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It's a nasty practice that's become common enough to warrant a new term: porch pirates.
As package deliveries surge during the peak holiday season, so too do the incidents of packages being swiped from doorsteps.
Specific data on package theft is limited, since shipping companies and retailers don't typically parse it out. The U.S. Postal Service insists the "vast majority of the mail it delivers arrives intact"; FedEx doesn't share stats; and UPS will only say that of the tens of millions of packages it handles daily, reported thefts are "scant."
Nonetheless, insurancequotes.com, an insurance comparison site owned by Bankrate.com, estimates that a "whopping" 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their homes before they could open them.
"If a shipping company fulfills their obligation and delivers the package the way that you paid for, you as the consumer are responsible for it if it's stolen," explains Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst for insuranceQuotes.com.
To protect those precious holiday parcels, a number of businesses have sprung up to address the issue, including San Francisco-based Doorman. The logistics start-up operates in San Francisco, New York and Chicago, delivering packages at specific times scheduled by customers in order to make the process more convenient and secure. The cost: $3.99 per package.
"We give you a new shipping address for everything you buy online," says Zander Adell, co-founder and chief executive of Doorman. "That stuff goes to our warehouse, and once it arrives you can use our app to schedule delivery from 6 p.m. until midnight, 7 days a week, in one-hour windows."
Adell estimates that 20 percent of package deliveries fail on the first attempt in urban areas — even higher in some neighborhoods. He says roughly two million packages were delayed or went missing because of theft last year.
Lockers are becoming increasingly popular, as well. Amazon has introduced lockers in recent years, and Swapbox, another San Francisco-based start-up, lets consumers send and receive packages via its locker system. Even 7-Eleven has added lockers to convenience stores, betting that they'll help drive in-store sales.
The big delivery companies themselves have rolled out services that are designed to clamp down on theft, as well as help those companies cut their costs on the so-called last mile of delivery to homes. UPS offers a free service called UPS My Choice, which alerts users about deliveries. It also expanded its Access Point network, which delivers packages to be dropped at thousands of local businesses. FedEx recently introduced an app that lets people customize home delivery.
Retailers also offer tips to keep porch pirates at bay, including requiring a signature on the delivery or routing it to a location where someone can actually accept it, rather than letting it languish on the front stoop.