Fight dirty to fend off pesky porch pi­rates

Woonsocket Call - - OPINION - By PETULA DVO­RAK Petula Dvo­rak is a colum­nist for The Post’s lo­cal team.

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 of those pack­ages dis­ap­pear.

The thieves are to­tally le­git vil­lains now be­cause they have an of­fi­cial vil­lain name. Search Porch Pi­rates on Twit­ter or other 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, de­ter­mined to pro­tect their pre­cious pack­ages.

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 (Texas) Po­lice De­part­ment’s “Oper­a­tion Grinch Pinch” or the po­lice in Wheel­ing, West Vir­ginia, leav­ing snarky notes wish­ing the duped bad guys “Merry Christ­mas.

But the doorstep vig­i­lantes are the most en­ter­tain­ing. There’s even a guy in Ta­coma, Wash­ing­ton, who is 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 a pretty awe­some present for her pi­rates – a box heavy with her two dogs’ poop.

“It didn’t stop them, though,” An­drea Hut­zler re­ported.

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 the li­cense plate 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. “I’ve lived in Illinois, Hous­ton, New Or­leans, over­seas. It never hap­pened any­where but D.C.”

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

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.

So we stopped hav­ing any­thing valu­able sent to the house. Then the thefts be­came an­noy­ing. When a five-pound tub of pur­ple fon­dant I or­dered to make a princess cake for a daugh­ter’s friend went miss­ing, I snooped around the neigh­bor­hood, found the box, found the tub, found the wad of pur­ple fon­dant in the bushes. I learned how to make my own fon­dant that year.

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.

But an­other sur­vey sug­gested that big cities aren’t the only place where the thieves op­er­ate. A sur­vey done last year by video se­cu­rity com­pany Blink found that ru­ral 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 from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Pack­ages in less-pop­u­lated, ru­ral neigh­bor­hoods are tar­gets for ad­dicts-turned-thieves.

Of course, not all the pack­ages swiped are from Ama­zon. (Ama­zon was founded by Jeff Be­zos, who owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.) But as con­sumer habits shift to­ward e-com­merce and Ama­zon pack­ages are plas­tered with Ama­zon lo­gos, Porch Pi­rates would prob­a­bly opt for the Ama­zon pack­age over the one with Santa stick­ers, a re­turn ad­dress start­ing with “Grandma” and “Frag­ile! Cook­ies in­side!” writ­ten all over it.

And Ama­zon is any­thing but trans­par­ent about how many pack­ages are stolen.

I par­ried for a while with one of their PR guys, who said ev­ery­thing is “on back­ground, no di­rect quotes” and didn’t pro­vide me with a num­ber of pack­ages re­ported stolen, the mone­tary dam­age these thefts do to Ama­zon or what, ex­actly, Ama­zon’s pol­icy is on re­plac­ing any­thing re­ported stolen. It’s a case-by-case ba­sis, he said, which was my own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­times they sent me a re­place­ment, no prob­lem. Other times I got stiffed.

The Ama­zon guy pointed to Ama­zon lock­ers as a theft-pre­ven­tion op­tion. (Sure, but they aren’t al­ways as con­ve­nient as they sound.) And he ex­plained the pack­age track­ing that Ama­zon does. They even have new fea­tures where you ac­tu­ally let the driver into your home or car to leave the pack­age there. Gee, thanks.

Porch Pi­rates are ba­si­cally sho­plifters. When sho­plifters go to bricks-and­mor­tar shops, they cost re­tail­ers about $42 bil­lion an­nu­ally. Stores have se­cu­rity guards and cam­eras, and they take the hit when some­thing is stolen.

In the e-com­merce ver­sion of shoplift­ing, theft pre­ven­tion is now on us, David, while Go­liath just shrugs.

And it’s not vig­i­lante cit­i­zens out there – it’s cash-strapped po­lice de­part­ments set­ting up sting oper­a­tions and fol­low­ing leads from home cam­era clips, do­ing the leg­work that big box stores used to be re­spon­si­ble for. Pretty slick, eh?

Happy shop­ping. Don’t for­get the booby trap.

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