How to stop thieves from stealing your packages

What could be worse than finding out that the holiday packages you'd been giddily anticipating weren't showing up at your front door as planned? Perhaps finding out they were stolen.

What could be worse than finding out that the holiday packages you’d been giddily anticipating weren’t showing up at your front door as planned?

Perhaps finding out they were stolen.

I had at least six packages stolen last holiday season, from my apartment building in Lincoln Park, Chicago. And that’s considered a relatively safe residential neighborhood. After I sent multiple emails regarding safety concerns to my landlord and a filing police reports, the thefts kept happening. Indeed, I tried almost every possible way to avoid my packages being stolen.

Sometimes, package theft is just hard to prevent, especially for people who work most of the day and can rarely be home to receive their goodies in person. And the holidays, in particular, are prime time for opportunistic thieves, who can be sure to find plenty of doorstep loot as Americans increasingly shop online.

A 2016 study commissioned by August Home, a company making smart locks, found that 53  percent of 1,000 respondents surveyed said they worried about packages being pilfered.

Preventing packages from being stolen involves a good deal of planning and scheduling, but it’s worth doing, especially if you’re craving a little peace of mind over the holidays. Here are some things you can do to safeguard your holiday bundles:

Schedule delivery for a time or day when you know you’ll be home

It wasn’t possible for me to wait at home for every delivery. But when I could, I tried to schedule shipment for a day that I expected to be on hand. It’s harder to get packages delivered during specific windows of time, though. Carriers such as UPS and FedEx require an additional fee to schedule such delivery windows (though UPS My Choice Premium members receive two free requests with their annual subscription). The United States Postal Service doesn't offer that service, but will allow you to schedule a redelivery time if you missed your delivery.

If you aren’t able to schedule a specific delivery window, do your best to anticipate the package’s arrival. Once you get a tracking number for your package, follow the shipping process and try to stay home at the time of delivery, if possible. This limits your flexibility for other activities, but it’s worth it.

Request a signature

The AARP found in a 2015 survey that more than 40 percent of holiday shoppers didn’t know that package delivery companies are not responsible for stolen packages that are left at your front door without requiring a delivery signature.  Nearly 80 percent of survey said they shipped packages to friends without requiring a signature at least some of the time. Seventy-three percent said they got home deliveries without having to provide a signature “some” or “all of the time.”

Leaving your packages unattended only increases the probability of them getting stolen from your front porch, or from an apartment building that doesn’t have a doorman or reception desk. If you require a signature from major carriers, including UPS, FedEx and the USPS, you can at least be reasonably sure the delivery person won’t leave your package sitting on your doorstep unattended.

Unfortunately, this means schlepping to their closest retail location to retrieve your package later, but at least you’ll know your bounty is safe.

Redirect packages for delivery at the shipping company’s closest location

Since being at home waiting for delivery wasn’t an option for me most of the time, I had all my UPS packages delivered to a nearby UPS location, and I would go pick them up after school. It was not ideal for large bulk shipments of Amazon Prime household supplies and groceries, but it was safer, and the poor Amazon customer service attendants wouldn’t have to deal with my frustration and rage on the phone whenever a delivery went missing.

UPS’s My Choice enables you to redirect your packages for free to a preferred UPS store, a corner store or other independent businesses in your neighborhood that are in the UPS Access Point network.

FedEx offers a similar service. You can also reroute your packages or customize delivery options using the FedEx Delivery Manager.

Get a self-service locker

To keep up with the booming e-commerce and rising reports of package theft, major shipping services — FedEx, UPS, and the USPS — have built self-service lockers and expanded the programs nationwide. Customers can direct their packages to the lockers for free and access their deliveries 24/7.

In the same vein, Amazon has built its own lockers across the country. When you do a checkout on Amazon, you can choose to have your purchases delivered to a nearby locker or a pickup point of your choice, free of charge.

Or you can do the old-fashioned thing: Open a P.O. box with the USPS. It’s not free, and note that private shipping companies or carriers, such as UPS, FedEx and Amazon, are not able to place mail there.

Hold your packages

If parcels are coming with the Postal Service and you will be out of town, you can take advantage of a Hold Mail service. The service allows you to put in requests ahead of time before your travels; items will be held at your local post office until you return.

FedEx and UPS offer similar services through their own personalized programs.

Enlist friends and families for help

A neighbor of mine who also fell victim to package theft had all his packages sent to his mother, who lived in the same city. This is another way to avoid package being stolen.

I had no family in Chicago, but very occasionally, I would ask my friends — I saw them fairly often, and they had doormen or reception desks in their apartment buildings — to keep small, non-urgent packages for me. You might also try asking your stay-at-home neighbors for help, increasing the likelihood that someone will be home to receive your package.

However, you’ll surely want to capitalize on the kindness of friends and kin with restraint; make sure you don’t exploit it. If it’s not an one-off favor, send them gifts or take them out to meals.

At the very least, try a “thank you.”

Try Amazon Key

You might want to try Amazon Key if you feel comfortable with in-home deliveries. The new Amazon service is set to launch Nov. 8. in response to increasing package theft.

Amazon Key requires customers to buy a kit including a security camera and a smart door lock. (The cost starts at $250). A delivery person then would be able to enter your home and place your package in the house. Amazon would notify you the morning of the delivery and send you notifications before and after the delivery. The camera starts recording when a package comes to your door. It captures the entire visit. You can watch the visit live or review a recorded video later. Note: Amazon Key is only available for Prime members in selected areas. If you are interested in installing the service, check if your neighborhood is covered.

What do you do if a package is stolen?

You’ve tried everything — or you haven’t — and now you’ve fallen victim to those insidious porch pirates. What’s your course of action then?

Contact the retailer. Many retailers will resend an item or issue a refund if a package was not delivered as promised. They insure deliveries, knowing that a certain number of items are bound to go missing. 

Reach out to your credit card company. Some credit card companies offer protection for clients whose purchases end up being stolen. Make sure to check with your company for specifics, since benefits vary and may be limited.

Request a missing-mail search or a lost-package claim with the carrier. It will start your claims process and keep you updated. If it’s determined that your package is lost or damaged, depending on the company and the item stolen, you will get refunded fully, partially or just for the shipping fee.

File a theft report with the local police.

Many departments warn residents to stay vigilant against package theft, especially during the holiday season. However, it’s hard for them to investigate missing packages without hard evidence. But at least you know that by filing theft reports, you’re helping the police better understand and analyze neighborhood crime trends. So there’s that.

And now you’re all set. Happy holidays, and safe travels for you and your bundles!

MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.

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