With online shopping at a record high, delivery boxes left on doorsteps, porches and in mailboxes may prove enticing to criminals this holiday season. According to a 2016 Holiday Results Adobe Digital Insights report, Cyber Monday online sales hit $3.45 billion, up more than 12 percent compared to last year.
While national statistics and data on package theft (or porch piracy as it's often called) aren't readily available to the public, police departments across the country have released statements cautioning local residents about the possibility of theft. In addition, some neighborhood group email lists like Nextdoor and Facebook groups buzz with complaints about lost or stolen packages.
According to a survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by market research company Research Now and commissioned by home security and automation company Vivint Smart Home, nearly three-quarters of respondents are concerned about this issue (many studies in this space are commissioned by home security companies, who have a vested interest in the topic).
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Count Kathy Osborne among those who think about the potential for package theft. A few years ago, when she lived in upstate New York, Osborne ordered a pair of rain boots from Zappos. But on the date her confirmation email said the boots should arrive, her doorstep was empty. She contacted the delivery service , and they had her fill out a missing package report – to no avail.
"After finally talk to Zappos about the problem, they told me they would send me a new pair of boots – on them," she says. For the second shipment, the boots shipped with signature required upon delivery. Osborne says she now ships things with signature required whenever possible and tries to order from retailers known for their customer service in case another package disappears.
A number of gadgets, including home security cameras and even a product called the Package Guard, are aimed at combatting this problem. Here's a look at low-cost strategies for minimizing the risk of package theft and what to do if you encounter porch piracy.
Ship to an alternate location. If you don't live in a building with a doorman and can't be home when your package arrives, consider having it shipped to an alternate address such as the home of a trusted neighbor. FedEx offers a service called Delivery Manager, and UPS features a My Choice option that gives you some control over when and where packages arrive. Or you and your neighbors might agree to collect packages for each other if you see boxes left on each other's doorsteps. "My neighbors are retired and home most of the day, so this is a great option for me," says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.
Shipping packages to your workplace is another option, but not all employers are designed to serve as your personal mail concierge, especially if it's a large company. "Here at MIT, it takes almost as long to go through the mail system as it does to go through the country," says Chris Caplice, executive director of MIT's Center for Transportation & Logistics.
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Parcel lockers, or secure lockers where customers pick up packages when it's convenient for them, are popping up in areas of the country that have the population density to support them. Amazon Locker is one example of a self-service parcel delivery, and DHL has used lockers in Europe for over a decade, Caplice says. UPS has its own solution called the UPS Access Point Network, which allows customers to pick up packages from a holding area in places such as a local dry cleaner, deli or convenience store.
Many retailers with brick-and-mortar locations also give customers the option to ship online orders to a store location for free, a development that Caplice says is shifting the retail footprint towards more warehouse space and less storefront area. "When I was a kid in the late '70s, back rooms were massive, and then they got really tiny. Now they're shifting the other way to deliver from store," he says.
Track your packages. Most online retailers give you a tracking number in your confirmation email, Woroch points out, so keep track of details like when items should arrive so you'll know if a package has gone missing. Mobile apps like Slice can also help you keep track of deliveries from multiple retailers by scanning your emails and aggregating your order information into a single feed. Woroch recommends checking your mail every day, especially if you have a community mailbox. "Don't let mail sit overnight," she adds. She recently discovered that some of her mail had been stolen after neighbors reported vandalism via the Nextdoor app.
Report missing items. If your tracking information shows that a package has been delivered but you can't find it, contact the retailer. "Most retailers will replace any stolen or undelivered items," Woroch says. "Sometimes the carrier will deliver to the wrong address or leave a package in the wrong mailbox too," Woroch adds.
Depending on the card you used to place the order, you might also be able to file a claim with the credit card issuer if the retailer isn't helpful. "Check your card policy to find out if your card offers purchase security which will replace or reimburse cardholders for stolen items purchased with the credit card," Woroch says. "Call the credit card hotline to find out info or to place a claim."
Depending on the value of the item and other specifics of the situation, you may also need to file a police report. According to UPS spokesperson Matt O'Connor, in cases where a UPS package has gone missing, the recipient should file a police report and contact the merchant. "[UPS] will collaborate with the local law enforcement and the merchant on a resolution," he says. "Each package shipped with UPS has a declared value of $100 [unless the sender pays for a higher declared value] that so if the package is properly packaged and shipped , that could kick in to help compensate for the package," he adds.
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With that said, a police report won't help Santa explain missing gifts on Christmas morning. Planning ahead and taking precautions to prevent package theft can minimize these kinds of headaches.
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