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Battling Porch Pirates

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    It's easy for so-called "porch pirates" to snatch packages from a front door or apartment building stoop, and amid the rise of online retail giants, like Amazon, package theft is in the spotlight. (Dreamstime/TNS) Dreamstime

The Kansas City Star
Published: 6/23/2018 11:38:45 PM
Modified: 6/23/2018 11:38:46 PM

You did your research, shopped around and finally found what you wanted online. In a few days, it’ll be yours.

The tracking website says it’s been delivered. But it’s not there. Maybe it’s been stolen.

It’s easy for so-called “porch pirates” to snatch packages from your front door or apartment building stoop, and amid the rise of online retail giants, like Amazon, package theft is in the spotlight.

Federal postal officials don’t release reports on how many packages are stolen every year, but according to Shorr Packaging Corp., 30 percent of those surveyed in 2017 had had a package stolen. Packages were stolen from about 11 million homeowners last year, according to Package Guard.

But just as online shopping brought porch pirates to the forefront, tech companies and shippers have been coming up with solutions to combat it. Some would use tech to fight the very issue that tech aggravates. Other solutions are simpler.

The key is to avoid leaving packages on the porch unattended.

Kevin LaBranche said he lives in a downtown loft building and luckily was home when his new iPhone arrived and he got a notification from Amazon.

If he hadn’t been home, “an $800 phone would have sat down at the front door for several hours,” LaBranche said.

Here are a few tips from tech companies and shippers to avoid having your cargo stolen.

Be there when your package arrives.

UPS recommends customers have packages “sent to where they are — not where they are not.”

“In other words, if they are at work during the day, they can have packages delivered to where they work,” Kim Krebs, a media relations manager for UPS, said in an email. “They can also choose to have things sent to a relative or neighbor who is home during the day.”

Package Guard said 74 percent of packages are swiped during the day while homeowners are at work.

Having a package sent to the office may not be an option for everybody. LaBranche said some employers won’t allow employees to receive personal mail at the office.

Paul Shade, an inspector with the U.S. Postal Service, said letting a neighbor know you’re expecting a package is ideal.

“That’s always a safer bet so that it’s not sitting on the porch for a lengthy period of time,” Shade said.

Shade also recommended making sure your package requires a signature so the shipper won’t leave it on your porch unless someone signs for it. He said that’s the “best way to ensure that it is delivered to a person and not left on the porch.”

Invest in tech.

If you’re ready to let Amazon in your house, Amazon Key allows delivery inside your front door for free. The Amazon Key kit starts around $210 for a keypad entry, camera and streaming capabilities, but after that, Prime members get the in-home delivery service for free.

The tech giant does the same for your car. Download the Amazon Key App, synchronize to your car service account and park within two blocks of your delivery address. The driver will unlock the car using the app, put the package inside and lock the car again. Amazon will send a final notification confirming your delivery is complete.

For now, the service works only if you have a Volvo with a Volvo On Call account or a Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac with an OnStar account — all from 2015 or newer.

For online shoppers who don’t want the delivery driver in their home or their car, companies like Ring and Google-owned Nest provide mounted outdoor cameras that could deter would-be thieves.

Nest’s camera can alert homeowners when somebody’s on the porch.

“If a package thief approaches, you’ll get an alert on your phone, so you can scare the scoundrel away by sounding a warning through the camera’s built-in microphone,” the company said.

With another Nest service, you could create a video clip of the porch pirate stealing your long-awaited package and share it with police.

Both companies also sell video doorbells.

Be specific with the shipper.

That big hedge in front of your house may come in handy here, or that side wall you put the trash cans behind. Some shippers, like UPS, will let you give specific instructions on where to drop your package.

“UPS drivers can enter that information into their hand-held computers for future deliveries,” Krebs said.

At LaBranche’s apartment, packages are sometimes left on the downtown sidewalk rather than delivered to the office, which is open only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“A lot of times, I’ve come into the apartment building and I’ve seen boxes lying there, and I’ve taken them inside,” LaBranche said.

Pick up your packages.

Another option would be avoiding home delivery altogether.

Amazon has lockers where customers can have their packages delivered and pick them up at their convenience.

But the only lockers in the Kansas City area right now are at two Whole Foods stores along 119th Street in Overland Park in Olathe.

Customers using UPS can get notifications that their package is on the way and redirect it to a UPS “access point.” Krebs said UPS has nearly 9,000 access points in delis, grocery stores, dry cleaners, florists and UPS store locations nationwide. The company also provides mailbox services at the UPS store.

LaBranche said that for some, scheduling deliveries like an appointment with a cable company might work. Shippers would give customers a four-hour window to expect delivery.

If your package is stolen ...

If the porch pirates manage to snatch your new purchase, be sure to notify police.

Shade also encouraged people to contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the postal service. He said he didn’t think people were aware of the office.

“Certainly if more people report it, it gives us more data to be able to pursue the cases,” Shade said.

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