As the holiday season kicks off, you may be eager to start your annual shopping spree. It’s tough to beat shopping for holiday gifts from home, especially with free shipping. You can score deals from your living room while enjoying your seasonal beverage of choice. It may seem like the perfect alternative to braving the crowds—until your packages start disappearing.
Almost 26 million Americans say they have experienced porch pirates—or people stealing packages from their front steps or porch—according to a 2017 InsuranceQuotes study. “Porch theft has increased as more people skip brick-and-mortar stores to shop online,” said Ashley Patrick, a former law enforcement officer and founder of Budgets Made Easy.
It may be nerve-wracking, but experts say there are ways to cut back on your risk. Here’s how to try and protect yourself from porch pirates—and what to do if a package is stolen from you.
Related: Safe online shopping tips
What are porch pirates?
The popularity and growth of online shopping is no secret. Over the past 20 years, e-commerce has grown nine times faster than traditional retail stores, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Most people have packages delivered to them on a regular basis, which provides opportunities for theft—or porch pirates.
“It affects all types of neighborhoods, including more affluent ones with little crime,” said Kela Ivonye, director of residential solutions at Luxer One, a nationwide package management and locker solutions company. In fact, a recent analysis from Shorr, a packing business in Illinois, found package theft is common in cities with concentrated wealth, like our country’s biggest tech hubs—San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Will Amazon, UPS or FedEx refund a stolen package?
Before submitting a claim for a stolen package, review your tracking information. If everything is accurate, take a closer look around the delivery area. You may also want to check with neighbors to see if they saved a package for you. Amazon, UPS and FedEx have a claims process for lost packages—but they don’t explicitly guarantee a refund. “Most shipping services have insurance or policies to replace or reimburse you for stolen items. Unfortunately, most of these protections end when a package is delivered,” said Patrick Campbell, founder and CEO of The Porch Pod, a package safe company in Birmingham, Alabama.
- Amazon’s A-to-z Guarantee may protect you from stolen packages fulfilled by third-party sellers. If you’re unhappy with the timing or condition of your package, you can report the problem. But you must tell them within 90 days after the delivery date. Their team will decide if you’re eligible for a refund. You can learn more about this policy here.
- UPS allows you to submit a claim if you don’t receive your package within 24 hours after the expected delivery. The company encourages the sender to submit a claim for stolen packages. To process the claim, they may need documentation like detailed package descriptions, invoices, receipts and tracking numbers. You can submit a claim here, and the process may take up to 10 days.
- FedEx makes it easy to file a claim for missing packages online, via fax or by mail with the shipment tracking number. You can sign up for notifications or log in to check on the status of your claim. You will have to file within nine months of the shipment date.
What can I do if a package is stolen?
When you’re dealing with theft, especially on your property, you may feel a range of strong emotions. It’s normal to feel defeated, angry or scared. But time is of the essence—and you’ll need to take action.
If a package disappears from your porch, you should contact your local police department or sheriff’s office immediately. “They may be able to gather enough information to recover your stolen items and prosecute the offenders—or, at the very least, know about package theft in the area,” said Campbell. You should also alert your neighbors about the theft. They can watch for porch pirates or see if any of their own packages are missing.
Next, you should contact the person or company who shipped the package. Some companies have policies for dealing with lost or stolen merchandise. They may be willing to replace your order at no extra charge to you. If the retailer isn’t willing to budge, contact the shipping company to see what they are willing to do.
Your next line of defense should be your credit card. Some banks offer purchase protection for stolen items, but you will need to double-check your cardholder agreement to see what qualifies.
How to protect against porch pirates
Being proactive is the key to stopping porch pirates from stealing your packages. Here are four ways to cut back on the stress of stolen deliveries before they occur.
1. Stay on top of packages through tracking.
After making a purchase, you can start tracking your package. Sign up for text or email alerts for up-to-date information on when the parcel will arrive. Once it’s dropped off, limit your exposure to theft by bringing it indoors. If you’re stuck at work, ask a neighbor or friend to pick up the delivery for you.
2. Send the package to your office or post office box.
If you’re ordering something valuable, Ivonye said it may be worthwhile to ship it to your office or a post office box. It’s less convenient, especially if you’re on foot or traveling by public transportation, but you won’t have to worry about thieves because you can accept the package in person.
3. Purchase a secure mailbox for deliveries.
Another way to thwart porch pirates is by purchasing a smart mailbox for deliveries. There are plenty of options to choose from, with a range of features, offered at all price levels. If worrying about stolen packages distracts you all day at work, it may be well worth the added expense.
4. Stay vigilant.
Participate in your local neighborhood watch. “Neighbors are likely to notice unusual activity and may be your best protection against package thieves,” said Campbell. You should always be on the lookout for suspicious activity.