Porch Pi­rates want to steal Christ­mas

The Modesto Bee - - Opinion - Paula Dvorak is a columnist for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The Porch Pi­rates are in over­drive. Their crimes are un­fold­ing on doorsteps across the na­tion as Christ­mas presents, or­dered from on­line re­tail­ers, ar­rive by the hun­dred of mil­lions. And plenty are dis­ap­pear­ing.

The thieves are to­tally le­git vil­lains now be­cause they have an of­fi­cial vil­lain name. Search Porch Pi­rates on so­cial me­dia, and you’ll see what I mean.

But some of the 26 mil­lion vic­tims who say they’ve had boxes swiped from their porches are hero­ically fight­ing back.

They’re us­ing booby traps, se­cret cam­eras, geo-track­ers and bait boxes. The scenes of Good vs. Evil be­ing posted on­line make for days of great comic-book read­ing, com­plete with sham­ing door­bell video clips of sneaky pi­rates, clumsy pi­rates, grandma pi­rates in flow­ery tu­nics, at least one pi­rate in a bra – even re­gret­ful pi­rates who’ve re­turned to the scene of the crime to leave an apol­ogy note.

And paid crime­fight­ers are now in on the ac­tion, with po­lice chiefs call­ing porch pi­rates the scourge of the hol­i­day sea­son and in­ves­ti­ga­tors set­ting up st­ing op­er­a­tions like the Fort Worth Po­lice Depart­ment’s “Op­er­a­tion Grinch Pinch” or the po­lice in Wheel­ing, W.Va., leav­ing snarky notes wish­ing the duped bad guys “Merry Christ­mas.”

But the doorstep vig­i­lantes are the most en­ter­tain­ing. There’s a guy in Ta­coma, Wash., mar­ket­ing a de­vice that sets off a 12-gauge blank the mo­ment a pi­rate lifts the bait pack­age.

One D.C. woman, fed up with hav­ing nearly $1,000 worth of pack­ages stolen from her Capi­tol Hill porch, left an awe­some present for her pi­rates – a box heavy with her two dogs’ poop. “It didn’t stop them, though,” An­drea Hut­zler re­ports.

What did stop them was a Nancy Drew com­bi­na­tion of sleuthing and team­work af­ter a porch cam­era spot­ted a white truck driv­ing away, and a neigh­bor­hood email dis­cus­sion group iden­ti­fied the truck and got the li­cense plate. Po­lice used that to track down the driver, who ul­ti­mately turned on the partner, Hut­zler said.

That didn’t stop other Porch Pi­rates from swoop­ing in.

How did she fi­nally stop the thefts?

“We moved. We’re in North­ern Vir­ginia now,” Hut­zler said.

My hus­band and I have been fight­ing this for years. The first time it hap­pened was with an In­ter­net router we or­dered.

It was snow­ing, and the thief left foot­prints. We fol­lowed them, only to find the bub­ble wrap, the re­ceipt, the empty box, then the road, where the prints ended.

The sec­ond time we thought we would thwart this by re­quir­ing a sig­na­ture. The per­son who in­ter­cepted the pack­age signed for it as “Cathy Lanier,” then Wash­ing­ton’s po­lice chief.

Porch Pi­rat­ing is not an easy crime to track be­cause not ev­ery­one re­ports it. If you just look at the Google search for “Ama­zon pack­age stolen,” as the folks at Schorr pack­ag­ing did, you’ll see San Fran­cisco at the top of the list, with Seat­tle, Min­neapo­lis, Bos­ton, Port­land and Wash­ing­ton close be­hind.

A sur­vey last year by video se­cu­rity com­pany Blink found res­i­dents in North Dakota, Ver­mont, Maine, New Mex­ico, Mis­sis­sippi and Arkansas re­ported the high­est num­bers of folks who have had pack­ages swiped. That map also looks a lit­tle like the opi­oid cri­sis map.

I par­ried with one of Ama­zon’s PR guys, who didn’t pro­vide me any use­ful in­for­ma­tion – num­ber of pack­ages stolen, the mon­e­tary dam­age or what, ex­actly, Ama­zon’s pol­icy is on re­plac­ing any­thing re­ported stolen. It’s a caseby-case ba­sis, he said.

Porch Pi­rates are sho­plifters. Sho­plifters cost re­tail­ers about $42 bil­lion a year. Stores have se­cu­rity guards and cam­eras, and they take the hit when some­thing is stolen. In the e-com­merce ver­sion, theft preven­tion is on us, David, while Go­liath just shrugs.

Happy shop­ping. Don’t for­get the booby trap.

The Wash­ing­ton Post

BY PETULA DVORAK

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