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Protect your packages this holiday season

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 18, 2015


METRO DETROIT — With Americans doing more shopping online, as evidenced by the advent of Cyber Monday, the holidays are an especially busy time for package deliveries.

But one of the difficulties for online shoppers is knowing that their packages may arrive on their porches when no one is home, leaving those packages vulnerable to thieves.

In just one recent incident, a St. Clair Shores man reported to police in October that someone stole a Rapunzel costume off his porch. The man said UPS had notified him that the package was delivered Oct. 9, but as of Oct. 28, he still did not have the order.

St. Clair Shores police say he is not alone, and at least twice a week they receive reports of packages presumably stolen from porches after delivery.

“It’s (a) big (problem), and it’s getting probably bigger. There’s been an uptick in the last two years on it,” Detective Lt. Dave Centala said. “There’s no magic cure here — the biggest way is ... neighbors keeping an eye out.”

Centala said eyewitness cellphone photos or videos that capture a suspect or a license plate can help police catch a package thief.

“By recording them, that can really help investigators,” he said. “How we’ve made arrests on this in the past is by having good neighbors.”

In December 2014, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office arrested two teens for taking packages off p orches in Macomb Township after a neighbor used his cellphone to snap photos of the teens’ actions.

Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Michael Shaw also said that neighbors can be instrumental in keeping each other’s parcels from being stolen.

“If you have a trusted neighbor that stays at home all the time, you can maybe have packages delivered to them,” he said. “A lot of people have packages delivered to their workplace.”

Packages are most vulnerable when they are sent to a home where no one is home all day, Shaw said, because thieves will drive through neighborhoods looking for packages sitting on porches — “especially during the holiday season, because that’s when a lot of the high-end items are coming.”

There are options if you’re worried about a particular package, but you aren’t friendly with your neighbors and your work doesn’t allow you to order packages to the office.

Shaw said that both FedEx and UPS allow customers to direct the delivery of orders to their stores, where they can be picked up at the customer’s convenience, instead of porch delivery. Neither company charges for that service.

“UPS Access Point locations are businesses that can accept and hold deliveries for customers,” Dan Cardillo, with UPS public relations, said in an email interview. “These include more than 4,400 locations of The UPS Store, as well as 8,000 locations in the top 100 cities throughout the U.S.”

Cardillo said incidents of theft involving UPS deliveries are rare, however, and that data shows that the rate of incidents has been flat over the past few years. 

UPS offers a free service, “UPS My Choice,” which lets customers know when a package will be delivered. Then, members can go online and arrange for packages requiring a signature to be delivered without one, or indicate that they wish for a package to be left at the side door, on the back porch or with a neighbor. They can also tell a UPS driver making a delivery where they would like packages left in the future if they are not home. The drivers will enter that information into handheld computers for use on future deliveries.

Members can also reroute packages to a UPS Access Point once it is in the system, for free, or set a preference that all packages be delivered to an Access Point instead of a home.

Many delivery companies, including UPS, send customers an email when a package is delivered, so the customer will know that day if a theft has taken place.

Setting up surveillance equipment is an option, but Shaw said that unless someone is receiving frequent deliveries, that surveillance system could be quite expensive for only a few deliveries a year.

In addition to package thieves, Centala said police are receiving reports of suspected criminals having packages sent to homes where they don’t live.

“The package came and it was addressed to the person that lived at that house, but they (knew) they didn’t order anything,” Centala said of a recent St. Clair Shores incident. The FedEx employee knew that the person trying to sign for the package didn’t live in the home, so the employee wouldn’t let the person sign.

Centala said the package in that case, which was reported the first week of November, contained cellphones and smartphones that the resident didn’t order.

“It’s obviously fraudulently obtained,” he said. “It could be that they needed something stolen delivered there.”

Police say the most important thing this holiday season is to be aware and pay attention. If you notice suspicious activity in your neighborhood, call the police. You just may save your neighbor’s holiday.