What Is a Porch Pirate?
It’s happened to so many people. You order a pair of shoes, a new phone, or the latest headphones. While you’re at work, you get a notification saying it’s delivered. But by the time you get home, your package is gone. And now you’re mad. Beyond the material cost of the item that was stolen, you feel that your sense of security has been violated and the world is a little less safe. You are the unfortunate victim of so-called porch pirates. But what is a porch pirate? And how can you catch them?
The Problem of Porch Piracy
If you haven’t heard the term before, “porch pirates” are thieves who steal unattended packages from unsupervised front doors, apartment mailrooms, and business lobbies. It’s an annoyingly common crime, especially when online shopping is booming.
According to a 2021 survey from Finder, about 14% of Americans—or 35.5 million people—have been victims of porch piracy within the past year. That’s more than $5 billion in stolen packages annually, plus the intangible cost of your time and sanity dealing with the problem.
Part of the issue is that the law prosecutes so few of these crimes. Police resources are spread too thin to chase down individual porch thieves. Each crime amounts to petty theft of goods that are difficult to track and recover. It is typically only professional porch pirates, whose primary source of income is stealing and reselling packages, that see any real jail time.
Besides, many vendors offer some kind of insurance for packages not getting to their final destination. It’s more of a hassle to get law enforcement involved than to just take the hit and deal with it yourself. (If porch pirates recently victimized you, check out our guide for what to do if your Amazon package is stolen.)
While we have already outlined how to deter burglars before, here is what you can do to protect yourself from porch pirates specifically.
Inside the Mind of a Porch Pirate
The first step to protecting yourself against package thieves is to understand who they are. And what motivates them to steal.
While you might expect thieves to be motivated exclusively by potential profits, that’s not always the case. Many participate in crime for the thrill or due to peer pressure. In The Psychology of Theft and Lost, psychologist and author Robert Tyminski asserts that most theft is not because the thieves need the items or expect a big score. Instead, it’s because they get a rush out of fooling people and getting away with it.
While it may be reassuring that there isn’t a package-stealing supervillain stalking you, it can make you feel helpless that you’re the victim of random porch pirate pilfering. But don’t worry. There are steps you can take to navigate this situation and avoid becoming a victim. (Again.)
Can You Set a Trap for Porch Pirates?
Considering how to catch a package thief with a clever ruse? After being the victim of a porch pirate, many folks want revenge. This has led to clever individuals seeking retribution by creating porch pirate traps. The traps are often fake packages that contain silly or harmful materials that would discourage thieves. However, these traps can be a can of worms, both literally and figuratively.
While engineer and YouTuber Mark Rober can use his NASA know-how and seemingly limitless resources to punish intended porch piracy with non-violent antics, others have been prosecuted for endangering human life. A famous court case, Katko v. Briney, ended with homeowners Edward and Bertha Briney paying trespasser Marvin Katko after he set off a shotgun spring trap. Following litigation, the courts fined the Brineys for endangering human life.
So a porch pirate trap is not the best idea. Not if you want to avoid a courtroom.
What Can You Do to Stop Porch Pirates?
There are better, fully legal ways to keep you safe from thieves. Some are preventative by making sure you don’t have unattended packages waiting to be stolen. Other methods can help you stop or catch a porch pirate in the act.
Specify Where to Leave Packages
Your front door and your mailbox aren’t the only options. Some couriers train their personnel to leave packages in non-obvious locations, but without instructions, they might pick the most common spots. Amazon and other deliverers give you the option to select an alternate location on your property, such as a side door or even inside your garage. Keeping your package anywhere besides the most predictable, visible spot is always a good idea.
Certified Package Delivery
If you’re receiving a particularly valuable item, you can request that the package have a certified delivery. This means someone must sign for it when the delivery person drops it off. If you or anyone else is not available to sign for the package, the courier will leave a notice for you to pick it up at a delivery hub. Many companies also sync this service to an app or email to make sure you know when important packages are en route.
Deliver to an Alternate Address
Another long-term option is to have the package delivered to a location you frequent besides your home. Many workplaces allow employees to receive packages during business hours. This is often a safer option, especially if you need a signature. Alternatively, ask relatives or close friends who are retired or work at home if they would be willing to receive your deliveries.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
We can’t stress enough the value of being friendly with neighbors. The folks next door can keep an eye on your home and take in any packages that arrive while you’re away. They can also let you know if anyone suspicious is lurking near your home. And you should return the favor! If you live in a condo or apartment complex, band together with other tenants and take deliveries into a locked lobby or hallway. This not only prevents packages from being stolen by strangers but also gives everyone an excuse to chat and make friends.
If you live in a rural neighborhood, consider purchasing a package locker. These often have a key or code that you share with delivery services and provide a safe, specific location to drop off packages. Check with your local post office that any drop-off box will work for their deliveries.
Some vendors, like Amazon, have their own dedicated package locker systems. The communal lockers are centrally located at local retail stores or points of interest. When your item arrives, you receive a code and locker number for you to pick up your items.
Get a Security Camera
Cameras capture footage of the crime, sure. But what is a porch pirate thinking when they see your camera? The presence of a visible security camera is a powerful deterrent. It tells porch pirates not to mess with this house, or they’ll get caught.
The trouble is that most standard home security cameras will, at best, capture what a porch pirate looks like while he or she makes off with your package. That might be helpful… if the police get involved. But what if your camera could stop a package thief before they touch anything?
Deep Sentinel home security cameras are backed by a 24-hour surveillance team. These guards can speak directly to anyone on your porch via 2-way audio. If needed, they’ll set off an alarm and contact the authorities with verified details of the crime. You also have access to the footage should you need to identify a porch pirate for the police.
That’s how to stop porch pirates the 21st-century way.
Dealing with porch pirates can be a hassle, but with these tips and some help from professionals, you can keep your property (and your online purchases) safe.