CHICAGO (WLS) -- Front porches are the new front line in retail theft. With the popularity of doorstep delivery comes a new type of criminal.
According to one industry estimate, 31 percent of consumers have been victims of so-called "porch pirates." A recent study found 25 million consumers had their holiday packages stolen.
Consumer Reporter Jason Knowles and the ABC 7 I-Team have some expert advice on defending your deliveries because you may not always get stolen items replaced for free.
Everyone from children to delivery workers are swiping packages. In just one hour driving through the Portage Park neighborhood, the ABC 7 I-Team saw nine different homes with unattended boxes on porches, one even displayed on a chair.
"I figured a sweater would be fine but a box is a box and somebody got curious and thought it was something else," said Gustave Lavallee as he exited the new, downtown Amazon secure pick-up location.
Lavallee learned his lesson and picked up his replacement sweater instead of having it delivered.
"Just a sweater, just a dumb holiday sweater," said Lavallie whose original sweater was stolen from outside his home. "I had to contact customer service and that whole rigmarole and had another sent here."
Lavallee said Amazon replaced it for free.
But The I-Team found that merchant policies vary, and stolen items aren't always automatically covered. Once an item is delivered safely to your doorstep, a shipper is no longer responsible, so it's up to you to prevent theft or pay to replace the stolen goods.
What's the biggest mistake people make? Tim Norman, with the United States Postal Service in Chicago says it's leaving items out in the open.
Norton said customers can go online and instruct the carrier where to leave the package - perhaps on the side of the house or somewhere a little more hidden. He also said you can require a signature at delivery; if you're not home, your package will be brought back to your local post office where you can pick it up or you can reschedule the delivery.
Postal carriers are also on guard.
"When they are out on their routes to be vigilant. If they see something, suspicious people or people who look like they are following them, following their vehicle, especially around this time of year," explained Norman.
The United States Post Office, FedEx and UPS all offer signature options, and there are smartphone delivery alerts. Plus, there are thousands of safe pick-up locations such as your local post office, a retail partner store, UPS store, or FedEx office store.
"Where packages can be held conveniently up to five days, so if consumers are out shopping normal routines they can grab packages while they are out. According to a recent industry study 75 percent of Americans are concerned about porch piracy today," said Randy Scarborough, Vice President, Retail Marketing for Federal Express.
Fed Ex also allows you to schedule deliveries at your time, or even redirect a package which is on the way.
There's also a "package guard" device which connects to WiFi. Your shipper places the package on a disc. If someone else takes the goods the manufacturer says the device will sound an alarm.
At the Amazon store, Van Welton picked up his package. He said he stopped doorstep delivery after numerous thefts.
"If you get the text and you are concerned about it you run like hell home to make sure you receive it, here you don't have to worry about it. That's a comforting feeling," he said.
Your employer may also allow you to have items delivered to work. If not, consider a relative's location if they are usually home during the day.
If you do have a package stolen, you should file a police report. The merchant may require that if they are willing to replace your item at no cost.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR PACKAGES FROM THEFT
To help prevent residential package theft, UPS offers free services that enable consumers to take control of their deliveries. These include UPS My Choice and the UPS Access Point network, which allows consumers to receive their deliveries where and when they want.
UPS My Choice
- More than 51 million consumers use UPS My Choice to receive text or email alerts letting them know when packages are on the way.
- UPS My Choice users can provide instructions for our drivers such as to leave their deliveries at "back door," "with a neighbor," or "side of house."
- Consumers also can set up alternative delivery locations like their workplace, a neighbor's or relative's house, or a UPS Access Point location.
The UPS Access Point network
- Convenient retail locations such as convenience stores, deli's, dry cleaners, florists and The UPS Store locations with evening and weekend hours.
- Offers online retailers the ability to help "e-commerce stranded" consumers by shipping directly to UPS Access Points locations in the checkout process.
5 Ways to Keep Your Packages Safe This Holiday Season from USPS
1. Don't leave your delivered mail and packages unattended. Just as you would not leave your wallets and purses on the front seat of an unlocked car overnight, mail and packages should not be left sitting in mailboxes or on front porches for any length of time.
2. Going out of town? Hold your mail at your local Post Office. If you plan on taking a trip or know you won't be able to check your mail for a few days, consider using the Hold Mail service on usps.com. Letters and packages will be held securely at your Post Office until you pick them up or request they be delivered to your home.
3. Plan ahead. Ship using Hold for Pickup. When shipping packages, you can choose the Hold for Pickup option, and the recipients can collect their packages at their local Post Office. If you are expecting a package, you can redirect it to your local Post Office by selecting Hold for Pickup using Intercept a Package under Track & Manage on usps.com.
4. Customize the delivery. If you know the package will not fit in your mailbox and you won't be home to receive it, you can authorize the carrier to leave it in a specified location. Visit usps.com, enter the tracking number in Track a Package, and select Delivery Instructions.
5. Secure the shipment using USPS Special Services. Signature Confirmation helps ensure the package ends up in the right hands by requiring a signature at the time of delivery. For your most valuable packages, you can opt for Registered Mail service. Registered Mail receives special handling from the time it's mailed until the time it's delivered, with documentation every step of the way.
For more great tips you can use not just during the holidays, but all year long, visit https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/.
FedEx has more than 425,000 team members around the world dedicated to helping the holidays arrive. While we do our utmost to ensure the safe and secure delivery of every package, there are steps our customers can take for added peace of mind. FedEx Delivery Manager gives customers more power to customize home deliveries to fit their schedules. Sign up is free at http://fedex.com/delivery.
- Consider an alternate destination. When you order something online, consider sending the package to your workplace or to a family member, friend or neighbor who is home during the day to accept delivery or to one of our FedEx OnSite locations throughout the U.S.
- FedEx OnSite is a U.S. network of more than 12,000 alternate delivery locations, born out of our customers' telling us they want more choices for package delivery and drop off. Locations include FedEx authorized Ship Centers, some Albertsons and Kroger grocery stores, and more than 8,900 Walgreens locations across the country.
- Send it to your nearest FedEx Office location. You can have your deliveries sent to the nearest FedEx Office location, and we'll hold it for you for up to five business days. FedEx provides this service at no added cost. If it's a FedEx Express package, you can also have your package sent to one of our FedEx Express stations. Find the location nearest you at http://fedex.com/locate.
- Request a signature. Many packages today are sent without requiring a signature for delivery. If you're shipping something of high value - or you just want to be sure items aren't left unattended - you can require a signature for packages to be released. Either the shipper or the recipient can make this request.
- Request a vacation hold. Taking a holiday trip to visit family or friends? You can request a vacation hold on all shipments for up to 14 days.
- Ask for a ring. Use FedEx Delivery Manager to let your driver know you want a ring-or a knock. You can leave instructions for drivers to always ring your doorbell or knock on your door when a package is being left. Do you like your packages left behind the big planter or tucked behind the grill beside the back door? Use FedEx Delivery Manager to leave one-time-only or standing instructions for where you want FedEx to leave your deliveries. You can also let your driver know your instructions by calling 1.800.463.3339.
- Schedule your delivery. Request to get your delivery on your time, not ours. Pick a delivery time and date that works for you.
- Redirect your packages even when they're already on the way. With FedEx Delivery Manager, you'll be alerted of every FedEx package headed to your home, even if you don't have the tracking number. If you know you won't be home and want to send the delivery somewhere else, just redirect it to where you'll be, or another secure location.
The FedEx mobile app is available for both Androids and iPhones via the app store and gives package recipients the ability to electronically sign for a package, request a vacation hold, or choose a hold at FedEx location.
Some tips from Sears and Kmart to keep your online purchases safe and secure:
- Use our extremely convenient integrated retail services, such as buy online and pickup in-store at one of Sears and Kmart locations, or Shop Your Way members can choose to have their item delivered right to their car by using our in-vehicle pickup service. In addition when buying online, members can order a gift and have it picked up at our store locations across the country by a family or friend who is designated in checkout.
- Install a camera doorbell or other visible security cameras as a deterrent - several options available on Sears.com.
- Have packages shipped to your office, a neighbor or relative who is always home.
How to prevent package theft
An ABC7 I-Team Investigation