Is COVID-19 Fueling a Rise in ‘Porch Piracy’? 

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Photo by Tracey Adams via Flickr

In May, more Americans were Googling “stolen package” and related terms than at any non-holiday time since 2004, according to a recent study by Hippo Insurance.

Experts believe the increased searches reflect a surge in “porch piracy” just as American consumers are turning in greater numbers than ever before to online purchases in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consumers spent $153 billion online in April and May, which was seven percent more than the 2019 holiday season, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index .

In June 2020 alone, online spending was 76 percent higher than the previous June, at $73 billion.

The increase in porch piracy may also be a result of measures adapted by delivery companies to prevent drivers themselves from infection, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted in April.

The recommendations focused on ways to ensure “contactless pickup,” ranging from not pressing doorbells to not requiring signatures on packages.

Before the pandemic, an estimated 36 percent of Americans claimed to have been victims of porch piracy in a 2019 report conducted by C+R, a market research company. Figures for 2020 are unavailable, but between mid-March and July, California and New York were leading among the areas hit hardest by a wave of stolen packages, based on the number of “stolen package” google searches tabulated by Hippo.com, a home insurance firm.

The top four metropolitan areas where lost-package searches originated were: San Francisco/Oakland; San Diego; Fresno/Visalia, CA.; and New York City.

“California and New York, two of the most populous states, also have among the highest number of total recorded coronavirus cases,” Hippo said.

“It’s possible that high case counts led more people to stay at home and order products online, which could have led to more packages sitting on porches and ample opportunities for theft.”

Porch piracy, however, is preventable.

“There are a number of ways to reduce the risk,” adds Hippo. “One of the most effective ways to do this is to hide your packages or remove them from your porch as soon as possible.”

But what if you don’t have a porch?

Here are a few other recommendations:

      • Asking delivery drivers to conceal the package behind something (a plant, for instance).
      • Request that the package be left at a side or back door (or with a doorman if you live in an apartment building.
      • Request delivery to an alternate location, if you know you’ll be away at the time of delivery.

Home security cameras offer another remedy.

Only 8 percent of porch pirates make an effort to conceal their identity, according to a 2019 study published by Ben Stickle, a professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University.

If a camera is watching, that can help police catch up with the perp—and hopefully reclaim your package.

Since 2019, police in Houston, Tx. made an estimated 100 arrests for theft based on footage from people’s doorbell cameras.

Sarah Rose George is a TCR news intern.

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