8 Ways to Stop Package Thieves in Their Tracks

Buying things online is great — until some unscrupulous scoundrel steals your package right off your porch. Here's how to foil them.

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Let’s not call package thieves “porch pirates.” That cutesy name sounds like it belongs in a Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown mystery, and, honestly, people who steal everything from vital medicine to wedding gowns from innocent victims don’t deserve a fond-sounding term.

The No. 1 way to avoid having packages stolen is clear: Don’t buy online or via the mail. Instead, hark back to ye olde days of just a few years ago, when shoppers actually went to physical stores. For many of us, though, the lure of online shopping is too irresistible. Whether it’s a hard-to-find book from Amazon, a hand-crafted shirt from Etsy, or that vintage copy of The Beatles’ “White Album” from eBay, there are items that we just can’t purchase anywhere else.

It’s tough to completely foil porch robberies, but here’s a pack of practical ideas, from good ol’ neighborly assistance to more technologically advanced options.

1. Have packages sent to work

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Here’s the obvious one: Many of us spend prime package-delivery hours miles from our home, in an office building or other business. So when possible, have a package sent to where you are instead of where you’re not. Not all bosses are thrilled with employees having packages delivered to work — I’ve had those who didn’t care one bit, and those who treated the office mailroom like Fort Knox — but if yours is more laid-back, this could work. Best for smallish packages, especially if you walk or take transit.

2. Use an Amazon locker — or consider Amazon Key

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Face it, many of the packages landing on our porch these days come from Amazon. And the company is working to solve the package-theft problem with various tech innovations. Amazon Key involves buying a kit that includes a security camera and then allowing delivery drivers to unlock your door and leave the package inside. For various reasons — including trust and privacy issues and escape-prone pets — this isn’t an easy sell with everyone. I can’t imagine going for it.

But Amazon Lockers are a smart option. They’re secure, self-service kiosks that will accept delivery of your package and let you come pick it up day or night. In my neighborhood, there’s one at a grocery store and another at a 7-Eleven. But I live in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle. For my sister, who lives in a Wisconsin college town, there are simply no Amazon Lockers within a half-hour drive. Even if she wanted to give it the old college try, she’d fail. Search here to find your closest Amazon Locker.

3. Enlist a neighbor

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Some of us lucked out and landed great neighbors, those who trade off shoveling the sidewalk, feed the fish when we’re out of town and bring chicken soup when we’re sick. But other neighbors are a nightmare — think “Bewitched’s” nosy Gladys Kravitz come to life. Should you luck into the first kind of neighbor, consider asking them to take in your deliveries for you when you’re not at home. Pay them back with home-baked cookies or the occasional cat-sitting weekend when they’re out of town.

4. Install security cameras

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Security cameras, of course, can’t stop a theft. But they can record evidence of one, which might help the police catch the criminals after they’ve already taken off with your goods. In a particularly karma-esque incident recently, one Seattle-area thief broke her ankle fleeing a package-theft scene. Her partner still snatched the goods, but thanks to the video, the culprits were later caught. A visible security camera can sometimes be all it takes to deter a crook, who might decide to look for easier pickings down the block. (Fake cameras, of course, will do the same thing. But if the thief calls your bluff, you won’t have their crime caught on tape.)

5. Use vacation hold if you’ll be gone

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Maybe you work from home and have managed to safely handle all your package deliveries so far. That’s all well and good, until you head off on that well-deserved vacation. Even if you haven’t ordered any packages to arrive while you’re gone, gifts or delayed orders could sneak up on you. Take the burden off your helpful neighbor and have your mail and packages held for you at the post office until you get back.

6. Consider a post office box

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Speaking of picking mail up at the post office, there’s always that old standby, a post office box. Sure, they look small, but packages too large to fit are held for you behind the counter, while a pickup slip is put in the box to let you know you have a box waiting. Some companies won’t deliver packages to an address that’s simply a P.O. box number. But this isn’t necessarily a problem anymore. The U.S. Postal Service now offers customers at more than 6,400 post offices the option of using a P.B.S.A., or P.O. Box Street Address. You can also rent a similar private mailbox at the UPS Store.

7. Install a video doorbell

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Video smart doorbells, such as Ring, let you see who’s at your door even when you’re not at home. They utilize motion detectors, video cameras and Wi-Fi to act as a visual peephole, buzzing your phone or other device when someone’s at your door. Now, that won’t completely stop a thief, but it will let you know if a long-awaited package has been delivered, so you can head on home to get it, as well as provide you with a recording, like the security cameras mentioned above, of all action near your front door.

8. Buy or make a lock box

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Maybe you’re a do-it-yourselfer who’d rather skip phone-connected gadgets. Depending on the layout of your porch or front stoop, you might be able to build your own package-protector. A device as small as a fishing-tackle box or as large as a small shed can be chained and padlocked to a post. If you’re expecting a package, you leave the lock open with instructions to the delivery person to lock it once they’ve placed your package inside. If DIY is not your bag, there are plenty of these lock boxes available for purchase. There’s also something in the works called BoxLock, a fancy internet-connected padlock that isn’t expected to be sold until August. Delivery drivers use it to scan a package that you’re expecting, and it then pops open so they can unlock your provided storage box.

Have you had packages stolen off your doorstep? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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