As Americans become more enamoured of ordering everything from toilet paper to computers online for home delivery, porch pirates are snatching more of those packages.
Amazon boxes waiting by your front door have created a lucrative line of work for opportunistic thieves.
“Crimes change with the times and there's a direct relationship to the phenomenal increase in online purchases and the increase in package theft,” Miami-Dade Police Det. Lee Cowart said. “It happens every day. Maybe the thief only gets a 12-pack of motor oil, but there's a value to anything.”
Just as the Internet makes it easier for consumers to order items, the Internet makes it easier for thieves to sell what they steal.
About 26 million Americans said they had packages swiped last year, up from 23 million in 2015, according to a survey by InsuranceQuotes.com.
Amazon Prime Day in July was the biggest shopping day in the company's history, with some 100 million packages delivered. But the well-advertised spending extravaganza is also prime picking day for thieves. Christmas holiday season presents a goldmine, too.
“Criminals will take advantage of easy crimes,” US Postal Inspector Blanca Alvarez said. “Anything is enticing to a criminal. Don't leave your packages unattended – just like you wouldn't leave your wallet on the seat of your car.”
A national study by Shorr Packaging Corporation found that 41% of Americans order items online three to five times per month, 38% spend US$101-US$500 per month and 92% prefer home deliveries. San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis had the highest rates of package theft, as did affluent sections of cities.
“Package theft is pervasive in many of the country's most notable technology hubs, including San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and Washington, D.C.,” the study said. Low rates were reported in El Paso, Detroit and Virginia Beach.
While porch pirates may walk away with only a box of underwear, they can also score expensive electronics or jewellery, or, in the case of a Riverdale, Utah, family, US$5,000 worth of kidney-transplant medicine for their ill 4-year-old son.
Cowart said the county police department's Economic Crimes Bureau has investigated inside jobs involving retail business employees who target specific deliveries “so they know what they're getting”, he said.
Homeowners are fighting back. Surveillance cameras are one type of preventive measure. A recent theft in Coral Gables that occurred on Madeira Street at 9.53am was recorded and the footage clearly showed the man's face and his accomplice's orange Mini Cooper. Police and neighbours were alerted to be on the lookout.
Security cameras made by Ring, Blink, Nest, Canary Flex and Kuna range in cost from US$57 (RM235) to US$200 (RM827). Police suggest buying one that is sharp enough to capture faces and pointing it toward the street to also capture the getaway car or license plate.
Homeowners have also devised ingenious ways to foil pirates on their porches. A Tacoma man built a “blank box” that scared away thieves when they attempted to pick it up. Disguised as a package, it was rigged to trigger a loud 12-gauge shotgun blank shell. He got amusing videos of startled thieves running away.
Porch piracy has spawned a market for anti-theft products, including the ballistic nylon Porch Pirate Bag for US$34.95 (RM145) that locks to a door handle or gate and seals closed with a lock. Package Guard (US$49.99/RM207) is an app-activated disc; if a thief tries to lift a package off the disc without tapping the app, an alarm sounds. There are a variety of sturdy lockboxes opened by key or keypad code for sale, including a 34in-wide model (US$599/RM2,479) from Landport, a company founded by a woman after an heirloom teacup sent by her mother was stolen.
Amazon offers its Amazon Locker delivery and self-service pickup locations where customers can retrieve their packages with a code at such places as their neighbourhood 7-Eleven or Whole Foods store. Amazon Key enables delivery drivers to leave packages inside the door when customers are not home by connecting to the Amazon Cloud system. You'll need a kit that costs US$200 (RM827) and up to install a smart lock and monitoring camera.
Customers should consider mailing their packages to their work address or to the residence of a neighbour or friend or relative who will be home during the day. Require a signature at time of delivery. Designate a hidden area for dropoff. The US Postal Service has Hold For Pickup at your local post office, Package Intercept to redirect deliveries or Registered Mail for the most secure protection.
Disappointed to arrive home and discover that your new pair of shoes or laptop or case of wine has been swiped?
“Most crime is preventable,” Cowart said. “Not everyone can afford a surveillance camera but everyone can think logically. Know your neighbours and help each other out. Have packages sent to work. If you see a suspicious car or person wandering around, call the police.” – Miami Herald/Tribune News Service
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