Package thefts are on the rise; here are tips to protect yourself
Getting a lot of deliveries these days for gifts you ordered online? Probably yes. And the bad guys know it.
Package theft is not a new problem, but it has increased as many workers have returned to their offices at least part of the time. Also, porch piracy escalates during the holiday shopping season. According to Security.org, about 49 million Americans have had a package stolen at least once in the past 12 months. The median value of a stolen package was $50. Porch piracy is most common in Alaska (29 percent of households) and least common in Maine (12 percent).
There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of your items being stolen off your doorstep.
With Amazon, for example, you can pick one day a week to have packages delivered. You can try to make a point to have someone home.
With UPS and FedEx, you may not be able to choose a delivery day, but you’ll usually know what day and maybe even a ballpark time, either when you order or when the item is shipped. In some cases, if you track the shipment online, the website will tell you how many stops there are before yours.
With the Postal Service, you can sign up for Informed Delivery. Every morning, you should get an email showing the items to be delivered that day. Items in your mailbox may be a little more secure than those at your front door. They’d be even more secure if you had a locking mailbox – mail and small packages can go in but can’t come out unless you use a key to open the door.
Sign up for alerts
Sign up for email or text messages to alert you when your package is supposed to arrive and when it’s actually delivered. I have these with USPS, Amazon, UPS and FedEx. I work at home and can see the street from my home office. In some cases, I’ll get my email or text alert of a delivery before the driver has pulled away from my house.
Retrieve your packages immediately
If you get an alert your package has been delivered, get it immediately or call a neighbor who you know is home to retrieve it.
Pick up packages instead of having them delivered
In some cases, you can make these choices after your package has been shipped. In others, you need to select this option when you make the purchase or before it’s shipped.
- With FedEx, you can direct the company to “Hold at Location.”
- With UPS, you can sign up for “My Choice” and have a package delivered to another address (your office or a neighbor’s house) or choose to pick it up from a UPS office.
- With Amazon, you can choose to have the package delivered to an Amazon Hub Locker and pick it up at a time that’s good for you. Hub Lockers are often at local grocery stores or drug stores. You can look up Hub Lockers by zip code here.
- With the Postal Service, you can provide delivery instructions for your carrier (like you’ll pick up the package at the Post Office) or you can reschedule your delivery for a different day.
Pay for your purchase with a credit card
This doesn’t prevent package theft but it could help you if it happens. Using a credit card over a debit card or your bank account gives you considerably more protections. The Fair Credit Billing Act says packages you didn’t get may be considered “billing errors” that you can dispute. (Other types of billing errors include unauthorized transactions, charges for the wrong amount or items you didn’t accept.)
The consumer protections for debit cards are different than the protections for credit cards. You may not be able to get a refund for non-delivery or delivery of the wrong item.
The Fair Credit Billing Act treats certain credit card charges that you dispute as billing errors. Billing errors include charges for items that you did not accept or that were not delivered as agreed, involved the wrong amount, were unauthorized, and certain others. Disputes about the quality of the item are not billing errors. The law says what you need to do to challenge billing errors.
By law, you have the right to dispute a credit card billing error within 60 days of the date that the statement that contains the transaction.
If you paid by debit card, the consumer protections are different and “you may not be able to get a refund for non-delivery or delivery of the wrong item,” the FTC says.
You may be able to avoid disputing the charge no matter how you paid if the retailer will replace the items.
If it appears that your package has been stolen, contact the seller or retailer that sold you the item. Merchants have different policies regarding stolen shipments, but you often can get a refund or replacement. Ask.
In addition, Amazon covers most stolen merchandise; it has “A-to-Z” Guarantee Protection. Sometimes you have to contact the actual seller first, if it’s not Amazon. But if you don’t get a response within two days, you should file a claim with Amazon and you should get a refund or replacement.
If you don’t have success with the merchant, it’s also worth filing a claim with the shipper.
Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.