How to protect mail-ordered gifts from ‘porch pirates’

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 07, 2016, at 6:01 a.m.
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More and more consumers are avoiding the whirl of holiday shopping by ordering gifts online.

However, before they’re even wrapped, some goods that should end up in shiny paper go missing. They are among the goods delivered by Fedex, UPS and other package services that are stolen right off people’s front porches.

These “porch pirates” often don’t know what they’re taking. That prompted one writer on the subject to wonder about thieves’ reactions if they had stolen the 20-pound bag of dog food that had been delivered to his home.

That writer also wondered why police in Tarzana, California, had referred to this brand of crooks as “sophisticated porch pirates.” Turns out the thieves had been using a computer app to locate UPS trucks. Then they would follow the trucks, picking up the deliveries within moments of the time they land on the porch. Some even brought their children with them, sending them to do the dirty work.

An estimated 23 million consumers have suffered such losses. On Christmas Eve last year, Bangor police arrested three teenagers (who gave Portland and Boston addresses) on charges that they took packages off people’s property around 15th Street.

Police urge consumers to file a report when a package delivered by UPS or Fedex is stolen.

When a theft occurs from a mailbox, you can file a theft report online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov/investigations/mailfraud/fraudschemes/mailtheft/ReportMailTheft.aspx or by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS, or 1-800-275-8777. Mail theft can bring a hefty fine and up to five years in prison.

There are tools to deter porch piracy. Security cameras — some of which can be monitored remotely on your smartphone — can be installed to monitor delivery areas. A camera might provide enough detail to help police catch a thief, or it might be more of a horse-and-barn-door situation.

Some consumers who receive lots of packages have installed locking dropboxes ranging in cost from about $100 to well over $1,000.

One clever device is called the Package Guard. It’s a flat, circular platform that you place near your entry door. When a courier sets a package weighing at least a pound on it, the built-in wifi device sends a text or email message to the owner that the package has arrived. It also readies an alarm that sounds if the package is removed and can be turned off only by sending the return message, “OFF.”

One UPS security type wrote a while back that, if you ever report a package stolen from your home, a driver will not be allowed to leave packages in the future without getting a signature. If the pickup notice that was stuck to your dirty door blows away in the breeze, hope that it lands where you’ll see it.

Other options include having packages delivered to your workplace, if your employer agrees in advance. Neighbors might also be asked to watch one another’s houses for suspicious activity and perhaps to take packages inside.

And if you’re thinking of trying to beat the system by making a false report, not paying for the item and collecting on UPS insurance, think again. The courier’s security people sometimes work with local police, setting up cameras where people wouldn’t think to look and catching customers “stealing” their own deliveries.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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