Beware Of Package Thieves Outside Your HomeNovember 15, 2022
Online retail sales experienced steady growth for years and then spiked when COVID hit, climbing to nearly 17% of all retail sales in late 2020. While the numbers have settled since the peak, these sales remain strong.
They are likely to continue their upward trend as consumers have grown accustomed to the ease of shopping online and having products delivered quickly to their door. But package thieves are eyeing what is literally the ‘last foot‘ of the supply chain where they boldly trespass and steal deliveries.
Commonly known as porch pirates, these thieves have been swiping packages delivered to homes for years. Since 2019 they have emerged as a particularly difficult menace to control. As package volume and value has increased, social media attention to this crime has gone viral.
There is practically no skill necessary to steal packages and almost no risk of getting caught, let alone prosecuted. It could be said that these pirates are sailing the seas of America’s front porches with little to stop them.
One report by Safewise.com estimated that 210 million packages were stolen in 2021. My own study revealed nearly 25% of persons surveyed had been victims in 2019. A 2022 study by Security.org found 54% have experienced package theft at some point in their lives and nearly 23% within the last three months alone!
The financial cost of this crime is difficult to quantify but likely well into multiple billions of dollars annually. Porch piracy is likely one of America’s most common crimes, and among the costliest.
Unpacking Package Theft
Package theft is appropriately defined as “Taking possession of a package or its contents, outside of a residence or business, where it has been commercially delivered or has been left for commercial pick-up, with intent to deprive the rightful owner of the contents.”
My team developed this definition in late 2019 because no states had laws dealing with package theft. Therefore, police were not recording these thefts. With no prior definition and no data to help us understand porch piracy, we turned to online social media videos of package thieves to evaluate their techniques and methods.
Our study revealed that thefts typically occurred when a home was close to the road and with packages visible from the street. Most packages were about one-foot square and had branded markings on the box. Typically, an individual casually approached the home without trying to disguise themselves, took the packages, and hurried away.
However, in a third of cases, an accomplice was involved who usually served as a getaway driver. In a few instances, other ruses (i.e., carrying a fake package, following delivery vehicles, wearing delivery company uniforms) were employed to facilitate the theft.
Finally, the thefts were very quick, usually around 30 seconds to complete. The critical takeaway is that opportunity, driven by (a) an anticipated short amount of time on the porch or outside a door, (b) visibility from the roadway, and (c) a lack of security, likely are what package thieves prioritize and target.
Preventing Package Theft
Effective package theft prevention will require a collaborative effort by consumers, retailers, delivery services, and the government. Consumers can reduce thefts by removing packages from the porch as soon as they arrive. Alternatively, they can allow packages to be delivered inside their home, garage, or trunk.
If uncomfortable with those options, lockable porch receptacles, parcel lockers (PUDOs), and delivery to neighbors are options.
Retailers can ship parcels in unbranded boxes that are as small as possible and do not stand out when on the porch (e.g., reducing bright colors). Delivery services can place packages behind items on the porch to conceal them from the roadway, ring a doorbell/notify the homeowner of delivery, and place Lithium-Ion battery warning labels face down. This way, thieves cannot spot expensive electronic items from the street.
Governments can enact tougher laws and track instances of theft.
While everyone can do something to address this growing problem, it is time to take broader action. Package theft is not going away by itself. Collective action is required among everyone involved with moving a package in the supply chain. Thefts at this volume and causing this much loss to consumers, retailers, and delivery services cannot continue to be tolerated as it will lead to unnecessary costs and economic stresses.
Customers will grow tired and likely blame retailers. Retailers are experiencing the brunt of the impact by replacing stolen items. Delivery companies are stretched thin, driving a route twice to get a product delivered once. Some police are left wondering—what crime do I even list on this report?
The good news is that new laws are coming on the books, entrepreneurs are developing creative ways to prevent thieves, and delivery services are turning to single-point parcel drop-off locations. Still, these things, independently and disconnected from each other, won’t solve the problem.
Collective action is needed. The porch of the 21st century is emerging as the epicenter of commerce and crime—it’s time to turn back the criminals before things get much worse.
About the Author: Dr. Ben Stickle is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Middle Tennessee State University. For more information on package theft and what to do about it, visit www.benstickle.com/package-theft