Out-smarting the porch pirates

My Anchorage neighborhood had been chattering about packages disappearing from doorsteps. Security camera footage was posted to Facebook of people stealing boxes. So I was not stunned when one of ours went missing late November. The delivery service tracking information showed it being left by our front door, but it vanished.

"We call them porch pirates, stealing packages from front porches," says Michelle Tabler, Better Business Bureau Alaska Regional Manager. "We've heard reports that these thieves actually follow the UPS and FedEx trucks and pick up the packages after they are delivered. Unfortunately, these delivery companies aren't U.S. Postal Service, so it isn't a federal crime – it's considered a property crime and they just receive a citation if caught."

Setting up a doorbell security camera can catch the perpetrator's face, but that will seldom get your package back. What can be done to prevent the theft in the first place?

"We do advise that if people aren't home during the day, they should have packages sent to their office or to a friend or neighbor who would be home," Tabler says. "We are also advising that if you have an unsecured mailbox, that you may want to consider a post office box, considering all the mail theft that is going on in town."

Keep in mind that some expedited delivery services won't deliver to a PO box.

But using an unsecured mailbox – as in one that anyone can get into -- at your house means thieves can go after both outgoing and incoming mail. "It's also not a good idea to have new checks sent to an unsecured mailbox," Tabler notes. "Arrange to have them picked up at the bank."

After my package theft, there was an additional, troubling twist. Two weeks later we received a notice from the U.S. Postal Service, saying it had received a change-of-address order, asking them to forward our mail to a new address. It listed my name as the person who had made the request, but neither I nor anyone else in our household had done such a thing. My suspicion is that a mail thief used names and addresses from our mail to submit the request but, in reality, anyone can jump online and find names to go with addresses.

The postal service letter included a number for me to call if anything was amiss, which I did, and the change-of-address request was halted. One lesson I'm taking away from this is to open and read all mail, even if it's unsolicited and appears to be junk. The representative I spoke to at the postal theft office said change of addresses take about 10 days to two weeks to be processed, so had I not read that notice and taken action when I did, the change order would have kicked-in. I was able to catch it in time and no mail was redirected.

David Washburn is the editor of Senior Voice.

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