How to Protect Your Home from Porch Pirates and Burglaries During the Holiday Season

Before the holidays begin in earnest, many Americans take advantage of early-season online shopping events to score major deals on gifts for friends and loved ones. According to a Bankrate survey, 50 percent of holiday shoppers will begin their shopping by the end of October. If your holiday shopping is already in full swing, you should be aware of package theft and how to prevent it. Bankrate can help. Knowing how to protect yourself from porch pirates can help ensure that your gifts end up under the tree — and out of the hands of a thief.

The rise of porch piracy

Although online shopping isn’t a novel concept, its popularity has soared in the past several years. Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers turned to online storefronts for everything from groceries to new sneakers. Even after pandemic restrictions were lifted and shoppers could return to brick-and-mortar stores, online shopping continued to grow. This year alone, global e-commerce sales are expected to exceed $5 trillion for the first time ever. Online shopping can be a convenient solution to the chaos of holiday gift-buying, but it also raises the risk that your gifts will be stolen before you’ve even had the chance to wrap them.

A porch pirate is someone who steals a package from your doorstep, either by following a delivery truck or cruising through your neighborhood. Porch piracy is pretty straightforward: a thief spots an unattended package and takes it before the recipient is able to bring it inside. Or they open the package on the spot and steal its contents. It’s much less involved than a full-on home break-in, which makes it an appealing choice for petty criminals. In 2022, 260 million packages were reported missing in the U.S.

Porch pirates tend to have a few favorite cities. A study from Safewise named the following cities as hot spots for porch piracy.

Top ten cities for porch pirates:

  1. San Francisco, California
  2. Seattle, Washington
  3. Austin, Texas
  4. Hartford & New Haven, Connecticut
  5. Sacramento, California
  6. Los Angeles, California
  7. Portland, Oregon
  8. Fresno, California
  9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  10. New Orleans, Louisiana

What to do if your package is stolen

How you handle package theft depends on how your package was stolen. If it was snatched from your porch, your first move should be to contact the retailer — not the shipping company. The retailer will likely have its own policy when it comes to stolen items. Typically, you can request a refund or a replacement. Amazon, for example, offers customers an A-to-Z guarantee, which may cover up to $2,500 for items purchased from a third-party seller. If the retailer cannot help you, but your shipment was insured, you may be able to recoup some of your cost by contacting the shipping company.

A home break-in is also possible. In that case, you’d want to file a police report with your local authorities. The thieves may have also smashed a window, broken a fence or pried open a garage door in order to access your packages. If your home or other structures on your property were damaged during the break-in, you may want to contact your home insurance provider and file a claim for the repairs.

The personal property arm of your home or renters insurance policy technically extends to unopened packages, but filing a claim may not always be cost-effective. Consider your deductible and your home insurance rate: if the value of the stolen package is close to or less than your deductible, you might be better off contacting the retailer for a refund or replacement.

Filing a home insurance claim will likely raise your rate, which may not make much financial sense depending on what your package was worth. If a highly valuable package was stolen, you might want to consider filing a claim. However, personal property coverage typically has limits on what value items it will cover, so unless you added a scheduled personal property endorsement, your policy may not cover the item.

How to prevent porch piracy

Even if you live in an area with high levels of porch piracy, there are still several steps you can take to protect your packages this holiday season. Consider the following strategies:

  • Install a doorbell security camera: A camera can’t stop a thief in their tracks, but it may act as a strong deterrent. Plus, if you catch the theft on camera, it could be useful evidence if you decide to file a home insurance claim and police report.
  • Consider motion-activated floodlights: Similar to a camera, bright, motion-activated lights could scare off porch pirates.
  • Choose discrete delivery spots: In the delivery notes, you could request to have your package dropped off behind a hedge, under a doormat or somewhere else that is not visible from the road.
  • Track and schedule your deliveries: Many shipping companies provide up-to-date tracking information for inbound packages. Knowing when your package will arrive can allow you to be home to receive it.
  • Require a signature: With some valuable or information-sensitive packages, you can request a required signature, ensuring you will be home when it arrives.
  • Choose a pickup instead: The U.S. Postal Service and many third-party shipping companies allow you to select a package to be held at a local facility rather than dropped at your door. If you’re expecting something valuable, this may be a better option.
  • Make it look like you’re home: Leaving a light on or setting up automatic lights could give the illusion that you are home. If it looks like you’re home, a thief may be less likely to target your house.
  • Ask your neighbors: If you’re comfortable doing so, you could ask a neighbor to walk over and grab your package for you if you know you won’t be home for a while after it’s delivered.

Home burglary and prevention

Surprisingly, burglary levels remain fairly stable throughout the year. In 2021, December burglaries accounted for just 8.1 percent of burglaries, roughly one-twelfth. The number of break-ins may be consistent, but the average value of stolen items climbs in December.

Throughout 2021, the average burglary resulted in $2,740 in stolen items. However, December burglaries were valued higher, at an average of $2,891. November turned out to be the month with the highest average burglary amount of $2,943.

It makes sense that the value of burglaries would go up during the holidays, as the data suggests that thieves use this time to target more expensive items. Jewelry is 11 percent more likely to be stolen during the holidays. Computers and furs are also popular choices and are 9 percent more likely to be stolen in December than in any other month.

Other common holiday-related claims

The holidays can be a time of joy, but mishaps and accidents can still happen. A standard home insurance policy will cover some holiday-related incidents but not all. If you plan to host people at your home, you might want to double-check your liability limits. Or, if you received a valuable gift this year, like jewelry or art, you may want to consider scheduled personal property coverage.

Here are some common scenarios where your home insurance policy might cover holiday mishaps:

  • Injuries and property damage: Fun-filled gatherings make the holidays enjoyable, but they can lead to events that leave you legally liable for injuries or property damage. A rowdy reveler could take a tumble down your stairs, an errant bottle rocket could set your neighbor’s yard ablaze, or your feisty pup could nip a caroler. Personal liability coverage typically starts around $100,000, but you may want to review your policy to assess your coverage limits.
  • Fires: Holiday cooking, Christmas trees and outdoor lighting all pose a fire risk. Your dwelling and other structures coverage types should pay to repair any structural damage caused by a house fire. Your personal property coverage will pay for personal items destroyed, up to your policy limits, and additional living expenses coverage could pay for any extra costs you incur if your home is not habitable following the incident.
  • Credit card theft: Most standard homeowners policies include around $500 in coverage to pay for items purchased with a stolen credit card. Holiday credit card theft may be increasing due to the prevalence of shopping online. Experian reports that 43 percent of respondents who had their identity stolen during the holiday season say it happened online.
  • Identity theft: If a porch pirate steals a package with sensitive personal information, you may be at risk for identity theft. Many insurance companies sell identity theft endorsements that can cover costs you incur due to a stolen identity, including identity restoration services.

Bottom line

Porch piracy is a crime of opportunity. If you take steps to limit a would-be thief’s chance to steal your packages, you may help ensure yourself a brighter holiday season. However, if a package does get stolen, contacting the retailer is a great first step in the majority of cases. For more valuable packages, you might consider filing a police report and a home insurance claim. However, keep in mind that a claim could cause your insurance rate to rise. If the value of the package is close to or less than your deductible, you might be better off just contacting the retailer for a refund or replacement to avoid a premium surcharge.

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