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Porch pirates love this time of year. Here are some tips to protect your packages

Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times

With an estimated $207 billion expected to be spent online by shoppers this holiday season and a record 20 billion parcels shipped to U.S. addresses last year, it's not a surprise that thieves see all those packages on the porch as opportunity, too.

Most people don't report stolen deliveries to police. When they do, the incidents are logged as larceny theft, not specifically package theft, so numbers are hard to find. But local law enforcement concurs the incidents are on the rise.

"Porch pirating is here to stay, at least for a while, I think," said King County (Washington) Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Tim Meyer. "The rise of the gig economy and all those vehicles going in and out of your driveway also provide a cover for thieves."

"Neighbors often can't tell which ones are there legitimately," he said.

According to a recently released survey by security company CCTV Camera World, Washington, D.C., was the city where porch piracy flourished most, the CCTV survey found.

With holiday shopping season underway, consider these tips from the Better Business Bureau of Washington state and CCTV Camera World to prevent package theft.

— Check with neighbors. Sometimes, your package may not be stolen at all, just simply at the wrong address. Before filing a report or contacting the sender, check with your neighbors and see if the delivery service may have dropped off your package at the wrong address. Many delivery companies will take pictures of your package in the designated location — be sure to check for the photo and verify it is at the right spot.

— Don't leave unattended packages. When possible, do not leave delivered packages unattended for long periods. If you are expecting a package, attempt to schedule its delivery when you know you will be home. Consider asking your neighbors to hold on to packages delivered to you if you plan to be gone for an extended time.

— Ship to store. If purchasing an item from a retailer that has a physical location near your home, consider shipping it there instead. Retailers will require proof of purchase or identification before releasing packages they have received to avoid package theft.

— Require a signature. Many delivery companies include the option to require a signature before leaving a package, letting you take physical possession of the item as soon as it is delivered. This option works well, especially for expensive orders, for those who are often at home. However, it may create difficulties in receiving packages if your schedule and the delivery service are different. Be sure to check with the delivery company on their policy for packages that are not signed for; they may return it to the sender after a certain number of attempts.

— Consider a package receiving service. Some major retailers, such as Amazon, offer secure package receiving locations away from your home that you can access with a key or code. Some independent businesses also specialize in this service, allowing you to designate a different delivery location for your packages where you can pick them up.

— Enable Tracking and Text Alerts: Most carriers, including Amazon, UPS and FedEx, will text you when your package has been delivered. Turn this feature on and collect your packages as soon as possible.

— Install Home Security Cameras: Security cameras have successfully identified porch pirates in the act. Signs that specifically state that a residence is under surveillance can also serve as a deterrent to thieves. Consider smart cameras with AI-based technology that can detect unusual activity, including if a package goes missing.

— Invest in a Porch Lockbox: Companies now manufacture lockboxes designed specifically to receive packages. The lockbox will have a code that you provide to the delivery service so they can open it and drop your package off securely.

— Ask for nondescript packaging: A package that says Tiffany & Co is likely to pique the interest of any criminal. See if the merchant will use a nondescript box.

FILE - This Dec. 11, 2018 file photo shows an Amazon package containing a GPS tracker on the porch of a Jersey City, N.J. residence after its delivery.  News of an alleged Amazon theft ring involving contract delivery drivers is unlikely to make a dent in the online shopping giant’s massive business. But it may make people more wary of letting deliveries into their house when they aren’t there _ a nascent project from both Amazon and Walmart.  (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)