In the days before Christmas, delivery trucks jam the streets, packages litter doorsteps and sometimes porch pirates and stoop surfers, as they have come to be known, pay unwelcome visits. 

It’s peak season for package theft, a problem that exists year-round. In 2017, one in 12 Americans had a package delivered to their homes stolen, according to a survey by InsuranceQuotes.

Do a video search of “porch pirates” and you’ll find lots of recent examples: a video with people stealing packages in Colorado Springs, Colo.; another showing woman making off with a package left at someone’s home in Jacksonville, Fla.; even one of a dancing porch pirate who, after doing his jig, steals a box in from a doorway in Washington, D.C. 

To catch these thieves and reduce the number of thefts, this month police in Jersey City, N.J., teamed up with Amazon and Ring, which makes internet-connected doorbells and cameras. They planted dummy packages with GPS tracking devices and doorbell cameras at homes. It took only 8 minutes for someone to take the bait, according to Ashley Manz, a spokeswoman at the mayor’s office in Jersey City.

More on holiday shopping

You don’t have to live in Jersey City to take a bite out of package-theft crime. Here’s how to protect your holiday deliveries. 

Let the Amazon courier drop off packages inside your home or car. If you shop on Amazon.com and are a Prime customer in select areas, you can sign up for Amazon Key, a service in which you authorize an Amazon delivery driver to access your home. You’ll need to purchase a kit, currently around $250 on Amazon, that includes a smart lock and an indoor security camera, so you can keep an eye on your home and record activity.

You can also authorize delivery of certain items to your car trunk as long as you are a Prime member and your car is located in a supported area. The service is free and works for cars model year 2015 and newer. It also works with OnStar-equipped Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles and Volvo On Call-equipped Volvo vehicles, with an active connected car service plan. No extra device or hardware is needed. The car, of course, needs to be located in an area that is easily accessible to the delivery driver.


Visit Consumer Reports’ 2018 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.
 

Use internet-enabled security cameras. You can install them inside and outside your home, watch your property from anywhere and record any activity. If the cameras are visible, they might deter thieves from stealing your deliveries in the first place. Such services are available from a number of companies, including ADT, Xfinity Home, Ring Doorbell, and Nest. 

Have packages delivered to a lockbox or an Amazon Locker. Instead of having deliveries left unsecured at your front door, you can have them delivered into a lockbox on your property. Landport, for example, makes lockboxes that can be opened using an access code you give to the deliveryperson (see section below on giving special instructions). The box locks automatically after something is placed inside. (You can change the code after the delivery.) Lockboxes from Landport cost about $500 to $800, depending on size. 

An alternative: Purchases made on Amazon.com can be delivered to an Amazon Locker—there are more than 2,800 of them in about 70 cities and towns, including at some Whole Foods markets. When you check out on Amazon.com, you add a locker location as the delivery address. Once your package is delivered, you’ll receive an email with a six-digit code to your locker, and you’ll have three days to pick it up. There is no charge for this service.

Give special instructions to the package delivery service. Some services let you indicate where to leave your package if you’re not home. Using UPS’ My Choice tool, or Delivery Manager from FedEx, you can instruct drivers to leave a package at a back door, with a building superintendent, in a coded lockbox, or with neighbors.

You also can have deliveries diverted to another address—maybe your neighbor’s—or placed on hold if you’re on vacation. UPS provides a list of local partner merchants, such as UPS stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, that have agreed to accept deliveries on their customers’ behalf.

Another option is to have items sent to a retailer’s walk-in store for pickup, which may help you save on shipping fees. 

Many but not all of these services are free. UPS, for example, charges $5 if you make an online request to redirect a package to a different location.

Sign up for alerts. Some carriers offer text or email alerts so that you know when a delivery will be made and can adjust your own schedule accordingly.

The U.S. Postal Service, for instance, recently started offering a service called Informed Delivery. Once you’ve filled in your address and other information, you can digitally preview images of your mail and its location without entering tracking numbers. That way you can be sure to be at home if something important is arriving.

You can also sign up for text or email notifications through services such as FedEx and UPS, schedule delivery alerts, and request redelivery.

Another way to make sure you packages stay safe: Ask retailers to require a signature to make a delivery so that packages aren’t simply dropped off outside your house.  

If Your Package Is Stolen

FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service say they don’t cover thefts of delivered shipments.

“If UPS has completed the delivery, which includes driver-released deliveries to residences, UPS is not automatically responsible to reimburse the cost of the shipment,” says Matthew O’Connor, a UPS spokesman.

If your package goes missing, there are some steps you should take.

Verify that the package was delivered. Call the shipping company to make sure the item was left at your house or apartment and wasn’t taken on your behalf by someone, such as a well-meaning neighbor or building superintendent. If the package or its contents were stolen or otherwise lost while in the shipping company’s possession, you may be entitled to compensation. Most packages sent by UPS, for instance, are automatically covered for up to $100 in case of loss or damage.

Contact the retailer. Retailers have different policies on how to handle theft of packages. Some, such as Target, have fine-print clauses saying the risk of loss passes to the buyer when the purchase is delivered to the shipping company. Still, a Target spokesman, Eddie Baeb, encourages customers to call if a package is lost or stolen. “We handle such situations on a case-by-case basis and try to come up with a solution for each guest,” he says.

Contact the shipping company. Shippers often require the sender, not the recipient, to initiate a claim. If the retailer won’t cooperate, contact the shipper as soon as possible. You have a limited number of days to file a claim.

Check your credit card benefits. Many credit cards have purchase protection that covers lost or stolen items. If your purchase was made with a credit card, make a claim with the issuer, advises Daniel Blinn, managing attorney with the Consumer Law Group in Rocky Hill, Conn. If that doesn’t work, Blinn advises requesting a chargeback from your credit card company.

Check your insurance. As a last resort, you may be able to collect from your homeowners or renters insurance. But those policies usually have deductibles of $500 to $1,000 or more, so depending on the value of the contents in the package, your insurance may not be helpful.

Call the police. It’s a good idea to do this quickly. You’ll probably need a police report if you’re making a claim with a retailer, a shipper, a credit card company, or an insurance company.