Porch Pirates. It’s not funny

Porch pirates.

It’s a cute term, but there is nothing cute about massive retail theft that strikes up to 15% of all first-time delivery attempts in urban areas and accounts for — get this — 90,000 thefts daily in New York City, which is up 20% from four years ago. That’s 32 million a year, more than four thefts per city resident.

As Americans’ taste for online shopping — and home deliveries — has increased, so has the blatant thievery,  not even deterred by the presence of visible cameras on a growing number of homes. They’re on Candid Camera? They don’t care.

The all-American thief (Photo: Denver 7)

Some thieves are merely opportunistic and can’t resist the lure of something outside the front door of a home they are passing. Others brazenly ride in cars that follow UPS, or FedEx, or USPS trucks, and collect the parcels moments after the truck driver places them. Thefts explode at this time of year.

I was never a victim as a kid. Why? No porch. I grew in a tenement neighborhood that was sliding into slum status. There really weren’t many deliveries, and if one came, it would be accepted by a neighbor. And that was OK because you knew your neighbor.

Many years later, when I lived in a South Philly twin in the ‘90s, I trusted my next-door neighbor, a lovely elderly woman who had been born in Italy, to accept parcels. More often I would have  parcels held at the post office for me to pick up.

A little less convenient, but 100% certain.

You ever had your home burglarized?

That happened to me when I lived in a big house in Wynnefield in the late ‘60s. Some dumb thieves equated a big house with wealth. 

They got very little because there wasn’t much to get, but it upsets your sense of security. It is like being personally violated.

Having stuff stolen off your porch, or front steps, is just one step up from that. At least the stinking thief wasn’t inside your home, but there remains a sense of violation.

Let’s say the thieves ripped off something that was a present for someone else. You are out the present and there may not be time to replace it.

A dirty little secret: The actual size of the porch pirates’ take is much larger than we know. Most victims don’t report the crime because most online retailers will replace the stolen item. That keeps cops in the dark.

The Philadelphia Police Department does not keep records on porch theft, but it did offer figures on theft incidents containing “package” in the notes, and excluding retail theft. There were 1,902 such thefts last year, and 2,589 through Dec. 22. The department offers these suggestions to reduce the problem

  • Install motion detecting lights
  • If you’re not going to be home, have a neighbor keep an eye out or have packages delivered to a location where someone will be home
  • Require a signature for package delivery
  • Ask your employer if you can ship items to work
  • Consider using a package delivery lockbox.

Delivery companies are experimenting with local storage boxes, or even allowing delivery people to electronically open your door and place parcels inside.

That strikes me as particularly risky, but I am not particularly trusting. Are you?

17 thoughts on “Porch Pirates. It’s not funny”

  1. Had it happen recently to a graduate of HAVEN moving into her first apartment after years of being homeless. I ordered sheets and kitchen ware from Amazon and noted twice in the delivery instructions NOT to leave it on the stoop. They did. Poof. Gone. To their credit, Amazon replaced the items at no charge but our Veteran was naturally very upset.

  2. During the garbage strike in New York some years ago, some people gift-wrapped their garbage and left it on the back seat of their unlocked cars.
    Thieves stole the packages. At this time of year, it might be fun to fill a well-sealed box with week-old fish, gift wrap it and leave it on the porch for thieves. I had my company car stolen right outside the old Barnes mansion in Merion, where my wife was attending art class. Three days later the car turned up in a police impound lot, four flat tires, dents all over, food stains on the seats, and a smashed grille. Adding insult to injury, the thieves stole my bag of clean laundry from the trunk and left their dirty clothes.

    1. A TV reporter friend parked a car at Independence Mall with wrapped gifts visible inside and trained a hidden camera on the car. It did not take them long to have a report on thefts from park cats — in broad daylight.

  3. This is an excellent article. Identity theft and package theft are awful. I wish more of these crimes were reported to the police. I know they don’t or can’t act on them, but they need to be taken seriously by prosecutors and law enforcement.

    Another timely blog. I doubt that people consider “porch pirates” thieves, until it happens to them . This is another way of saying victimless crime. I wonder who came up with that nonsense ? Certainly, not the insurance company, or in most cases today, Amazon.

  5. Oddly, the only time I had a pkg stolen from our front steps was when we lived in the Jersey burbs…South Jersey’s so-called “premier community”.

    In Philly, due to reports of porch pirates, we bought a sturdy parcel lockbox which is bolted to the ground. USPS never uses it even though its clearly marked for parcels and we have asked them directly to use it.

    UPS, Amazon, etc all use it.

    1. HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
      It has been my experience that the carrier will use that box, unless instructed otherwise by the postmaster. Ask both the carrier and the post master.

      1. HAPPY MONDAY !!!
        Stu & Chava,
        Bad advice, my pallie. Go to the USPS website. Look up residential mail receptacle. In short, if your mail carrier wants to use the private unauthorized box, it’s usually up to the mail carrier. That’s why I said “ask”.

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