Real Estate

Consumers Warned of 'Porch Pirates' As Online Sales Soar

Marcia Breen
Consumers warned of 'porch pirates'

As online holiday shopping sales soar to record levels this year, consumer groups are warning that thieves are ready and waiting to take advantage of packages that linger on your doorstep.

With this year's "Cyber Monday" set be the biggest U.S. online shopping day in history with nearly $3 billion in sales, there will certainly be more opportunity for thieves to swipe packages from stoops before they even get to their rightful owners.

A new report from finds an estimated 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their homes, and with more people shopping online, they expect that number to grow.

"I definitely anticipate that that's going to mean more thefts, so it's really important for folks to think about how to prevent that," said Laura Adams, a senior analyst with who conducted the survey.

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"We call these 'Porch Pirates'—thieves literally walking up to your front door and taking your packages," Adams said.

Mail carriers are expecting to deliver more than 600 million packages between now and Christmas, giving thieves ample opportunity to snatch an order from a doorstep before the customer does. The Better Business Bureau is warning people not to leave unattended packages on their doorsteps.

"My best piece of advice would be to make sure your packages go to a location where someone can accept it, and for a lot of us that's at work. So that's certainly the best option," Adams said.

Here are some other easy ways to protect yourself:

  • Make sure to require a signature on all deliveries and insure packages when possible.
  • If possible, schedule deliveries for when you are at home, or have packages sent to your office.
  • Consider sending packages to a family member, friend or trusted neighbor who you know will be home during the day to accept a delivery.
  • If you or a family member can't be there to sign for a package, have it held at the nearest service location so you can pick it up at your convenience.
  • Sign up for text alerts so you know when a delivery will be arriving.

UPS says it expects to deliver 36 million packages on Tuesday, December 22, alone, double the normal daily average of 18 million deliveries. And while the company says incidents of theft are rare, it says there are ways to minimize the risk.

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Both UPS and FedEx offer tools that allow you to reschedule times or specify delivery windows. UPS My Choice members will receive an email, voice or text message the day before a delivery and can log on, track packages, reroute or reschedule shipment.

"We've implemented easy-to-use mobile and web-based technology that helps consumers to track progress and customize their delivery so they can plan when and where they receive packages," Alan Gershenhorn, UPS' executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said in a statement.

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FedEx Delivery Manager will send you an alert when your package is going to be delivered and allows you to redirect a package to another address if you know you won't be home at the time of delivery. The company also has options, like a 14-day vacation hold, signing for a package in advance or specifying that you want it delivered to a specific area, like in the shed in the backyard or behind the garage.

If you ever do have a package stolen, be sure to file a report with police and call the shipper immediately. However, unless you insured your package, you may be out of luck.

Homeowner's and renter's insurance policies typically cover these types of claims, but only up to a certain amount, so it might be worth filing a claim if the stolen item is valuable.