By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.

You’ve heard of pirates, e.g., Blackbeard or Long John Silver. But have you heard of “porch pirates?” A “porch pirate” is a person who steals packages from another person’s porch or doorstep. The most common technique used is to follow a delivery truck onto a quiet street and then grab the dropped-off package once the truck has left.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, home deliveries have been on the rise. That means porch pirates have more opportunities to steal packages right out from under our noses. One poll found that stolen packages rose from 36% in 2019 to 43% in 2020. Furthermore, 30% never received their money back and the average value of the stolen package was $136. (Source: AARP, Nov. 9, 2021)

Still, studies show that many consumers often take no action to minimize their risk of package theft. Have you??? Do you know there are things you can do to outsmart porch pirates? To help keep your holidays merry and prevent porch pirates from stealing your packages, here are some suggestions that I found online:

(1) Retrieve a package as soon as it arrives.

The simplest way to avoid porch pirates is to use tracking information to retrieve your package once it’s delivered. Avoid leaving packages unattended for long periods of time. In 2021, every major delivery company and the U.S. Postal Service gives updates on when a given package will arrive. Take advantage of package tracking to limit the time between delivery and retrieval.

In most cases, you can track its progress and see when it’s been placed on the truck for delivery. The tracking will be updated when your package has been delivered to your home. If you’ll be gone for the day, arrange for someone else to keep an eye on your doorstep that day. If that’s not possible, authorize the carrier to leave the package in a more secure location such as over the fence or request it be picked up at their facility.

USPS offers a free service for deliveries and will hold your mail for you for up to 30 days at their post office. When you sign up for the USPS hold mail option, you or a person of your choosing can pick up your packages with proper identification and a confirmation number. Alternatively, UPS and FedEx have similar options if it’s coming from one of their carriers.

(2) Have the sender require a signature for delivery.

Request a secured shipment. This type of shipment requires a signature to confirm it has been delivered into the right hands. Requiring a signature for delivery can be helpful in knowing how to stop porch pirates, but it’s not always the most convenient option.

However, this option doesn’t come standard; you’ll need to specify with the specific carrier if a signature is required for packages. And if for some reason it was left without a signature and gets stolen, delivery companies are liable for that loss and you are entitled to a full refund or replacement.

Package thief caught on video doorbell system stealing a box delivery from the front step of a suburban home

(3) Have the package placed out of sight.

Generally, delivery drivers are good about knowing where to leave packages. If you regularly receive packages at your door, you may start to notice the same faces delivering your purchases. Next time you’re home during a delivery, take a minute to talk with them and let them know your delivery preferences when you’re not home.

Get friendly to know your delivery drivers. The more you interact with the people dropping off your packages and let them know your preferences, the better your chances are of keeping your packages safe from thieves. Instructing a delivery person to place a package behind a planter, bench or column on your porch can help kept it hidden.

UPS My Choice for home lets recipients leave instructions about where packages should be left, such as at a back door, on the side of a house or with a neighbor. UPS My Choice platform allows you to install a lockable porch box that can be anchored to decking or concrete and your delivery driver will have the combination instructions. You can find more information at https://www.ups.com/ca/en/services/tracking/mychoice.page.

(4) Pick up your package someplace else.

You can’t always control when a package will be delivered or whether you’ll be home to retrieve it. The good news is that there are options to change the delivery location and ensure the safety of your package. If you’re ordering online products from a brick-and-mortar store, they may have an option to ship free to their store for pickup.

Using ship-to-store, you can often have an item sent to the major retailer that sold it. Deliver your packages to a secure location such as your workplace (if possible), a local business, or USPS to avoid it being left at home during work hours. Depending on the business, they may hold it anywhere from three to 30 days once it’s arrived.

Amazon offers a delivery option called Amazon Locker. The company has lockers at various locations, from pharmacies to convenience stores. Rather than having a package delivered to your front door, you can choose to have it delivered to a nearby locker. You’ll receive a notification when your package is delivered, just as you normally would.

FedEx Delivery Manager lets recipients redirect delivery to a nearby FedEx office, Walgreen’s store, or other location. UPS Access Point Network has more than 19,000 pickup locations, including the UPS Store, CVS and Michaels stores. USPS Package Intercept lets consumers — for a fee — stop delivery or redirect certain packages that are not out for delivery or already delivered.

If you’re going out of town, tell USPS to hold your mail and packages at the post office or until you request home delivery. Mail may be held for up to 30 days. FedEx also allows vacation holds and so does UPS, though terms differ.

(5) Consider a door camera for security.

Video doorbells are becoming an increasingly popular way of protecting homes. With some devices, you can use your phone, tablet or personal computer to see, hear and speak to anyone who has rung your doorbell or triggered motion detectors. When someone rings the doorbell, you can see a live video feed and hear what your visitor is saying. And the camera allows for two-way audio, meaning you can talk to whomever is on your porch.

Owners can interact with individuals at their door over a speaker should they suspect suspicious activity or if they’d like to let the carrier know where to leave the package. If a delivery person is at your door, you can give them instructions, such as tucking the box behind a particular post or plant. If it’s a potential porch pirate, you can let them know that they’re on camera.

Burglars and thieves tend to be discouraged by security alarms. Someone thinking of stealing your package might see the security camera and think again. In addition to deterrence, many of these video doorbells come with motion sensors and a notification system, which sends an alert when someone is on your front porch — and even allows you to initiate two-way talk.

Be sure you make it clear you have a home security system. Studies have shown that your home is less likely to be subject to theft if it’s clear you have a home security system of some kind. According to one study, approximately 83% of the offenders said they would attempt to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary, and 60% said they would seek an alternative target. (Source: https://alarm.org/burglars-confess-why-your-home-is-a-target/)

You can take advantage of the benefits of a home security system without actually having one. Some companies sell fake security cameras and yard signs for those who simply want to give the impression that they have a home security system. However, thanks to how popular these doorbell cameras have become, they’re widely available at competitive prices. You can easily find a great one for under $150.

In conclusion, no matter how many steps you take to protect your purchases, some may end up missing or stolen. File a police report if you feel your package has been stolen by a porch pirate. While it may not always lead to getting your items back or finding the perpetrator, it can help to better protect your community in the future.

Plus, if you’re planning to file an insurance claim, a police report is required. Also, contact your shipping courier with your tracking number and file a claim. Any additional photo or video evidence you may have can also be beneficial for your report. Alternatively, you can attempt to get a refund or replacement by contacting these couriers by phone at:

USPS: 1-800-275-8777
Amazon: 1- 888-280-4331
UPS: 1-800-742-5877
FedEx: 1-800-463-3339

Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of  The Rafu Shimpo.

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