This may be the season to be jolly for many holiday celebrants, but for porch pirates, it’s time to raise the Jolly Roger.
There seems to be an increased concern about porch pirates during the holiday season, according to Maria Pearlman, spokesperson for Lombardo Homes, a residential home builder headquartered in Shelby Township, Mich.
Citing a report on porch piracy prepared by Lombardo, Pearlman told the E-Commerce Times: “There is a great increase in Google searches relating to stolen packages nationwide during the holiday season. For example, between August 2022 and December 2022, Google searches for the phrase ‘porch pirates’ increased 236%, searches for ‘what to do if package stolen’ increased 140%, and searches for ‘stolen packages police report’ increased 70%.”
She noted that nearly all Americans are expecting package deliveries during this holiday season, and it’s clear there are many opportunities for potential porch piracy.
“Half of Americans are worried about package theft during this holiday season, and of those worried, 39% say they’re more worried about porch pirates this year than in past years,” she said.
“With the heightened shopping from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, 78% expect porch pirates to strike more during these delivery periods,” she added.
Metro Dens for Pirates
Where porch pirates are most active in the United States — and likely most active during the holidays — is the subject of another study released recently by SafeWise, an online provider of tools and information on home safety and internet security headquartered in Salt Lake City.
Based on FBI and Google data, the study found the top metro area for package theft is the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. environs, which finished second in the rankings in 2022.
Five areas broke into the rankings for the first time and made the top 10: Memphis, Tenn.; Mississippi, and Arkansas (which finished second); Birmingham-Hoover, Ala. (4th); Richmond, Va. (6th); Greenville-Anderson, S.C. (8th) and Grand Rapids-Kentwood, Mich. (9th).
The San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, Calif. metro area climbed to third place after finishing in the 20th spot last year, and the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. Region rose to 5th place from 11th in 2022.
Two areas dropped in the rankings: Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas, fell to seventh this year, compared to third last year, and Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon and Washington, slid to 10th from 7th in 2022.
Shopping Mall for Package Poachers
SafeWise Lead Safety and Tech Reporter Rebecca Edwards explained that suburban sprawl is a major factor contributing to porch piracy. “Suburban, planned neighborhoods are like a shopping mall for porch pirates,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
“The kids are at school, mom and dad are at work, so you have a bunch of empty houses and no one to see what you’re doing,” she continued. “That makes it easy to hit a lot of areas and get a lot of stuff in a quick time frame in a low-risk way.”
According to the SafeWise study, three out of every four people its researchers surveyed said they’d lost a package during the past year. “If you look at the entire U.S. population, that could mean over 119 million stolen packages,” the report estimated.
It added that in 2022, SafeWise estimated 113 million packages were nabbed, making the 2023 estimate just over 5% higher.
“If you’re going to be a victim of crime in this country, it’s most likely this crime,” observed Ben Stickle, a professor of criminal justice administration at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
“It’s a crime of opportunity,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “As more packages are delivered, and they’re of more value, then there’s more likely to be theft.”
Package theft has been on the rise, added Tim Rader, senior director of product development at ADT, a residential and business security company headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla.
“There are more than 1.7 million packages stolen from people’s doorsteps every single day,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “The likelihood of a victim of package theft being victimized more than once is high. It’s especially an issue in July when many people are placing online orders but also traveling frequently.”
Problem for Retailers
Porch piracy isn’t just a problem for consumers. “Package theft is indeed a serious problem for online retailers,” said Kelly Pedersen, U.S. retail leader at PwC, an international professional services company.
“When packages are lost or stolen, consumers either have to bear the cost of the lost package or the retailer compensates them,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “However, even when consumers are compensated, the cost is ultimately passed on to them. It can be likened to shrinkage, where the cost of theft is factored into the overall expenses of the retailer.”
“Retailers are expected to replace the lost merchandise or suffer the loss of customer loyalty for a problem they are not equipped to deal with,” added Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, an advisory services firm in Bend, Ore.
“At the very least, it makes people wary of buying online, reducing potential revenues over time,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
There can be costs beyond dollars and cents, added Jeff Kutas, CEO of MB Sentinel, a maker of mailbox and package delivery safes, in Stephenville, Texas.
“Consumer packages aren’t the only packages being stolen,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Porch pirates also steal potentially life-saving medication.”
“If Amazon needs to ship another crock pot to your house, and it takes an extra two days — well, that’s annoying. It can be costly,” he continued. “But, imagine if, instead of your crock pot, they steal your elderly parent’s heart medication. Porch piracy is most definitely not a victimless crime.”
Lower Risk With Common Sense
Consumers are trying to prevent package theft with doorbell cams, and legislatures are trying to discourage it with laws making the act a felony, but both approaches may be dubious.
“There’s no sign doorbell cams are a deterrent,” Stickles said. “People just look at the cameras and take the box anyway.”
Laws aren’t likely to be effective either, he added. “We don’t seem to have the appetite in most jurisdictions to enforce these laws,” he said. “We have people who commit a burglary let go after a day, so the idea that we’re going to punish someone with a felony for stealing a box of vitamins is highly unlikely. Thieves know that.”
Corie Wagner, senior editor for industry research at Security.org, a website that provides information and reviews on security products and services, added that no strategy or technology could reduce risk by 100%. “But since this is a crime of opportunity, if you make it harder to steal from you, thieves are going to choose a house or apartment with less resistance,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
“The most popular way people are preventing package theft isn’t through technology,” she added, “but through common sense: scheduling shipments when they are present in the home.”