep your packages safe



In the age of increasing online shopping, package deliveries are much more common — and so is package theft.
This holiday season alone, some experts predict online sales will generate $162 billion. That means lots of boxes of espresso machines and cat litter, yoga mats and iPads being hand-delivered onto a customer’s front porch.
Yet the promise of consumer convenience brings with it a paradox: It’s also more convenient for package thieves, or “porch pirates,” to cash in. For them, each unattended box is a potential payday.
“People know they can just grab it off the porch and run and take that risk,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Sgt. Sandy Longnecker, who oversees the department’s investigations in the county’s southeast communities. “Sometimes they’re gonna get stuff that’s not worth much. But they’re hoping to get money and get profit.”
Nearly one in four Americans have had their packages swiped from their porches, according to a 2019 survey conducted by Shorr Packaging Corp., which sells packaging products, equipment and services. It is a crime of opportunity that seems likely to persist as more people choose to shop online.
‘You’d have to be crazy to steal that one’
“I pretty much do everything online,” said Paige Wilshusen, 30, of Monrovia. Both she and her husband work full-time and are raising three young children.
Except for grocery shopping, Wilshusen’s online shopping list includes items like school supplies, clothes, laundry detergent, and to meet the demands of the two hungriest members of the family — a pair of pit-bull-mix canines — a large 50-pound bag of dog food.
Using an online subscription with a pet supplies company, a bag of dog feed is delivered to their home every few months. Earlier this year, a thief nabbed a box carrying the food.
The pet company immediately sent them a new bag of food, but the experience altered some of her shopping habits.
“Whenever I buy anything that’s of value, I request to have it as a signed package,” she said while standing in her front yard, arms wrapped around her son. Behind her, on their wooden porch, sat a long narrow box that contained parts of a bunk bed. Despite the risk, Wilshusen said they planned to leave the package there while she and her husband cleared space for the bed inside the kids’ room.
“That one, I didn’t worry about, ’cause it’s 150 pounds,” she said looking back at the unopened box. “You’d have to be crazy to steal that one.”
Yet some thieves are up for the task.
FILE – In this July 17, 2018, file photo UPS employee Liz Perez unloads packages for delivery in Miami. On Monday, July 15, 2019, the first day of Amazon Prime Day’s 48-hour sales event, large retailers, those that generated annual revenue of at least a billion dollars, enjoyed a 64% increase in online sales compared with an average Monday, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures 80 of the top 100 retailers on the web in the U.S. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Sarah Anwer Khan, 26, of Los Angeles, was settling into her new La Brea apartment a couple of years ago. She ordered a mattress from Amazon. Yet on the day it was set to arrive, Khan came home from work to an empty porch. A thief had hauled away the huge parcel in broad daylight, she said.
Among the most brazen of thefts happened in Redondo Beach during the 2018 holiday season, when a man and woman stole a delivery van itself. The van carried 230 packages from Amazon and other online retailers worth $10,000.
A short time later, police arrested the pair, who were spotted unloading boxes with the Amazon sticker into a Hawthorne home.
Most cases go unsolved
Such arrests are rare, said Longnecker, noting that most package thefts go unsolved, because, typically, no one is around to witness them.
In her jurisdiction of wealthy neighborhoods like Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo and Lake Forest, Longnecker said that since residents have more money to spend, online shopping is common, and so are are reported package thefts. Thefts typically spike in November and December as people are buying holiday gifts, she said.
Longnecker has seen porch pirate crews drive in from out of town, coasting slowly through neighborhoods, at times trailing UPS or FedEx delivery trucks.
She said some thieves will be people who walk around their own community, looking for a chance to snatch a lonely box from a neighbor’s porch. Even gated communities, which promise added security, are not immune.
“There’s people within those gates who maybe aren’t who you think they are,” she said.
Ring cameras provide a rare lead
Understanding who those thieves are and what they do when they think no one is watching is getting easier with the proliferation of doorbell cameras like Ring. Amazon bought the company for more than $1 billion in early 2018. The company’s stated mission: “To Reduce Crime in Neighborhoods.”
The cameras alert residents on their phones when someone is at their front door. Residents can choose to hand over footage to law enforcement, providing investigators with a possible lead.
“If there’s no leads, there’s nothing we can do,” Longnecker said. Ideally, the presence of these doorbell cameras acts as deterrents. She said she’s seen footage of potential thieves walk up to a porch, look at a package, then at the camera, before turning around and walking away empty-handed.

Deputies are searching for a suspect who stole packages from a homeowner’s front door https://t.co/Clshdmm1jl pic.twitter.com/hmz8TvYRvg
— Yucaipa Police (@YucaipaPD) November 28, 2019

Still, early last week, Ring footage showed a man in Yucaipa stacking multiple packages on a house’s porch, mere inches from the smart doorbell, seemingly undeterred, then shuffling over to his car with the goods.
“Let’s make this guy famous! Someone knows him,” declared San Bernardino County sheriff’s Capt. Sarkis Ohannessian in a tweet. His department recently signed on to a new partnership with Ring, which allows investigators to request up to 12 hours of footage from anyone within half a square mile of a suspected crime scene. They can hold on to that footage, obtained without a search warrant, for as long as they want, drawing criticism from civil liberty advocates and lawmakers.
As of Friday evening, no one has come forward to identify the suspect, authorities said.
Wilshusan said she plans to buy a Ring camera before she starts her holiday shopping. She said the camera may not prevent thefts, but it can at least provide police with a lead.
Best solution: skip the porch
While law enforcement agencies preach vigilance of their porches, they, along with all shipping agencies and companies, urge customers to simply skip the porch altogether.
The United States Postal Service, FedEx, and United Parcel Service suggest customers have packages shipped to secure locations. Each shipping service or retailer provides options for buyers to send packages to convenience stores, grocery stores, kiosks, or shipping stores, where they can take the extra trip to pick up their products. Some are in 24-hour stores.
Amazon provides a locker option, but does have size limitations on packages. Customers use a code or a barcode to swing open the canary-yellow doors.
For those who can afford it, the retailer also has Amazon key, which gives delivery workers access to your garage, front door or car to drop off packages.
An Amazon spokesperson, who insisted on remaining anonymous, said the majority of packages make it to customers without issues. Amazon declined to provide data to back the claim.
Though most of these options require an extra trip from home, undercutting the promised ease of online shopping, the alternative will always have risks.

We’re right around the corner from #BlackFriday & #CyberMonday. Get important info you can use to keep your packages safe: https://t.co/DW7XsZZvYk #USPIS #PackageTheft #Holidays pic.twitter.com/KFZe5lEH5e
— U. S. Postal Inspection Service – Headquarters (@USPISpressroom) November 27, 2019





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