Online holiday shoppers warned about growing problem of package thefts

RENTON, Wash. -- As online shoppers start looking for the best deals of the 2019 holiday season, thieves are on the hunt for packages to steal.

A national study revealed porch package thefts are a growing problem. C&R Research of Chicago found 36 percent of people dealt with at least one package theft in 2018, up 5 percent from 2017.

“It’s a crime of opportunity, right? They’re just looking for that package. And they have no idea what they’re stealing,” said Sgt. Russ Radke with the Renton Police Department. “You may have ordered a pair of socks that get stolen, not a big deal. But when you look at the totality of it, and the number of victims a single suspect can harm, then yeah, it’s a big deal.”

Radke mentioned officers are seeing an uptick in package thefts.

“They use a multitude of methods following delivery trucks, randomly driving through neighborhoods,” said Radke.

Renton Police Department started a specialized unit that uses bait packages to track down these thieves. Police partnered with the City of Renton, Amazon and other retailers on the initiative to be proactive about the issue.

“We can have as many as 14 police officers out there just doing this proactive, non-uniform looking for the bad guys to arrest them before people are victimized,” Radke. “We want the bad guys to be aware that we’re doing everything we can to watch you and catch you and we’ll ruin your Christmas by putting you in jail.”

C&R Research of Chicago reported 92 percent of Americans were expecting at least one delivery this holiday season. About 54 percent of online shoppers were worried their package would be snatched.

Though home security cameras are helpful, Radke said it isn't enough protection from thieves.

“Some of them realize the cameras are there and make efforts to hide their faces. No face, we don’t have a whole lot to go on. We can confirm the item was stolen, but we’re not entirely sure who it is,” said Radke.

He suggested online shoppers be proactive by using a P.O. Box, have the carrier hold the delivery, or just ship it to work. He also encouraged people to coordinate with a neighbor if someone expecting a delivery isn't there when it arrives.

“Find out which neighbors are going to be there, let them know as soon as you find out the package has been delivered, have them go and pick up the package from you,” said Radke. “While we can be many places, we can never be every place. So, we really rely heavily on neighbors looking out for each other and picking up the phone and calling 911.”

When calling 911 about porch pirates, police ask people to provide as many descriptive details as possible, including what the thief looks like, what they are wearing and a clear description of their car and license plate if possible.

Both USPS and FedEx offer hold services for deliveries. Amazon customers can also order shipments to be delivered at an Amazon locker. Consumers are encouraged to follow the shipment’s tracking number to see every step of the delivery process.