2023 Holiday Shopping: Porch Pirates Insurance Guide
By Michael Giusti
As the holidays approach, families gear up for a wave of online shopping. And as they browse for the perfect gifts, an army of would-be pirates are eyeing front porches across the nation, looking for easy opportunities to swipe freshly delivered packages.
From small cardboard boxes to pallets of furniture, porch piracy is a reality that online shoppers must contend with, especially during the holiday season.
So in the spirit of consumer awareness, each year InsuranceQuotes.com partners with research firm SSRS to create its annual Porch Pirates & Holiday Shopping Report.
This year’s survey shows that 24% of Americans say they have had a delivered package stolen from their porch or doorstep. People living in the Northeast reported the most theft this year, with 28% of people reporting a pilfered package, with the Midwest showing the least amount of theft — with only 17% of people in that region responding yes to the survey prompt.
Population density can play a role in package theft, with homes in urban and suburban areas often reporting more theft than more rural communities. But that isn’t a hard and fast rule.
So, wherever a family lives, they would do well to plan to protect their deliveries, which may often include Taylor Swift merchandise; according to our survey, 9% of respondents said they plan to buy at least one Taylor Swift-related gift this holiday season, and that includes one in 10 male respondents.
So, to paraphrase Taylor Swift, pirates who swipe peoples’ deliveries will soon find out that stealing other people’s toys won’t make them many friends.
Facts of Package Theft
As soon as someone decided to invent a mailbox as a place to leave deliveries, package theft was born, said Steve Howard, director of World Parcel Alliance. “And now that most deliveries are just left out in the open, it is even worse,” Howard said.
“Package theft has escalated to an alarming level in recent years,” said Steve Rivera, partner and national private client practice leader for The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers.
Part of the temptation for package thieves is the endless possibilities wrapped up in that little box.
“The thief doesn’t know what’s in there,” Howard said. “It could be a little $3 trinket from Temu or a $3,000 tennis bracelet. But it all comes in the same box, so nobody knows.”
And theft isn’t limited to small packages.
“It can be anything,” Howard said. “Even with something huge – say a sofa set. It has five boxes, but the customer doesn’t want to pay for the white glove shipping and just opts for the cheapest delivery, so the shipper gets it to what we call the ‘first dry.’ They leave it under the eve or on a porch.”
Howard said that while a dry location protects the delivery from the weather, it doesn’t do anything to prevent a theft.
“Theft of big pieces doesn’t happen so much, but it does happen,” Howard said.
All of this is especially relevant this time of year because, according to the latest survey, 59% of respondents say that this year, all or most of their holiday shopping will be done via online delivery, which is up from 40% of respondents in 2021.
Unsurprisingly, 70 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds plan to do most of their shopping online. Higher ends of the income spectrum responded yes more often than lower income levels.
And the stakes seem to be getting a little higher this year, with 18% of respondents saying that this year, they are spending more than ever on holiday shopping.
That was especially true for Gen Z (18- to 29-year-olds), as 30% responded yes.
Some of this higher spend could be due to inflation, with the BLS saying inflation is up 3.7% year over year at its last reading. But still, inflation can’t account for all of the increase.
Social media influencers are driving some of the spending choices, with 37% of respondents saying that this year, for their holiday shopping, they are buying at least one item they saw promoted on social media.
Those respondents aged 18 to 29 were more likely to say social media drove their choices, with 46% responding yes, with those 65 or older only saying social media would drive their choices 24% of the time.
With porch pirates out in force, shippers and security experts say a few common sense measures can at least cut out some of the opportunistic thefts.
According to FedEx spokeswoman Allie Addoms, keeping track of where the delivery is and giving the shipper information about where to leave it goes a long way.
“The FedEx Delivery Manager provides customers updates on the status of their package(s) via text and/or email so customers can track their package every step of the way,” Addoms said.
If homeowners know they are going to be away from home for an extended time, using those shippers’ apps to place vacation holds or choose a specific delivery day can help avoid having a package on the porch for an extended period of time.
“The technology now is so much better than when we started in the early 2000s,” Howard said. “Back then there was no tech. It was just ‘take my word that I dropped it off.’ Now the technology is way better.”
Most shippers now can tell the homeowner not just where the package is and when it was delivered, they can send a photo proving that it was successfully dropped off. Those photos are handy to help homeowners know where the package was left, but it might not be a deterrent to a pirate.
“The pic of the item doesn’t stop someone from stealing it. It just proves it got there,” Howard said.
The ubiquitous doorbell cameras help in a similar way. Having video of where the package went won’t necessarily prevent theft, but it does give answers.
Many shippers are turning to a bit of a lower-tech solution in areas with high levels of package theft — drop off lockers. Howard predicts that most communal areas, such as apartment buildings and condos will soon have drop off lockers installed.
But today’s lockers are advancing in their technological abilities, Howard said.
One feature the new generation of lockers have is that they will not only hand off the package, but they can also help the homeowner with things like returns, automatically measuring the dimensions and printing the return labels.
In communities without package lockers, some retailers and big box stores volunteer to serve as drop off locations. Some police departments have even volunteered to accept packages on behalf of their residents.
At a private home, one of the trends that is emerging is a smart garage door opener.
These networked garage door openers can connect with the shipper’s networks and allow the driver one-time remote access to leave the package inside the safety of the locked garage.
“The driver gets a one-time code. The garage door opens. He delivers it, takes a picture, and then you get the notification from the garage door that it is closed and then you get proof of delivery,” Howard said.
Companies even sell personal drop off lockers for homeowner’s front porches. They can be temporary ones secured to something like a closed door, or more permanent built-in ones. Some even come insulated, so grocery deliveries can be left without the ice cream melting on the front porch.
But even without a locker, giving the driver a pro-tip for where to leave it — like along the side door or behind a bush — can go a long way to prevent a thief from seeing the package in the wide open.
Beyond finding ways to secure a package, a good way to avoid package theft is to avoid having something shipped in the first place.
In the survey, 54% of respondents said that this year, for their holiday shopping, they are more likely to buy from a local business. That would let them pick it up and bring it home themselves, rather than have it sit on the porch. 60% of respondents 65 and older said they will be opting for local businesses, compared with 48% of people 18 to 29.
And some gifts don’t come with a package at all. This year, 28% say that for their holiday shopping, they are buying at least one experiential gift (like travel, concert, or a sports event) — a great way to meet that Taylor Swift fix.
Some of the bias toward experiential gifts comes from the ongoing post-COVID trend of trying to maximize “IRL” experiences — those in real life.
The demographic most jazzed about experiential gifts are those aged 30-49, with 39% responding yes to this question. Higher incomes said yes more often, with 39% of people with incomes over $100,000 saying they are likely to opt for experiential gifts, but that falls to 22% of people earning $50,000 to $75,000.
After the Theft
If the worst happens, and a pirate strikes, the first thing to do for the homeowner is to ensure the package was actually stolen in the first place.
It is important to look around carefully to ensure the driver didn’t just pick an especially clever hiding spot. Photos on the delivery app are especially helpful here. Homeowners should also ask family and neighbors to ensure someone wasn’t being helpful and moved the package to a safer spot.
But, if it was, in fact, stolen, the next move is to contact the company that sold the item.
Unfortunately, if the package had proof of successful delivery to the customer’s door, the seller and the shipper have both done their duty even if it was stolen, and technically the homeowner is now on the hook for the theft.
But that doesn’t mean hope is lost. Many sellers will go ahead and send a replacement even though they don’t have to as a way of promoting good will and good public relations.
If all else fails, that is when the authorities should get involved.
“Customers should report the theft to the relevant parties and file a police report,” Rivera said.
Police report in hand, a few insurance products may come in handy to help soften the loss.
The first would be to check if the shipper or the store offered package protection. This is the best option for something with a smaller value.
Some homeowners’ policies offer a specific package theft endorsement to step in here.
But absent a package theft endorsement, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance can still be useful for more valuable things, such as jewelry, electronics, or collectibles — after the deductible.
That homeowner’s policy deductible is important, because if the homeowner had a $500 or $1,000 deductible, there might not be much coverage left even if it was something like a TV or game system.
Rivera does say to make sure filing a claim is worth it before taking the homeowner’s route.
“Multiple claims can impact your future premiums,” Rivera said.
One option many people neglect to pursue is the protection offered from a premium credit card used to buy the item. That is because some premium credit cards will protect the purchase in transit and for a set number of days after purchase. These protection plans don’t have the repercussions or deductibles that a homeowner’s policy would.
“By understanding the magnitude of the problem, customers can better appreciate the importance of securing appropriate coverage to safeguard their financial well-being in the face of this evolving risk,” Rivera said.
Experiential Gift Insurance
The resale price for an Eras Tour concert ticket is running well over $1,000, so protecting that dream gift also makes sense. The policy that would kick in here would be a travel insurance plan.
Travel insurance is meant to pay for non-refundable portions of a trip that are canceled for reasons beyond the travelers’ control. This could be things like natural disaster, illness, or a job layoff.
Travel policies cover both the cancellation/ interruption portion of the trip, and they also offer some health benefits.
Pricier options for travel insurance allow the traveler to cancel regardless of what caused it, called cancel for any reason policies.
Before opting for a travel policy, it is important to ensure all aspects are needed and covered. Check the language of the policy to see if that third-party concert ticket would be covered in the first place. Airlines and hotels also often have generous cancellation policies, meaning insuring them might not be cost effective. That said, home rental sites, such as Airbnb may not have as favorable a cancellation policy. So, deciding if the cancellation portion is worth it isn’t cut and dried for every case.
The health portion may make the most sense if the experience takes the travelers outside their home health insurance network — especially if that trip involves overseas travel.
They can cover costs associated with illness. But more importantly if the experience involves some adventure travel, they can also pay for care after an injury.
Fighting the Pirates
As Taylor Swift might say, nobody likes a Porch Pirate’s perfect crime. But that doesn’t mean crooks are going to stop stealing things.
“People are always going to find a way to game the system,” Howard said.
Howard said that there are some communities where porch theft has become endemic, and it just isn’t reliable to leave a package on the front step. In those cases, he said it is going to be inevitable that the shippers turn more and more toward secure lockers.
“You may have to go pick up your package, but at least you got your package,” Howard said.
For everyone else, the best thing to do would be to take good, reasonable measures at home. And make sure they have the best insurance options as a backup.
Summary of Key Findings
- 24% of Americans say they have had a delivered package stolen from their porch or doorstep
- 59% say that, this year, all or most of their holiday shopping will be done via online delivery
- 18% say that, this year, they are spending more than ever on holiday shopping
- 28% say that, this year, for their holiday shopping, they are buying at least one experiential gift (like travel, concert or a sports event).
- 37% say that, this year, for their holiday shopping, they are buying at least one item they saw promoted on social media.
- 54% say that, this year, for their holiday shopping, they are more likely to buy from a local business.
- 9% (so about 1 in 10 people surveyed) say that, this holiday season, they are buying at least one Taylor Swift-related gift (like tickets, merchandise, clothing, etc.).
This study was conducted by SSRS on its Opinion Panel Omnibus platform. The SSRS Opinion Panel Omnibus is a national, twice-per-month, probability-based survey. Data collection was conducted from October 20 – October 23, 2023 among a sample of 1,007 respondents. The survey was conducted via web (n=977) and telephone (n=30) and administered in English. The margin of error for total respondents is +/-3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All SSRS Opinion Panel Omnibus data are weighted to represent the target population of U.S. adults ages 18 or older.