As a record number of people choose to holiday shop online, it’s no wonder thieves are grabbing packages off of porches at a discouraging clip.
It’s happened often enough to warrant a nickname: porch pirates.
“The criminals here are criminals of opportunity,” said Mark Gregory, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. “They go where the opportunity is.”
For most people, arriving home to the realization their package has been stolen leaves them with few options of recovering the stolen goods, much less catching the thief.
Unless they have a security camera installed or someone witnessed the crime, it’s difficult to find the person responsible.
Across the Inland Northwest, there have been multiple word-of-mouth reports of porch pirates stealing packages. In the Manito/Cannon Hill neighborhood, many residents said they’ve received warnings on their neighborhood emails and social media networks.
“It’s a lot,” said Morton Alexander, who lives on 19th Avenue. “It’s definitely going on.”
While Gregory said package thefts are on the rise, car theft is still more common.
One of Alexander’s neighbors recently complained about having packages stolen while she wasn’t home. Now, she sticks a note near her door asking the mail carrier to ensure envelopes are not sticking out of the box.
“The best thing to do is plan ahead,” Gregory said. “That’s what I always say all the time.”
Police recommend sending packages to a neighbor’s or family member’s house if they know they’re not going to be home. If that’s not possible, require a signature for delivery.
They also recommend using in-store delivery at stores such as Best Buy, Target or Wal-Mart. Or, to have packages ordered off of Amazon sent to an Amazon Locker at Huppin’s on North Division Street, which stores people’s packages for free until they’re ready to be picked up.
If none of those work, officials say there’s always the possibility of installing a home surveillance system or making friends with watchful neighbors.
In fact, a neighbor’s photo helped police nab a porch pirate in May after the theft of packages from the front porch of a Five Mile Prairie home.
“If more and more people have surveillance cameras, that’s super helpful,” said Spokane Police spokesman Shane Phillips. “Anything we can use that’s unique to follow up on.”
Package theft anecdotally peaks the Wednesday after Cyber Monday – the busiest e-commerce day of the year – on a day scornfully dubbed “Porch Theft Wednesday.”
While there are plenty of statistics on online ordering sales trends, it’s tricky to quantify how many of those orders end up stolen, other than what people hear via word of mouth, police say.
Law enforcement officials in Spokane don’t have a specific designation for package theft. They instead refer to it as general theft.
“These jokers go out and troll for valuable stuff sitting on people’s porches,” Phillips said. “It just ends up being theft.”
Carriers such as UPS and FedEx don’t track package theft either. Both companies have an online form for people to fill out when a package is lost, but if a driver marks the package as being delivered, the package’s fate is left up to the person who ordered it, not the company that delivered it.
On message boards and forums, many people claim that UPS, FedEx or Amazon will refund an item if it’s stolen, but none of the companies have policies that specifically say so. They do, however, track packages and send out notifications when they arrive.
“They update it really quickly,” Phillips said. “Pay attention to the tracking so you can have the package sitting there the least amount of time.”
More than anything else, Gregory said thwarting porch pirates can be nothing more than simply exercising common sense.
“Having a package shipped to your porch and having a nice, big box just sitting there – that’s pretty presentable,” he said.
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