Some Methods to Defeat “Porch Pirates”

NOTE: This article isn’t really about privacy. However, it is about a related topic: reducing losses by theft, thereby increasing your personal security

Online merchants, such as Amazon, have become valuable resources for consumers worldwide. Thanks to online merchants, consumers now have a wider variety of products to choose than ever before. In most cases, all of us can also save money, time, and gasoline by online comparisons of various products offered by different merchants. Never again will I waste a Saturday morning driving from store to store looking for a particular replacement part for a broken dishwasher or looking for a special birthday gift for someone.

I use online shopping for almost everything I buy, other than fresh or frozen food items, and even that is changing as merchants create new ways to deliver our orders within hours instead of days.

However, nothing is ever perfect. The idea of leaving packages on a doorstep has created a new type of criminal, appropriately called “porch pirates.” These low-life individuals typically drive around a neighborhood looking for packages left on doorsteps by UPS, FedEx, Amazon, the mailman, or other delivery personnel. If the thieves spot packages, they quickly steal them, usually without knowing the contents.

While the FBI doesn’t keep nationwide statistics on the problem, 30 percent of Americans say they’ve experienced such theft, according to a survey by Xfinity Home, Comcast’s home security service.

Amazon has been especially creative at inventing new methods of foiling these “porch pirates.” Amazon offers electronic door locks for your front or rear door or for your automobile that (hopefully) can only be unlocked by authorized Amazon delivery personnel. The Amazon driver can then leave the package(s) inside your entryway or in your automobile.

I must admit that I do not care for Amazon’s solutions because:

  1. I am not comfortable with giving access to my home or automobile to anyone I do not know, not even an Amazon driver. Hopefully, the drivers are trustworthy, but I am not so sure about all their friends, relatives, or other acquaintances.
  2. I am not comfortable with the security of these newly-invented electronic locks. Can the electronic keys be duplicated or hacked? Can the locks be forced open in some manner?

As everyone gains more experience with these electronic locks, perhaps I will change my mind. For now, I just don’t trust them.

I believe I have found simple methods of discouraging porch pirates. My solutions are not perfect, but they should reduce the problem by 90% or so. I’ll settle for that although I still solicit suggestions for even better solutions.

Solution #1: Record a Video of the Crime

First, I purchased a Ring doorbell. These high-tech doorbells contain a video camera and a microphone. They connect to your in-home wi-fi network and will record videos of any person who approaches your front or back door. The videos are a great resource for police officers who later investigate the theft. Any court will love to see a video of the crime as it was committed! Unlike the grainy videos created by so-called security cameras of the past, today’s high-tech doorbells will even record high-definition full-color videos. If the doorbell is placed high enough, the high definition video will clearly show the culprit’s face in most cases.

Most of the high-tech doorbells even notify you immediately of an approaching visitor by a text message to your cell phone. You can even carry on a conversation with a delivery driver or simply tell an unknown individual to go away. This works even if you are thousands of miles away as long as your “smartphone” is turned on and communicating with a nearby cell tower.

Many “porch pirates” recognize high-tech doorbells when they see one. If they recognize it, many “porch pirates” will simply move on to another house in the area and leave your home and your packages alone. Unfortunately, some “pirates” will not recognize these doorbells and will steal your package(s) anyway.

Solution #2: Add a Sign

In an attempt to discourage all “porch pirates” and burglars, I posted a sign beside the front and back doors to make it obvious that high-tech security systems are in use at the house.

I suspect that most thieves will decide to go elsewhere. Of course, I am assuming that the potential thief can read!

Solution #3: Use a Package Delivery Box

I will suggest that the best way to keep roving “porch pirates” away is to simply keep the packages out of sight. Leaving newly-delivered packages in plain view on the doorstop is an open invitation to criminals.

I spent a few dollars (on Amazon, naturally!) and purchased an “Express Package Delivery Box.” This heavy duty plastic box remains outside the door at all times. Delivery drivers can be instructed to always place packages inside the box and replace the cover of the box. (This has the added benefit of keeping rain and snow off your packages.) Since the newly-delivered packages are not visible from the street, most “porch pirates” will simply drive by rather than risk being recorded when they can’t even be sure if the box has anything in it.

The Package Delivery Boxes are available in a variety of sizes and colors, allowing them to blend in with your house and shrubbery, if any. In my case, the delivery box fits nicely behind shrubbery that was previously planted about 18 inches in front of the house foundation. The shrubbery nicely hides the delivery box from anyone driving by on the street, but the delivery box becomes obvious when anyone walks up the walkway to the front door.

Solution #4. Change the Delivery Instructions

All vendors obviously must have your street address in order to ship something to your home. In most cases, there are two lines available for text of the address. In some cases, three lines may be available. I simply added another line to the address of any item I order. It now reads something like this:

My Name
123 Main Street
PLEASE LEAVE PACKAGE INSIDE THE DELIVERY BOX
Anytown, MyState, 12345

I have found that most delivery drivers will understand and follow the extra instructions. That’s MOST delivery drivers, not all. In the past 6 or 7 deliveries since I purchased the delivery box, only one driver has ignored the instructions on my deliveries even when the shipping label clearly stated “PLEASE LEAVE PACKAGE INSIDE THE DELIVERY BOX.” Again, that is not perfect but it still is a major improvement. I’ll settle for that. That leads to my final suggestion:

Solution #5: Post Another Sign

As a final (I hope) step, I ordered a sign that I placed on the side of the delivery box. It says: “PLEASE LEAVE PACKAGES & DELIVERIES HERE. THANK YOU.”

This sign should serve as an additional reminder for the delivery drivers. In the few days since I added the sign, the delivery drivers have done as asked 100% of the time. I will admit, however, that some delivery driver will someday choose to ignore it. I consider the use of a delivery box and a sign as a method of REDUCING the theft problems, not a means of eliminating the problems entirely. I’ll settle for a reduction in thefts.

Summation

I believe there is no perfect solution for “Porch Pirates,” other than perhaps building a new entryway onto the house that includes a trap door that allows for easy delivery of packages but makes it difficult to retrieve the packages through the same trap door. I am not prepared to do that, so I elected to use a high-tech doorbell, a delivery box, and an old-fashioned sign as the second-best solution.

Do you have further suggestions? If so, please feel free to add them in the comments section below this article.

4 thoughts on “Some Methods to Defeat “Porch Pirates”

  1. Our solution to this is a private mailbox we use for anything we don’t want stolen from our mail. Thieves aren’t only stealing packages, they steal letters, cards, items from your yard, etc too. Yes, you have to pay for it, (we pay 160 a year, because we really like who we are with…but there are cheaper options available around 100) but never once in 25 years have we had anything go missing. Well worth the cost. Consider it cheap insurance for peace of mind.

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  2. Perhaps a win-win is a delivery box with an Amazon lock and/or a lock that’s coded on the delivery day to something the driver has at hand (phone number, order number, shipping number , or zip +5) and a sign to that effect?

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  3. Dick, Have you reviewed the security features of the Ring or similar doorbells? I’m concerned about anything that connects to the house Wi-Fi. Thank you.

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    • I wrote a brief article about the Ring doorbell which is available at https://privacyblog.com/2019/01/10/amazon-owned-ring-has-reportedly-been-spying-on-customer-camera-feeds/

      I will say that I have a Ring doorbell on my front door and love it. I can see who comes to the front door without opening the door, even if I am thousands of miles away. I can even talk with (or shout at) the person at the front door.

      I had that happen a couple of weeks ago when I was in Bangkok, Thailand. My cell phone woke me up in the middle of the (Thailand) night because a UPS driver was at my front door in the U.S. (where it was the middle of the day). I asked the UPS driver to deliver the package to my neighbor, which he did.

      Best of all, the Ring doorbell records videos of every person who has been to the front door and saves the high resolution, full color videos in the cloud where they are available to me and, if I wish, I can make them visible to police, the neighbors, or anyone else. There are many stories about homeowners giving videos to the police of vandals, burglars, and “porch pirates,” both from their own homes and sometimes videos of criminals visiting their neighbors’ homes.

      There are many testimonials online about the Ring doorbell reducing crime in many neighborhoods. See https://duckduckgo.com/?q=%22Ring+doorbell%22+reduced+crime&t=hm&ia=web for some of those reports.

      As I walk around my neighborhood (which is NOT in a high-crime area), I see dozens of Ring doorbells beside front doors.

      Ring had a security issue as I described last month in the article at https://privacyblog.com/2019/01/10/amazon-owned-ring-has-reportedly-been-spying-on-customer-camera-feeds/ but that problem reportedly is now fixed.

      As to the wi-fi connection, my wi-fi network is heavily encrypted. My OUTGOING connection to the Internet is also encrypted with full-time VPN software running in the in-home router. (See https://privacyblog.com/2019/01/03/the-easiest-way-to-install-a-vpn/ for an article about the VPN router I use.) With all high-tech gadgets, no device is ever perfect but I keep my guard up and am not too concerned about anyone hacking in to the wi-fi network or the doorbell. I believe the risk is low if you are using a wi-fi network with encrypted connections (available in all wi-fi routers built in the past ten years or so).

      I would hate to be without my Ring doorbell!

      There. I guess I just wrote a review of the Ring doorbell!

      Like

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