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2021 Porch Pirates: A Study on Stolen Holiday Packages

By Michael Giusti

This holiday season, the pirates are going to be more likely to be wearing sneakers than a tricorn hat because, unfortunately, piracy has increasingly moved from the high seas to a front porch near you.

According to the 2021 Porch Pirate annual survey by InsuranceQuotes.com and SSRS Omnibus, porch piracy is on the rise, despite the constant efforts by homeowners, sellers, and shippers to combat the package thievery.

According to this year’s results, two thirds more Americans say they have had a delivered package stolen from their porch or doorstep than had last year. That is a full 30% of respondents, up from 18% last year.

And more than twice as many respondents (15%) say they have had a delivered package stolen from their porch or doorstep since March 2020, i.e. since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is up from the 7% who responded “yes” last year. That is significant because those packages were being stolen largely during lockdowns, with residents most likely to be home when they were originally delivered.

These numbers show that porch piracy is real and more than just viral web videos or scary doorbell camera videos shared on a neighborhood chat site.

What Else is Being Stolen from Your Porch?

Pre-pandemic, grocery industry insiders agreed that while grocery delivery held potential for future growth, they imagined a sleepy and gradual ascent. Those analysts generally agreed that grocery delivery would be slow to take off because people were hesitant to let someone else pick out their produce, and the typical consumer couldn’t justify paying a fee for something they didn’t see as a huge burden.

Enter COVID-19. All of a sudden, simply stepping into the grocery store presented a risk, and people quickly bought in to grocery delivery. Insider Intelligence projects that between 55% and 66% of consumers will have tried grocery delivery by 2024, depending on how the end of the pandemic plays out. That translates to about $24 billion in groceries delivered just in 2020.

Sadly, the porch pirates have also caught on.

According to this year’s survey, 10% of respondents say they have had a delivered grocery or meal stolen from their porch or doorstep.

And with today’s growing inflation, losing a steak to a pirate is especially infuriating.

Holiday Woes of Package Thieves

With the holidays rapidly arriving, gifts are going to have to navigate the pirate-infested porches as well.

According to this year’s study, 40% of respondents say that, this year, all or most of their holiday shopping will be done via online delivery.

And those deliveries will come with some stress, because according to this year’s survey, 41% of respondents say that delivered packages left unattended on their porch or doorstep give them anxiety that the packages could be stolen.

With the growing supply chain bottlenecks, that anxiety comes with good reason. Nearly 100 container vessels were waiting to unload off Southern California ports at last count – so if a pirate makes off with junior’s gift, a replacement won’t likely arrive quickly enough for holiday festivities.

Fighting Back Against Porch Pirates

Online shoppers have been increasingly discontent as they face the trend of porch piracy.

According to our survey, 72% of respondents believe that those convicted of stealing packages from porches should serve jail time.

And depending on where that theft happens, jail time is a real possibility.

Penalties differ by state, and again by the value of what they steal, but there is a national trend to stiffen those penalties.

For example, a theft of something under $500 could be a misdemeanor with a resulting one-year jail term and/or a $2,500 fine, but if the stolen item’s value was north of $10,000, it may become a felony with up to five years in prison

If someone enters a property for the theft, like in a sunroom or an enclosed patio, it could become burglary – increasing the penalty to seven years in prison, and if the package spent any time in the U.S. mail, that may also bring federal mail theft charges as well.

And many states from California to Arkansas are working on further increasing porch piracy to an automatic felony, meaning increasingly stiff consequences for pillaging a package.

What Can You Do: Analyzing the Risks

The sheer number of packages being left on stoops across the country represent juicy targets for thieves. But at the same time, the sellers and shippers have a strong motivation to avoid the pirates. 

So, it becomes a bit of a race to gain the advantage.

For their part, the carriers — Amazon, UPS, USPS, FedEx, DHL, and the rest — have active strategies to make sure the delivery is completed successfully.

Whether it is tucking the package behind a bush, or behind a potted plant or a column, drivers have gotten savvy about where to put the package so a passerby doesn’t see it easily.

Others are taking further action.

In some cases, homeowners are installing locks, such as the Amazon Lock, that allow the driver to punch in a one-time code and open the door to leave the package in the safety of the home.

Other businesses are selling lockable boxes that homeowners can use.

Some are temporary — they can be fastened to the door or the wall when the driver is on the way, and then they can be easily folded up and removed after the package is safely inside. Others are larger, more fixed boxes that sit permanently on the porch, with a pad lock or key pad allowing the driver to secure the package. Some are even insulated so groceries don’t melt before they make it to the freezer.

How to Prevent Package Thefts

The bad news for consumers is that if a package was successfully delivered to a doorstep or a mailbox, it is now your problem. The seller and the shipper both did their jobs, and any loss is legally yours.

Many large retailers will play nice if you report the loss to them, but they aren’t strictly required to give you a refund or a replacement if a pirate pilfers your package.

So, knowing the risk is yours, a few steps can make a big difference in keeping packages away from pirates.

First, most of the carriers encourage shoppers to sign up for real-time text alerts or app push notifications to let them know that the package is a few stops away, and another notice the moment it is dropped at the doorstep.

Another option is to ship the package to another location. Some people can send it to their workplace or the home of a family member of friend who will certainly be home when it is delivered.

Each of the carriers also offer the option of having the package shipped to retail locations, such as neighborhood drug stores, where you can go sign for it later.

Some cities even volunteer their police departments to sign for packages — a pretty strong deterrent to a potential thief. 

Amazon offers lock boxes where consumers can pick up the package by entering a code that was sent to them.

And even if someone prefers having the package delivered to their home, homeowners can help out by leaving special instructions for their drivers to put the package in the best place, such as in a carport or along a side entrance. Another option for homeowners who live in eligible areas can have their Amazon packages delivered securely into their garage while away from home. The Amazon Key Service allows customers to give specific garage key code instructions to your Amazon delivery driver to place your package, send a video receipt, and safely lock your garage back up. This particular service (where available) adds an extra layer of protection to insure your holiday packages will not be stolen.

If the delivery contains a high-dollar item, purchasing insurance on it makes a lot of sense. Extremely valuable items will be covered by homeowners’ insurance — subject to a deductible, of course. And many credit cards offer insurance automatically as a perk of using the card.

While they won’t prevent the theft, security cameras can be handy for investigators after the fact.

And worst case, think about requiring a signature for the delivery so the driver won’t leave it unless you are there to sign for it, but know what baggage that comes with, specifically, missing the driver and having to drive out to the carrier’s retail counter to get your package.

What to Do if Your Package is Stolen

So, what happens if your carrier says the package is delivered, but it isn’t on your front step?

The first step is to track the package, and verify you gave them the correct address. A surprising number of lost packages are actually sent by accident to a relative’s house – say if you sent a gift to your aunt earlier this week, but you forgot to set the default shipping back to your house.

Next, contact the shipper to see if there is a picture or other proof of delivery. Often the driver may have tucked the package away in such a clever spot you just can’t find it. Other times, you may look at the photo of the “delivered” package and you may recognize your neighbor’s door mat instead.

Also make sure to ask family members and neighbors, who may have offered a “helpful” hand and brought your package inside to avoid that pirate, but who forgot to tell you.

If you have a doorbell or security camera, this would be a good time to check the footage. It can also be a good idea to ask if your neighbor has footage — often the angle from their porch is enough to unravel the mystery of the missing package.

If you are pretty sure the package is gone, contact the seller. They aren’t required to replace the item if it was “successfully” delivered, but many often do as a way of maintaining good will and a good reputation.

Next would be to file a claim with the shipping company. Again, if the package was left at your door, they aren’t liable, but the paper trail may help later.

Make sure to report the theft to the police. Even if they don’t have much chance at tracking it down, they may see a bigger pattern that may warrant deeper investigation. Some police forces have sent out units for sting operations to catch pirates in the act.

If the loss was a high-value item, claim it on your homeowners’ insurance. But know that it has to be bigger than your deductible.

Conclusion: Holiday Package Theft in 2021

Few feelings are more disheartening than realizing someone has stolen your long-awaited delivery. Porch Piracy is on the rise, and with the holiday shopping season, more danger is on the horizon.

There are more than a few effective ways to combat it, and a handful of ways to make it right if you are struck by a thief.

But as porch pirates get better, shippers, homeowners, and delivery services will continue to wage their part of the battle to keep the pirates at bay.

Does Home Insurance Cover Stolen Packages?

If you become victim to a porch pirate, you may be wondering if your home insurance will cover the theft of your stolen packages. It usually depends on the policy you have on your home and how they cover theft. However, before contacting your insurer – the bigger question will be is the stolen package worth the cost of your homeowner insurance deductible? If the value of the lost items is not larger than your deductible, it may not be worth making a claim. Your best bet is to prevent package theft before they can happen.

Where Does Our Data Come From

This study was conducted for insuranceQuotes via telephone by SSRS on its Omnibus survey platform. The SSRS Omnibus is a national, weekly, dual-frame bilingual telephone survey. Interviews were conducted from October 19 – October 24, 2021 among a sample of 1,009 respondents in English (974) and Spanish (35). Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (203) and cell phone (806, including 531 without a landline phone). The margin of error for total respondents is +/-3.69% at the 95% confidence level.  All SSRS Omnibus data are weighted to represent the target population.