Like a growing number of Canadians, especially those in rural areas without local access to the merchandise they’re looking for, I did most of my holiday shopping on-line; in my pajamas, hair up in a mom bun, coffee in hand, with the TV humming somewhere in the background.
E-commerce is so convenient that way. But that convenience comes at a price, and I’m not just talking about all the empty storefronts and business closures, either. The ease of two-day shipping has introduced us to a new kind of crime wave: porch pirates.
I started noticing it last Christmas, on one of the Facebook yard sale sites in the Sydney area. People who had ordered on-line were reporting their packages stolen from their mailbox or doorstep, and posted on Facebook to ask people in the neighbourhood if they had witnessed anything. This year it was even more common than last.
According to an article in the New York Times, in the month of December, more than 90,000 packages a day were stolen or disappeared without explanation in New York City alone, up roughly 20 per cent from four years ago. And I read somewhere else that 23 million Americans have had at least one package swiped from their porch.
Last year I was one of the unlucky few. Someone swiped a package right from my doorstep, best I can tell, and it took a fair bit of research for me to reach that conclusion. I have a Christmas gift spreadsheet which tracks expected arrival dates for all my on-line orders (which probably doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me). After the date on the package in question came and went, and the retailer indicated it had been delivered, I spoke to the courier, who assured me it had been dropped off.
Though the retailer replaced the item – a generous offer I hadn’t expected – I spent days fuming and venting to my friends. Compared to other thefts, this crime was fairly innocuous, but my sense of frustration and the feeling of violation were disproportionately irrational. It takes a lot of nerve to walk up to someone’s door and take something, doesn’t it?
The first time I heard the term “porch pirate” was a few years ago, when a friend recounted the story of how her purchase, an expensive purse, had been stolen from the hall in her apartment building. She was livid. She had been saving up for it for months. Worse yet, she figured it had to be someone who lived on the same floor as she did and recognized the Burberry sticker on the packaging.
Since then, porch pirates have become so brazen that they follow courier drivers around neighbourhoods to scoop up what doesn’t belong to them. Imagine!! And in response, residents have employed creative means to combat this practice.
Former NASA engineer and now YouTube sensation Mark Rober was so fed up with the shenanigans that he spent six months developing a device that covered the thieves in glitter and foam spray when they opened the package. In addition to a tracking system, the box also included cameras to watch the unsuspecting criminal’s reaction. The video ended up getting millions of views last year, and he was reported to be planning to do the same this season.
Another porch pirate also made the rounds of Internet infamy recently. A long-time San Francisco resident who began stealing her neighbours’ Amazon packages was captured and prosecuted thanks to cellphone surveillance and smart cameras used by her victims.
There is a more disconcerting story closer to home. I know a girl who discovered that her order of an expensive camera part was mistakenly delivered to the wrong address in her area. Postal-service proof in hand, she marched over to ask for the package, only to be met with denials from the resident. She is convinced the people sold the item and pocketed the money.
There’s no winning, it seems; if the courier doesn’t leave our parcels now-now-now, we complain. If they’re left on our step so we get them ASAP, we complain when someone gets to them before us.
I guess dealing with porch pirates is the price we pay for our impatience.