As holidays approach, firms fight back against porch piracy
The thief who plucked the package from Kate Brozek’s front porch in Jamaica Plain did not exactly win the lottery. The pilfered parcel contained a $35 jumpsuit ordered from the online consignment store poshmark.com.
Over in East Boston, scoundrels swiped a pair of $60 shoes from Joanne Pomodoro’s porch. And in West Roxbury, someone snatched an auto part delivered to Victor DiModica’s doorstep.
“I still can’t believe someone had the nerve to just walk right up, take the package, and walk away,” DiModica said.
Porch piracy has become so common — and such an annoyance — that retailers, the Postal Service, and other carriers are deploying an array of high- and low-tech countermeasures to protect packages. FedEx now allows some customers receiving computers and expensive electronics to put their packages on hold for pickup at one of its retail outlets, and Amazon.com has installed secure lockers at 7-Elevens and Speedways in and around Boston to keep deliveries safe. US Postal Service carriers will often take the added step of tucking deliveries out of public view.
The package theft threat has been a boon for home security companies, boosting demand for video cameras, infrared motion detectors, and $200 “video doorbells” that let homeowners monitor every move on their doorsteps. Want to address a stranger on your porch even though you are at work? You can communicate through a video intercom linked to your mobile phone.
“There’s a boatload of stuff for sale on the Internet” to help consumers, said Chris Caplice, executive director of MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics. “That’s because it’s a problem. It’s a nonsuccessful delivery, so it has a cost and businesses are very much trying to improve that.”
The severity of the problem is difficult to quantify. Research by Edelman Intelligence found that nearly 11 million US homeowners had a package stolen within the past year, but like many other studies of its kind, it was paid for by a home security company.
The US Postal Service and FedEx expect their holiday deliveries to surge to record highs this year, but they do not disclose data on package thefts. Online retail giant Amazon declined to provide data on delivery volumes, never mind thefts.
To take just one local example, just two days before Thanksgiving, Cambridge police issued an advisory noting that 116 packages had been stolen this year from residences, with an increase in November over prior months. A majority of the thefts occurred during the daytime from front porches and unlocked apartment lobbies.
There is a growing trove of video evidence of package thefts available on the Internet, thanks to the proliferation of camera-equipped home security systems, including SimpliSafe and Blink, which are both made by Boston-area companies.
Peter Besen, CEO of Blink, an offshoot of semiconductor company Immedia Inc. in Andover, said although the company is not yet a year old, sales of its security systems have grown 10 percent month over month because the system works so well.
“You can see what’s going on in real time, with less than a second delay,” Besen said. “You can call the police and the person is actually captured in the video.”
Capturing a person by video is, of course, different than actually capturing a thief.
Boston police Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy said police have issued fliers and used social media to warn residents about package thefts, particularly in dense neighborhoods like South Boston and the South End that tend to be targeted.
McCarthy said police recently arrested an unidentified person “responsible for a number of thefts” in South Boston.
Last December, a Haverhill duo were arrested for staking out delivery trucks and scooping up packages as fast as delivery trucks could dole them out. Sophisticated porch pirates in California hacked the locations of UPS trucks to intercept deliveries last year. Residents of Corona, Calif., fed up after a rash of package thefts, left decoy boxes containing dog excrement on their porches in an effort to surprise thieves.
East Boston resident Joanne Pomodoro said she gave up ordering merchandise online after a pair of shoes from Urban Outfitters was taken from her doorstep in October. The retailer replaced the shoes, but Pomodoro, a social worker, said after experiencing problems with other deliveries that arrived late or to the wrong address, the theft was the last straw.
“I’ve had it,” she said.
Brozek, the Jamaica Plain resident whose jumpsuit was swiped, also found a low-cost solution.
“Most of my Christmas shopping will be through Amazon,” she said, “and I’ll get those things delivered to work.”
Amazon customers can also order the Ring “video doorbell,” which is available online. The doorbell includes a two-way intercom, one-way camera, and motion sensor. A homeowner alerted to activity at the doorstep can confront an intruder directly from a cellphone using the doorbell intercom.
Jamie Siminoff, the company’s 40-year-old founder, said homeowners might ask a carrier to place a package in a hidden spot or surprise an intruder by saying, “Can I help you?” even if they’re not physically at home.
A startled intruder might run away, he said, although it didn’t work out that way for DiModica, the West Roxbury resident whose auto part was stolen.
The 59-year-old installed a Ring doorbell at his two-family home to complement a home security system he had installed after a rash of burglaries in his neighborhood.
The car part he ordered on eBay arrived at his doorstep while he was at his job as manager of a Cambridge plumbing company.
He never got the delivery. Instead of the package, all he has now is a video of someone stealing it from his porch and hiding their face from the camera.
DiModica doesn’t blame Ring, saying the system alerted him to an intruder on his cellphone, but he was too busy at work to respond.
“He still got away with it,” DiModica said.