Last January, Tim Zurbey posted on Facebook a photo of an Amazon box left ripped open and empty on his northeast Minneapolis front steps, evidence of holiday-season porch pirates who took his handheld vacuum.
A couple of months ago, another package containing a $200 pair of work boots was swiped from the front of his home. Now Zurbey directs deliveries to his mother-in-law’s house, where he said there’s a better chance someone will be home when the box is dropped off.
Stoop thieves typically are most active in the days after Cyber Monday and leading up to Christmas, when tons of packages are delivered.
According to a 2017 study by insuranceQuotes, 26 million Americans — about 8 percent of the population — reported having a holiday package stolen from their porch or doorstep. That was up from the 23.5 million who said they’d been a victim of package theft in a similar study in 2015.
“It’s an incredible crime of opportunity,” said Sgt. David Venne with the Edina police. “Online shopping is convenient but unfortunately convenient for the thieves, too.”
The bandits hope for big-ticket items like electronics or jewelry, which are typically top sellers on Cyber Monday and likely to end up on doorsteps this week.
That’s why delivery companies and law enforcement agencies are ramping up awareness campaigns encouraging people to take precautions to limit the chances for theft.
Picking up a package anywhere but on your own doorstep may cut into the expedience of online shopping.
But St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said it’s often worth it.
“We are at the peak time for it now,” he said. “In previous years, we’ve seen it continue through Christmas.”
Thanks to awareness campaigns and advice from delivery companies, people have been getting smarter about sending packages to secure locations, law enforcement officials said. More homeowners also have installed surveillance cameras near their front doors.
Cameras might not always scare off bandits, Linders said, but footage can be used to find the culprits and alert neighbors who to look out for.
“A vigilant neighborhood is an incredible deterrent for thieves,” Venne said. He recommends watching for slow-moving vehicles passing though, particularly if they are following delivery vehicles.
“We want people to contact us if they see anything suspicious or if they are a victim of theft,” he said.
Though Edina police haven’t received any reports of package theft so far this year, the department has increased neighborhood patrols.
“Knock on wood, we just haven’t seen package theft this year like we did last year,” Venne said. A year ago, he said, officers were finding abandoned boxes several blocks from where they’d been stolen.
Columbia Heights police also haven’t seen the surge in reports like they did this time last year, though Capt. Matt Markham said it’s still early in the holiday delivery season and thefts could pick up in coming days.
“This is the week it usually kicks off,” Markham said. “We are trying to be proactive.”
In recent years, some police departments have planted GPS devices in bait boxes and placed them in neighborhoods that have had reports of pilfered packages.
After the holidays, Linders said people should be thinking about the discarded boxes they leave outside their homes for recycling — especially those that came with new gadgets and electronics. Placing used boxes in the recycling bin may be an invitation for burglars to explore what’s inside the house.
“You don’t want to advertise what you got for Christmas because it could be an advertisement for a thief,” Linders said. He recommends using other dumpsters for recycling, like those placed near the western district police headquarters in St. Paul.
For Zurbey, having his deliveries sent to a relative’s house has worked so far. But he admitted that having two packages purloined from his own porch still feels like a violation.
“It made me … more frustrated that I can’t trust people,” he said.
Outsmarting package pirates
Delivery companies and police officers say there are ways to ensure you receive the merchandise you paid for while shopping online. Here are some tips they offer:
• Have the package delivered to an alternative location, such as your workplace, or to a family member or neighbor who is home during the day.
• Require a signature at the time of delivery.
• Customize delivery instructions, such as requesting a knock on the door or a ring of the doorbell when a package is dropped off, or specifying a specific location to leave a package.
• Request a vacation hold on all shipments when you are out of town.
• Choose the “Hold for pickup” option and have packages directed to a local post office or FedEx location, where you can pick them up at your convenience.
• If your package is coming from Amazon, have it sent to an Amazon Locker, which you can access with a pickup code.
• Take advantage of in-store pickup, when available, for online orders.