Porch hackers stole an estimated 260 million packages last year. How to prevent theft at your doorstep

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You may not be the only person who is anxious for packages to arrive at your home.

Experts say that during the holidays, as the volume of home deliveries increases due to gift buying and giving, so does the chance that porch hackers will snatch packages right off your front step.

Over the past year, an estimated 260 million delivered packages were stolen, according to a report by SafeWise, an online directory of security and safety products. A year ago, the estimate was 210 million.

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“Unfortunately, package thefts are on the rise, possibly in part due to the increase in online shopping that began with the pandemic in 2020,” said Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at US PIRG, a nonprofit consumer advocacy research group.

Online sales have remained high since 2020

In fact, in the second quarter of 2020, just as the pandemic hit the US, online sales jumped to 16.4% of all retail sales, up from 11.9% in the previous quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. While the share is down to 14.8% as of the third quarter of this year, it is still higher than pre-pandemic.

Add to the expected holiday shipping frenzy that hits every December, and there could be more packages going missing this month than ever before. Total annual losses due to this type of theft are estimated at $19.5 billion, according to SafeWise.

“Anecdotally, police and sheriff’s departments in communities across the country have reported that porch hackers have been a significant problem for the past several weeks,” Murray said.

“This may be in part because many more people have returned to offices at least part-time this year, compared to two years ago,” she said. “And since everyone knows there is an avalanche of deliveries at this time of year, there is every reason to believe that the bad guys are using this as an opportunity.”

It is a very low risk, very low skill crime

On top of having more opportunity, it’s easy to commit a crime, said Ben Stickley, a professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University who studies package theft.

“The other aspect of this crime that makes it unique and likely to continue to increase is that there is very low risk and very low skill,” Stickley said. “It doesn’t take skill to go up and steal a package.”

How to protect against theft of packages

There are ways to protect against balcony hackers. While security cameras can help, they’re not always a deterrent – which means it’s worth taking other steps as well to ensure the safe arrival of your packages.

If possible, Murray said, you should sign up to receive an email or text message when your package is supposed to arrive and when it will actually be delivered. Each of the major delivery services — the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx — allows you to sign up for notifications. If you’re ordering from Amazon, the notifications are generally automatic.

However, this also means that you need to monitor your email and texts. “Check your email once a day or whatever doesn’t cut it,” Murray said.

As soon as you receive a delivery alert, bring the package up immediately or call a neighbor at home to retrieve it. “You don’t want packages to sit outside for hours, either during the day or at night,” she said.

You can also try scheduling delivery for a day and time when you know you’ll be home, Stickle said. “Or get it at an alternate address like work or a trusted neighbor,” he said.

Alternatively, you can pick up your package from, say, a UPS, FedEx, or Amazon Hub Locker store, instead of having it delivered. Murray said that sometimes you can choose after your package has been shipped.

“In other cases, you need to select this option when you make your purchase or before you ship it,” she said.

If your package is stolen, contact the shipper

If your package ends up being stolen despite your efforts to prevent theft, there are a few things you can do.

For starters, you can contact the retailer you purchased from. “They are not required to replace the item or refund, but they often do,” Stickley said.

You can also try requesting a refund from the delivery company if that doesn’t work, though they often require the shipper, not the recipient, to file a claim, according to ConsumerReports.org.

“I also encourage people to contact the police, but only about 5% to 8% do,” Stickell said.

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