Few things can match the excitement and ease of receiving a package delivered to your front step.
That is, until a stranger snags the package off your porch before you get home.
As online buying and package delivery becomes the norm for retail shopping, delivery theft before consumers retrieve their items from the porch is a growing problem for Americans.
In November 2017, InsuranceQuotes released a study revealing that 25.9 million Americans have had a package delivery stolen from their front porch or doorstep – and that's just during the holiday season. And that's up from 23.5 million porch thefts during the holidays in 2015.
The holidays are the biggest season for deliveries, of course. The 2 1/2 weeks before Christmas see package deliveries double, if not more, says Georgianna Oliver, founder of Package Concierge, a company that provides package receipt systems for apartment buildings.
Part of the problem is that it's so hard to guarantee a package is safe once it's delivered. While it's possible to insure a piece of mail or package through the delivery service, once the package reaches your doorstep the coverage ends, as the insurance is aimed at covering any physical damage that may take place in transit.
Even when dropped off at an apartment building, the reception desk can easily get overwhelmed, and packages will go missing before the right resident can claim her parcel.
To combat the issue, delivery services, retailers and startups are working to create alternatives to traditional home delivery and keep thieves from snagging gifts.
UPS, for example, has created the My Choice program, which allows customers to receive updates on their package and view estimated delivery times and even change the delivery address prior to scheduled drop-off to keep it from sitting outside. If delivering to your office or a friend's house aren't better options to protect your package, UPS Access Point is another free feature that allows customers to opt for delivery at a local public location, rather than at home. Instead of having your package sit out on your porch all afternoon, you can stop at the drop box at the local drugstore or bank on your way home. It appears people are taking advantage of the elevated control, too. UPS reports My Choice has been used to deliver more than 1 billion packages since its creation in 2011.
"We try to partner with local businesses in the community, where people are likely to go anyway," says Dawn Wotapka, a UPS spokeswoman.
For apartment and condo communities, Package Concierge has been working with property management companies to create a better system for package deliveries since 2012. Rather than having packages delivered to the front desk, they'll be deposited into Package Concierge lockers, which are often installed near the resident mailboxes.
Residents are notified when they have a package delivered, and use the app or an email code to unlock the right locker. "Nothing's ever lost – we take a dated, time-stamped photo of every delivery and every retrieval," Oliver says.
The best thing you can do to protect your packages is be proactive – especially when you know you'll be out of town when a package arrives. The U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and any other delivery courier has the ability to hold your package at a nearby facility.
If your delivery is kept elsewhere, you "don't have to be worried when you're out of town, 'Is my package sitting out?'" Wotapka says. Not to mention, more ambitious thieves who may target your house for a break-in won't see proof that you're not home to pick up your mail.
Keeping your packages as safe and secure as possible is simply a matter of figuring out a system that works best for you. Here are six options to better protect your packages from porch pirates.
Provide some porch coverage. Porch pirates are most likely to strike when they see a package sitting out in the open. If they can't see a package from the street, they're far less likely to walk up to see what they can grab. Large planters, a thick column or solid furniture that provides plenty of space to obscure a package from the edge of your property can help cut down on package theft. A note or request to the courier to leave the package at the back door could also keep it from being seen.
Get a camera. Security cameras and video doorbells can get pretty good images of people who come onto your doorstep. A smart thief will stay away from a porch that's filming them, but those that don't will give you a nice image to send to the police. There's no guarantee you’ll get the package back, but there's a decent chance the thief will be caught.
Have packages delivered to your office. You may be able to set your shipping address to your workplace and receive them in the mailroom there. However, not all employers will be amenable to having your personal shipments sent to the office, or at least not if you have multiple packages arriving every week. Be sure to check with your boss or human resources before you order all your holiday gifts to the office mailroom.
Let deliveries in. Some delivery services, like Amazon Key, have special offerings that make it so the courier can alert the service they're ready to drop off your package, which will briefly unlock your door so the package can be left inside. Depending on the service, you'll need to have a specific type of smart lock that can be accessed remotely, and pets will likely need to be secured to keep them from getting out or potentially harming the delivery person.
Pick it up at a facility. If you miss delivery on a package that requires a signature too many times, it'll be held at the facility for you to pick up. Especially if the package being sent has valuable items, requesting the package be held at the facility is an option to keep anything from being left on your stoop.
Pick it up in town or at a store. Package Concierge, UPS Access Point and Amazon Locker Delivery all let packages be delivered to a secure location without forcing you to go too far out of your way to retrieve them. Many large online retailers offer free shipping directly to a nearby store, where customers can pick up their items without worrying about package theft.
Keep the burglars at bay without the booby traps.
When your family goes out of town for the holidays, fingers crossed, you won’t leave a kid behind. But then who’s going to keep your home safe from the criminals waiting to pounce on an empty house or apartment? There’s no need to call on Kevin McCallister of "Home Alone" if you follow these ways to secure your home before you take off for the holidays.Lock up.
It’s obvious – maybe too obvious – but it’s easy for homeowners to forget to do a final check on the door handle when they’re juggling suitcases, presents for family and a road trip’s worth of snacks. If you don’t lock up, you’re making it easy on criminals. “The burglars are most likely coming through the front door,” says Chris McGoey, a crime prevention expert based in Los Angeles. Before you leave, double-check that doors and windows are locked, and try the front door as you leave to ensure it’s completely secure.Go for a monitored security system.
Go for a monitored security system.
When shopping around for a home security system, you can opt for monitored or unmonitored systems. A monitored system requires an annual fee but is tracked by a security company, which can contact local authorities if an alarm goes off. With an unmonitored system, “There’s no security company on call if your alarm goes off,” says Sarah Brown, home and community safety expert for home security information company SafeWise. If you're planning an extended holiday vacation where you might not notice a mobile update right away, Brown recommends a monitored system.Go high-tech with your doorbell.
Go high-tech with your doorbell.
If you want to increase your security before burglars even try to break in, a remote-access video doorbell is an effective option. David DeMille – a home security expert and website manager for ASecureLife.com, a personal security ratings and rankings website – explains that if you're not home, you can voice answer through your phone when someone rings your doorbell – potentially to case the property as a break-in target. A voice answer will likely send criminals away, even if they can tell you’re responding from somewhere else. “Either way, they know you’re watching,” DeMille says.Be diligent.
When you’re rushing to get out of the house and on the road, it can be tough to go through a laundry list of tasks to ensure your home is secure. But it’s useful to be in the habit already – whether it’s activating your security system, double-checking the deadbolt or setting light timers. “There’s always human error. The old theory’s true: If it can go wrong, it will go wrong,” says Paul Ciepiela, president of the Maryland Crime Prevention Association and a detective for Baltimore County Police.Get to know your neighbors.
Get to know your neighbors.
Unlike in “Home Alone,” chances are slim that the entire neighborhood will be out of town. If you’re friendly with the people on your block – in a neighborhood watch or otherwise – those who stick around during the holidays are more likely to think twice if they see something out of the ordinary. “Community involvement is a huge factor in home safety and recovering things,” Brown says, noting that people who live on a cul-de-sac often have low risk of burglary because they interact with each other more and know their neighbors' comings and goings.Call on friends to collect the mail.
Call on friends to collect the mail.
“Don’t let newspapers or sales [fliers] pile up at your door. It is an indication to a burglar that no one is home,” says Commander Leslie Parsons of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. It helps to have a neighbor or friend pick up mail, newspapers and fliers on a regular basis, but you can also hold post office mail and newspaper delivery for the duration you’re gone and reschedule package delivery from UPS or FedEx for after you return.Beware of burglar-friendly landscaping.
Beware of burglar-friendly landscaping.
Bushes and trees that hide windows and doors from the street can be ideal cloaking for a burglar trying to sneak into your home. But you can landscape to deter criminals as well. Your landscaping should ensure there’s no easy place to hide and make it difficult to get close to windows. “Putting bushes underneath windows, especially ones that have thorns, can be a great deterrent,” DeMille says. Lighted walkways, motion-detecting spotlights and a front porch light also help prevent potential burglars from getting a good look at your home's interior.Time the lights.
Time the lights.
A dark house all night is a good sign the home is empty, but so is a house that stays lit all day. “Most burglaries happen between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” Brown says, noting it’s the lights that stay on all day that are the bigger indicator that the house is empty. Attach light timers to a few lamps throughout your home so they go on when it starts to get dark, then turn off in the morning.Fake like someone's there.
Fake like someone's there.
You don’t need a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan dancing around your living room to make it seem like someone’s home. TV simulator lights, like the one by FakeTV, are sold on Amazon and at stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart. “It actually throws colored lights up against the walls and it mimics the TV being on but uses a lot less electricity,” DeMille says. Set a timer on the TV light simulator and it looks like someone is watching TV for a few hours during the day and night.Turn your phone ringer down.
Turn your phone ringer down.
An age-old strategy for burglars is to call a home phone line before attempting to break in. Even if the burglar isn’t the one calling, hearing the phone ringing without answer from outside can be enough to inspire a break-in. Brown explains: “Phone ringers are actually really loud, so that could be a signal no one’s home” if a potential burglar is scouting your house and hears the phone go to voicemail. To make it more difficult for criminals, turn the ringer down so it can’t be heard from outside the home.Keep your live-tweeting to a minimum.
Keep your live-tweeting to a minimum.
It may be hard to not document your Christmas trip to Hawaii all over Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, but if your home is empty, it might be the best move. Friends, acquaintances and even strangers may see your airport selfie and make plans to stop by your empty abode while you’re away. “Saving your pictures until you get home would probably be a smarter idea,” Brown says.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.