Personal Finance

Over a third of Americans are victims of 'porch pirates.' How not to become a statistic

Key Points
  • An estimated 36% of Americans have had a package stolen from outside their home at least once.
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, the U.S. Postal Service expects to ship more than 800 million parcels and one of these could be yours.
  • Take these extra precautions to help protect your merchandise this holiday season.
Baltimore resident Rosemarie Dumhart uses a decoy package, marked with an X, to discourage the so-called "porch pirates" operating in the Canton area of Baltimore, Maryland, on December 17, 2018.

The "porch pirate" has become the real-life Grinch of many Americans' holiday season.

An estimated 36% of Americans have had a delivered package stolen from outside their home at least once, according to C+R Research. The more proactive among these bandits are even starting to think outside the box, tailgating delivery trucks to steal parcels as soon as they've been delivered.

The holiday season is a gold mine for porch pirates. So much so that Texas lawmakers passed a bill that would fine anyone convicted of porch piracy between $4,000 to $10,000, along with a possible six months to 10 years in prison. Some police departments have even stepped up to serve as package drop-off locations.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, the U.S. Postal Service expects to ship more than 800 million packages — perhaps one is yours.

If your package gets pinched

Reach out to the company that shipped the item. You may be issued a full refund if a package gets stolen.

It may also be worth filing a homeowner's or renter's insurance claim, if the item was expensive. State Farm's standard homeowner's insurance, for example, does cover package thefts as a personal property loss, subject to the policy's deductible.

"The vast majority of State Farm renter's policies have a deductible of at least $500 — not all, but most," said Gina Morss-Fischer, a public affairs specialist for State Farm. "The value-conscious insurance customer likely has a deductible that is higher than the value of most deliveries."

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When it comes to delivery middlemen, it's a matter of shipper and recipient beware. UPS, for example, has a strict policy: If a package a sender has authorized to be left without a signature is delivered successfully, the company says it is not responsible for reimbursement to the shipper or recipient if a theft occurs afterward. UPS suggests consumers who've lost a package to file a police report that can then be submitted for a potential reimbursement.

Some delivery services do offer some peace of mind. UPS and FedEx both offer a declared value of $100 in maximum liability on their part for every package shipped. Customers sending a shipment can pay more to declare a higher value. FedEx allows customers to file a claim within 60 days of the shipment date.

Alert your local police. If it happened to you, it could have happened to someone else.

How to protect your packages

Consider a non-traditional delivery method. If you're the one sending the package, USPS offers a Hold for Pickup option. This allows customers to have their shipment held at the post office for pick up, instead of getting dropped off and left unattended.

Amazon offers deliveries to Hub Locker locations. Some are located inside grocery stores or retail centers.

UPS recommends requiring a signature for package delivery or pickup at a partner location such as a Duane Reade drugstore.

There is an app for everything nowadays, including finding designated package holders in you area. Apps such as eNeighbr let stores and neighbors earn extra cash for holding packages. The app is currently available in New York City. The first 30 days are free and then the service costs users $2.50 a package.

It also never hurts to ask for help yourself. See if a friendly neighbor or a trusted friend can hold onto your shipment.

"Anyone ordering items high enough to meet most deductibles should be especially conscious of theft prevention," said State Farm's Morss-Fischer.

She recommends that anyone ordering expensive items online take every precaution possible to protect themselves, from custom delivery instructions to installing surveillance cameras. The online public shaming of porch pirates can be a deterrent, and elaborate glitter prank videos might also help catch, or at least record, the thief in action.

You can even go as far as to install a lockbox, and give special drop-off instructions to your delivery person so they can hide the goods inside.