What the Prevalence of Porch Pirates Says About the Need for Shipping Industry Security

The convenience of online shopping allows people to buy the things they want through the internet, then get them delivered to their doorsteps days or even hours later.

But online shopping’s popularity also caused a rise in “porch pirates,” the thieves who look for packages left outside homes and snatch them up.

How Problematic Are Porch Pirates?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) doesn’t give details about annual numbers of stolen packages, and there are no specific statistics for how badly porch pirates affected the most recent holiday season yet. However, a press release published in November 2017 indicated that more than 26 million Americans had holiday packages stolen from their doorsteps.

Also, a 2018 study from Shorr Packaging indicated that certain areas of the U.S. are exceptionally prone to thieves who target Amazon packages. It used geotargeted Google search data and found Seattle, San Francisco and Boston.

Law enforcement personnel warn that the holiday season is particularly enticing to porch pirates because of the increase in delivered items. It doesn’t help that it’s notoriously hard to catch porch pirates — according to a spokesman for the Denver Police Department, the arrest rate for them is approximately seven percent.

Consumers Are Fighting Back

Unfortunately, homeowners’ insurance typically doesn’t cover items stolen by porch pirates. And although Amazon guarantees the receipt and condition of items originating from third-party sellers, people have mixed results with contacting customer service and seeking replacements of direct-from-Amazon items. In any case, the online retailer asks people to wait three days before getting in touch.

Retailers other than Amazon typically don’t have concrete policies that allow reimbursement for things porch pirates steal, but creative consumers devise methods that trick or deter porch pirates. Some make booby-trapped boxes full of animal droppings, and others rely on cameras or tracking tools to catch the porch pirates in action

There are also kind citizens who hold themselves responsible for all the packages delivered to people on a particular floor of an apartment building, for example. This method works well if there’s one person who works at home or who is otherwise on the premises throughout the usual delivery hours while people in the surrounding units are away at places like their offices or college classes.

What Can Shipping Companies Do?

Shipping companies sometimes offer delivery confirmation methods, including requiring signatures from residents instead of leaving packages unattended. Moreover, entities providing Saturday deliveries can help people who are only home during the weekends due to their schedules.

Some shoppers take advantage of delivery lockers, whether they’re offered by specialty companies or retailers like Amazon. However, University of Washington researchers published a paper proposing an alternative in the form of a common carrier locker system situated in a public place like a transit station. Any retailer or shipping company can use it, as opposed to the branded lockers that accept packages only from designated companies.

During a four-week pilot of a common carrier locker in Seattle, participants who agreed to receive packages through the method received email or text notifications that deliveries had arrived for them. Then, they punched in a code at the locker to get their goods.

The published findings from the University of Washington team revealed that the locker system made delivery efficiency go up and eliminated the problem of failed first parcel deliveries. It seems that going to a single place to deposit packages allowed delivery personnel to work faster than they could visiting individual residences.

So, besides the techniques of requiring signatures upon delivery and offering Saturday services, shipping companies could embrace the use of common carrier lockers. They’d likely find that doing so increases customer satisfaction levels and reduces the expense of sending customers replacement items from retailers.

Delivery Drivers Should Follow Reasonable Requests

In cases where recipients don’t sign for their packages, or there’s no option for receiving them on Saturdays, people often complain that delivery drivers don’t abide by doorstep requests. For example, a person might leave a note that says “I am home but have a broken leg. Please ring the bell and wait for me to answer” and report that their doorbell never rang despite being in working order.

Or, some people leave notes to request that packages get given to neighbors and still return home to find packages on their doorsteps. Porch pirates didn’t strike then, but the instances are nonetheless frustrating. Individuals are as proactive as possible and find their instructions ignored.

When problems come up, customers should contact the organization associated with the delivery driver, whether it’s the national postal service or a specialty provider. They can then make complaints and detail how delivery drivers fell short. After that, it’s up to managers to take the feedback seriously and have conversations with the people at fault.

Some drivers are genuinely careless and need disciplinary action, but related conversations may make it evident that superiors expect delivery drivers to drop off an unreasonable number of packages per hour. As such, the delivery drivers may rush so much while attempting to meet performance targets that their sole concern is to part with their parcels, and they never look for notes from recipients. Such an outcome would suggest that internal adjustments could give drivers more time to notice and follow requests from customers.

No Quick and All-Encompassing Solution

The specifics outlined here show that there’s not a speedy way to thwart porch pirates, and they aren’t likely to give up when online shopping is perpetually popular. However, if more shipping companies offer measures like delivery confirmations with signatures and Saturday drop-offs that increase the likelihood of people being home, it could help. Plus, retailers can play a role in bolstering shipping security by using locker systems. Common carrier lockers seem ideal due to their versatility, but even brand-specific secure compartments keep parcels out of reach from thieves.

We’re well on our way to making these pirates walk the plank!


Kayla Matthews writes about cybersecurity and technology for publications like Malwarebytes, Security Boulevard, InformationWeek and CloudTweaks. To read more from Kayla, visit her blog: ProductivityBytes.com.