Porch Pirates: How to Deter Package Theft

Published on November 15, 2023
Written by
Filed under Holiday
Read time 15 Minutes

For all the advantages of online shopping, there are still a few drawbacks. You can’t see what you’re buying or try it on, it takes a little longer to receive your order, and there’s the fear that it won’t arrive or could be stolen. If someone has a big purchase arriving “by 7:00 pm”, they may cancel their evening plans to wait by the door. In fact, the fear of an item not arriving is much bigger than you may realize. We polled customers in our Holiday Shopping Trends report ahead of the holiday season and found that 37% of consumers ranked “missing or stolen packages” as their primary shipping concern. Porch piracy (package theft) increases during the holiday season, so it should be expected that fears rise as well. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent theft—whether you’re a seller or the recipient.

What are Porch Pirates?

“Porch pirates” refers to individuals who steal delivered packages or mail from someone’s porch or doorstep. They typically target unattended parcels from residential addresses, taking advantage of the fact that people are not at home when deliveries are made. However, as porch piracy becomes more common, bolder thieves have begun following delivery vehicles along their routes. This means theft can occur moments after delivery while the recipient is home.

Who is Responsible For a Stolen Package? 

While the porch pirate is ultimately to blame, there is a gray area about who is technically responsible for the costs. If it’s due to a carrier, they can be held accountable. However, once an item is successfully delivered, it becomes the recipient’s property. So it’s technically stolen property. It’s uniquely frustrating since the recipient is legally the owner of something they never actually possessed.

It’s fair to assume, then, that the recipient is responsible for the stolen package. After all, they are responsible for filing a police report. The recipient is also responsible for contacting the seller to see if there are any replacement/coverage options. This is ultimately the seller’s discretion to reimburse or replace an order against theft. 

Luckily, there are coverage options. Shipments can be insured against theft with providers like ParcelGuard. However, there are stipulations and exclusions around theft that businesses and consumers need to be mindful of before using any shipping coverage. Additionally, we have resources that can help you when dealing with missing, stolen, or damaged packages

What Can Merchants Do to Stop Stolen Packages?

Our Holiday Shopping Trends report not only discovered missing or stolen packages as a top fear. It also found that premium delivery options are more popular for the 2023 holiday shopping season. But it boiled down to a combination of express shipping services such as next-day or two-day delivery. Shoppers are willing to pay $9 for what they consider premium options. Coupled with fears of missing or stolen packages, this translates into customers wanting guaranteed delivery at a specific time. This provides peace of mind and can prevent theft. Knowing this, there are steps you can take as a merchant to minimize theft and, in the event of loss or theft, increase the chances of having providers approve shipping insurance claims

Provide Tracking

Tracking offers a good first line of defense against theft. Not only do tracked deliveries have a better delivery estimate, but customers can be ready to retrieve the package once it’s delivered. Delivery text messages increase awareness of delivery. You don’t need a bespoke solution to do this either. ShipStation provides you with the tools you need to send SMS notifications to your customers at every step in the shipping process including delivery. 

Tracking has other benefits, too. Your customers can change their delivery instructions as needed for tracked parcels. And, in the event of theft or loss, tracking provides crucial evidence of where the package was last scanned, delivery events, and makes a smoother claims process if parcels are lost, stolen, or damaged. Lastly, many untracked parcels don’t offer coverage against loss, damage, or theft.

Signature Confirmation

While it can add a hefty surcharge depending on whether you need it, standard signature and adult signature surcharges all but stop porch piracy. Even the most expensive signature confirmation falls into that $9 customers are willing to pay for premium delivery. Additionally, you can access deeper discounts on signature confirmation when you ship with UPS from ShipStation. If you want to provide an added layer of protection, or you can upgrade to an adult signature which requires a photo ID to be presented upon delivery. This also works during the holiday season to avoid having kids sign for their presents. 

Signature Confirmation Costs for 2023

UPS from ShipStationUSPS from ShipStationFedEx
Adult Signature $6.70$9.05$7.65
Signature $5.55$3.40$6.35

Use Plain Packaging

When it comes to shipping high-value items, you don’t want to broadcast it. Branded packaging may seem like a fun idea, but it increases the risk of theft and can cause shipping insurance claims to be rejected. As a result, it’s best to avoid anything that calls attention to the contents of your package. Some folks will point out that FBA (Fulfillment By Amazon) brands every inch of their packaging. However, Amazon is Amazon. Look at tech giants like Apple, or even your credit card issuer deliver in plain white packaging. This provides no reference to what’s inside and increases the chance of delivery, or at least provides you with a better success rate for an insurance claim. One could argue, though, that porch pirates might scope out plain white packages. Regardless, it’s best to keep any design flourishes or branding to the contents inside the shipping box. 

What can consumers do to stop stolen packages?

The simplest way to avoid porch pirates is to not have packages delivered to your porch! There are ways to avoid delivering your package to your home while you’re away. A lot of lists include having your neighbors keep an eye out. Apart from coordinating a neighborhood watch program, there are simple steps you can take to prevent stolen deliveries. 

Deliver to Work, Lockers, or Hold at Carrier Facilities

If your workplace allows it, having packages delivered there is the simplest solution. Furthermore, some carriers charge less to deliver to commercial addresses than residential ones. This is due in part to greater delivery success and carriers more frequently delivering to places of business. 

Pick Up, Drop Off (PUDO) locations are popular in other countries and are starting to catch on in the US. These allow you to deliver to places like a drugstore or supermarket. For instance, FedEx offers delivery at participating Walgreens pharmacies. Amazon allows you to check out and have your order delivered to an Amazon Locker.  

Another way to curb theft is to have tracked packages rerouted to be held at the carrier facility for pickup. Below, you will find the steps for holding a package at a carrier facility. 

Instructions for holding a package at the  carrier facility

Add Doorbell Cameras and Secure Delivery Areas

Doorbell cameras may not always deter pirates, but they do help with insurance claims. They provide photographic proof of theft and can help initiate claims with the seller’s shipping insurance provider or any police report you may file. In addition to doorbell cameras, many people utilize secure delivery boxes. There is a wide range of options from decorative to purely functional to choose from. Prevent Package Theft has a good list to start your search. 

How UPS Helps Against Theft

UPS works hard to aid in preventing porch piracy. UPS drivers are trained to deliver packages where they are hard to see from the street but will be seen by the recipient, even if this means using side doors or garages that are more covered to deliver packages.

Even before packages are on the trucks, UPS provides options to reduce the likelihood of porch pirates through programs including its UPS Access Point® locations and the UPS My Choice® dashboard. 

Your customers are on the go more than ever. Luckily, UPS offers an industry-leading network of more than 22,000 UPS Access Point locations. UPS Access Point locations are convenient places, such as The UPS Store® retail locations, neighborhood businesses and national retailers, that offer customers the ability to easily pick up, drop off, and even return UPS packages. UPS Access Point locations allow packages to be secured until the receiver picks them up with identification.

Additionally, you can encourage your customers to sign up for the UPS My Choice® dashboard which entails a membership program offering residential receivers unprecedented visibility and control over the delivery of personal packages. This includes: visibility to incoming shipments, delivery windows, the ability to request delivery changes, designate locations around the home for the UPS driver to release packages, and offers the ability to request delivery of a package to a neighbor.

Ways ShipStation Helps Protect Against Porch Pirates 

ShipStation provides shipping tools that increase efficiency and decrease shipping costs. But we also provide delivery satisfaction that can help decrease the chances of theft. 

Notes From Buyer and Label Messages

When a customer places an order, they may have delivery instructions or special requests for their package. ShipStation receives buyer notes from customers through many of our selling channel integrations. If there are instructions like “leave in the box on the front porch” you can then automatically populate these notes to the shipping label for the carrier to follow.  

Discounts on Premium Shipping Services 

With ShipStation Carriers, you receive discounts for a range of shipping services—from economy services to next-day. You can receive savings of up to 89%. This also includes discounts on UPS signature confirmation! 

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Automating Signature Confirmation

Anyone can make mistakes. You may lock your keys in your car or forget to add signature confirmation to high-value orders. It can happen! With ShipStation you can use automation rules to instantly apply signature confirmation to any orders that require a little extra delivery security. This can be based on a range of criteria. For example, if you know any order containing specific items needs signature confirmation, you can tag the product and any item that comes into ShipStation containing that item will require signature confirmation. 

How Common is Porch Piracy

Porch pirates stole an estimated $8 billion in goods over the past year. So it is a real problem. But the figures we found may tell a slightly optimistic story for holiday delivery. While theft was the major holiday shipping concern in the US, other geos were more concerned with high costs and late deliveries. American carriers operate at a reasonably low cost compared to the quality of delivery service. Perhaps Americans just assume “oh, it’ll be here by Christmas, dang it!” so the threat of theft is a greater perceived threat. While the risk of theft is lower for Europeans who utilize PUDO delivery options, Americans can take steps to reduce the risks of theft and still have a smooth holiday. Steps consumers and merchants can take to lessen the likelihood of theft range from signature confirmation to collecting at a carrier facility. As ecommerce continues to evolve, perhaps PUDO options will become more commonplace in the US. 

Written by

James Messer

James Messer is a copywriter specializing in shipping, logistics, and ecommerce.

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