How to Stop Porch Pirates: Tips and Tech to Thwart Thieves
are buying goods online in greater numbers than ever before. Here’s how to stop
porch pirates who see an opportunity.
By now, most of us are familiar with the term “porch pirates”—the thieves who make off with delivered packages left at a recipient’s front door. Victims of this crime and many potential victims are wondering how to stop porch pirates in the age of online retail shopping.
A few years ago, there wasn’t even a special name for this type of criminal. But by 2019, it was estimated that 36 percent of Americans had been the victim of package theft. Another study indicates that 41 percent of Americans receive 3 to 5 shipped packages per month. Market-leading Amazon.com offers more products every day, including groceries and other essentials. Traditional brick-and-mortar behemoths like Wal-Mart and Target have really upped their online game. And all of these numbers are rising as online shopping continues to grow in popularity—and becomes a necessity after the coronavirus pandemic.
There are simply more opportunities for porch pirates to walk off with goods you’ve bought and paid for. And these criminals are upping their games, too. Many porch pirates are small-time thieves who happen to notice an unattended package as they walk by. But, unfortunately, just like burglars and other criminals, some individuals have begun to specialize in this kind of thievery. And they’ve learned more sophisticated methods for stealing delivered goods.
Some thieves follow delivery trucks and mail carriers around neighborhoods, watching for packages to be dropped off. If they work in teams of two, one person can grab items from the porches while the other circles the block, making for a quick getaway. Some porch piracy specialists even wear delivery service-style uniforms, so they look less suspicious to neighbors.
Porch thieves have also developed an eye for determining which packages might hold electronics and other valuables, and which ones might contain a $3 used book. They’ve also been known to learn the usual mail delivery patterns in each neighborhood so they can swoop in at a specific time.
package thieves can be thwarted with a few simple precautions
As the problem has gotten worse, homeowners have resorted to all sorts of tricks and booby traps to get back at porch pirates. A few videos of these ventures have even gone viral online. This one—in which an engineer designed and built an elaborate contraption that includes cameras, stink spray, and a glitter bomb that surprise the thieves—has over 30 million views:
As humorous and utterly satisfying as some of these schemes are, they may not be the best idea. Law enforcement agencies discourage setting traps. The main problem: you’re dealing with criminals here, and an angry individual may decide to return for revenge. A second issue is that if your booby trap malfunctions and causes harm to a thief—or worse, an innocent passerby or delivery person—you could be charged with a crime more serious than package theft!
So, let’s look at some more practical methods for deterring porch piracy. The most obvious is to simply not have packages left at your door. And you'd be surprised at the number of alternatives you may have.
Check with your carrier to see if they have an option to require a signature for delivery. This tactic is pretty effective, but it can also be rather inconvenient. You may have to make a special trip to the shipper’s office during specific business hours to pick up the package if you aren't home when they deliver. Some major outlets and carriers like Amazon and UPS offer package pickup at partner merchants like grocery stores, in certain markets. This can be somewhat more convenient.
If you have neighbors who are usually home all day, you could ask to have your package shipped to them. If you receive numerous packages, a post office box or a mail drop at a pack & ship retailer may be a sound investment. A less-expensive solution may be to have your packages shipped to you at work, if possible.
Take advantage of all the options your online shipper offers. Sign up for tracking and delivery alerts and set your smartphone to notify you instantly when a package is delivered. You can also set up a means of concealing boxes on your porch and let the delivery driver know about it using the "Delivery Instructions" box on the order page. Most porch pirates tend to move through neighborhoods quickly, scanning as they go. “Place behind planter” or “place under bench” may be just enough concealment to protect your goods from prying eyes and sticky fingers.
The bottom line, however: don’t allow packages to sit out in plain view all day.
home security technology can give you the edge over porch pirates
Another way to deter package thieves is to use technology to discourage them or catch them in the act—and potentially warn them off. People tend to think of home security systems as a way to keep thieves and other intruders out of their houses—or as a way to catch them on video if they do get inside. It's important to understand, however, that smart home security systems—like those sold by Frontpoint—can also protect your porch, yard, and everything else on the exterior of your home.
These systems safeguard your packages in several ways. First, and foremost, cameras deter thieves. The mere presence of outdoor cameras and a doorbell camera incentivizes many criminals to move on to easier targets.
Cameras can also provide a video record of the crime that you can give to police. Finally, a doorbell camera lets you know as soon as someone is on your porch—be it a delivery person or porch pirate—and even lets you communicate with that individual.
Let’s take a look at a few easy-to-use devices that can ruin a porch pirate’s day.
cameras can catch porch pirates in the act
You’ve probably seen a few surveillance videos of porch pirates in action. They’re all over social media and the national news. Many of these videos were captured on outdoor security cameras like those offered by Frontpoint. These sturdy cameras are built to withstand the elements—Frontpoint’s cameras weather temperatures from -13°F to 113°F. More to the point, they are designed to provide you with a wide field of view and high-definition images with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
That means they can get a good quality, recognizable shot of a thief’s face that you can hand over to police. They can also pick out other identifying features, like tattoos or logos on t-shirts or jackets.
Frontpoint Outdoor Cameras don’t just sit there passively, recording their surroundings. They are equipped with motion-sensing technology that activates the camera and begins recording when someone comes within range. This prevents the camera from stacking up hours and hours of recorded nothing for you to sift through. You’ll only have clips of the instances when something fairly large, like a delivery person, a neighbor, or a porch pirate, comes within range—and smart video analytics software can even discern a dog or passing car from a person who is approaching the home.
This motion-detection feature, by the way, does a lot more than just activate the camera. With a Frontpoint smart home security system, you can set the system to send you a mobile notification when the sensor activates. Whether you are sitting in your living room, at work, or on vacation, you can then access the camera through your mobile app and see who is on your porch.
Frontpoint’s Outdoor Cameras operate wirelessly, using your home Wi-Fi, and they are easy to install. They also have night-vision capability for any late-night visitors.
cameras offer two-way communication with visitors—and thieves
For an added layer of security and functionality, you may want to consider using a Doorbell Camera. These products are essentially traditional doorbells with powerful security protection built in.
Frontpoint Doorbell Cameras use the same basic motion-sensing technology found in Outdoor Cameras to detect movement around your door. Since thieves don’t generally ring the doorbell, you’ll get an alert, and a high-definition video clip, any time someone comes within range of the camera. If that someone is just lurking about—or if they innocently knock instead of ringing the bell—you’ll still know they’re there.
Remember, you can use your Frontpoint mobile app to take a good look at your visitor no matter where you are. If it’s clearly a thief or prowler, you can notify the police and warn off the intruder through the two-way audio. If it appears to be a salesperson or anyone else you don't want to talk to—you don't have to answer the door. Doorbell cameras give you plenty of freedom when it comes to dealing with visitors. Like Frontpoint Outdoor Cameras, Doorbell Cameras have night-vision capability.
Frontpoint’s Doorbell Camera two-way audio feature lets you communicate with anyone on your porch. Again, if your visitor seems to be a porch pirate, or is otherwise up to no good, you can let him know that he is on camera and needs to leave your property. This is a sufficient deterrent for many thieves. You can also use the communication feature for more friendly interactions with delivery drivers, neighbors, or friends. In fact, there’s another security product that works well in tandem with a doorbell camera …
locks let you remotely control access to your home
Frontpoint’s Smart Door Lock provides even more security and versatility. These handy devices enable keyless entry, remote locking and unlocking, and also keep a record of authorized users who enter your home. Like the other components of a Frontpoint system, the Smart Door Lock can work together with other devices, including the Doorbell Camera.
Let's say you're at work, and you receive a notification that someone is on your porch. You check the app on your mobile device and see that it’s a delivery agent with a package you’ve been expecting. If you’re sure that the delivery is legit (and you might ask to see I.D. through the doorbell camera), you can unlock the Smart Door Lock remotely and ask the driver to set the package inside the door. Once you’ve watched him close the door and leave the premises via the camera, just lock the door again using your smartphone.
Here’s another scenario: As suggested earlier, you ask a trusted neighbor to accept delivery of an important package. Sure, you could pick it up from his house when you get home. But if your schedules don't match up and you want the item right away, just tell him to bring it over to your place. When the doorbell camera alerts you of his presence, you can unlock the door remotely.
Another option: you can give a neighbor a passcode to punch into the smart lock keypad. He can let himself in, and you don’t have to monitor the entry in real-time. This works with neighbors you’d trust inside your home alone, of course—though cameras will record the activity anyway. You'll receive a notification when he enters, and you can make entry codes temporary—so individuals don’t have access to your home forever.
home security technology sends porch pirates packing
Some 38 percent of Americans spend between $101 and $500 each month on packages that are shipped to them. And 92 percent prefer to have those packages sent to their homes—where the goods become targets for porch pirates.
Truly defeating persistent package thieves usually requires a combination of strategies. By taking a few simple precautions and installing the right home security technology, you can make it much more difficult for these criminals to do their dirty work.
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