Like a growing number of Americans, I did most of my holiday shopping online. In my PJs, with uncombed hair, a cranberry candle perfuming the air. E-commerce is so convenient that way.
But that convenience comes at a price — and I’m not talking about all those empty storefronts, either. The ease of two-day shipping has introduced us to a new kind of crime wave: porch pirates.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that more than 90,000 packages a day are stolen or disappear without explanation in New York City alone, up roughly 20% from four years ago. And I read somewhere else that 23 million Americans have had at least one package swiped from their porch. Last year I was one of those millions. Some $&X@!# thieving idiot swiped a box full of gifts from our very doorstep.
Though the retailer replaced the items — a generous offer I hadn’t expected — I spent days venting my anger to anyone who stood still long enough to hear my tale. Compared to other thefts (think muggings), this crime was fairly innocuous, but my sense of frustration, that feeling of violation was disproportionately irrational. You expect your home to be a haven, and that sentiment, at least for me, extends all the way to the curb and the mailbox.
The first time I heard the term “porch pirate” was more than two years ago, when a friend recounted the story of how her purchase — an expensive purse she planned to give her daughter for her birthday — had been pilfered from the hall in her apartment building. She was livid. She had been saving up for that special gift for months. Worse: she figured it had to be someone who lived on the same floor as she did.
Since then, porch pirates have become so brazen that they follow UPS, FedEx and Amazon drivers around neighborhoods to scoop up what doesn’t belong to them. In response, residents have responded with all the creativity that we humans are capable of. Former NASA engineer and now YouTube sensation Mark Rober was so fed up with the shenanigans that he spent six months developing a device that covered the thieves in glitter and fart spray when they opened the package. In addition to a tracking system, the box also included cameras to watch the unsuspecting criminal’s reaction. The video ended up getting millions of views last year. He’s doing the same this season.
Another porch pirate also made the rounds of internet infamy recently: a longtime San Francisco resident who began stealing her neighbors’ Amazon packages was captured and prosecuted thanks to cellphone surveillance and smart cameras used by her victims. That case sparked a debate on class and race, but let’s face it, she had it coming. Stealing is stealing is stealing.
Earlier this month, a Tampa family decided to booby trap a decoy package, filling it with three-day-old diapers. Surveillance video showed someone running up to the front door and then quickly scooting away with the goods, so the family used the evidence they had gathered to file a report with police.
This story, however, ended with a twist. Turns out that the previously missing packages that spurred the Tampa folks to take extreme smelly measures were actually delivered to the wrong address. Oops.
Which leads me to a disconcerting story close to home. My neighbor recently discovered that his order of an expensive camera part was mistakenly delivered the next block over. Postal-service proof in hand, he marched over to ask for the package, only to meet with denials — “obvious lies,” he calls them — from the resident. My neighbor is convinced the people have sold the item and pocketed the money.
I’m not sure what’s worse: the betrayal of a neighbor or the transgression of a stranger. Either way it doesn’t say much for peace on earth and goodwill to men.
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