Lew Sichelman is a seasoned writer with 50 years of covering the housing and mortgage markets under his belt. His biweekly Inman column publishes on Tuesdays.

If you’ve ever had a package snatched from your front door, you’re not alone. According to new data from insuranceQuotes.com, 8 percent of the population — 26.1 million people — have had parcels swiped by so-called “porch pirates” during the holidays alone.

You hear about these snatch-and-run crimes mostly around this time of year, largely because people do the lion’s share of their online shopping for Christmas. According to the retail marketing research firm Shopify, consumers are expected to spend $123.4 billion in online purchases during the 2018 holiday season, a striking jump from the $91.2 billion spent just two years ago.

But the perpetrators strike year-round, says insuranceQuotes analyst and spokesperson Nick DiUlio. Porch thievery is “particularly high” during the holidays,” he told Inman. “But it’s definitely an issue people have to deal with all year long.”

Based in Austin, Texas, insuranceQuotes offers consumers a free, easy way to shop and compare most lines of insurance, including home, auto health and life. For this year’s study, the company commissioned SSRS to conduct telephone interviews among a sample of 1,001 respondents. (The data collected was weighted to represent the target population at a 95 percent confidence level with a margin of error of +/- 3.62 percent.)

The theft figures are startling. Not only is porch piracy on the upswing — two years ago, 23.5 percent of the population reported losing a delivery that was dropped on their front porch or stoop — but 19.6 million people told researchers they’d had their holiday decorations either stolen or vandalized.

Actually, according to the report, the holidays season is fraught with numerous perils:

  • Fires: 26.1 million Americans have experienced a holiday-related house fire, with causes ranging from cooking (9.8 million) to candles (6.5 million) to Christmas trees (3.3 million).
  • Injuries: 9.8 million have experienced a holiday decorating-related injury.
  • Weather: 107.8 million have slipped on ice, while 45.7 million have experienced a weather-related auto accident during the holidays.

But let’s look at how homeowners can combat porch piracy, which is a relatively new phenomenon.

Of course, having adequate insurance coverage is an absolute must, even for renters. The proper policy “affords you and your family the most priceless gift of all: peace of mind,” says another insuranceQuotes analyst, Jason Hargraves.

Beyond that, though, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions, especially this time of year. One step might include signing up for Amazon Key, which allows delivery people access to your house if you are not home when a package is dropped off. The service costs $250 and includes a smart lock, camera and their installation, according to the report.

Amazon’s approach has had limited success, however. Some, if not most, people simply don’t like the idea of a stranger having access to their property when they are not on site.

“When it first came out, I thought this was a pretty ambitious idea that wouldn’t be embraced by a lot of people right away,” the report quotes personal injury attorney Marc Lamber of the Phoenix-based firm of Lamber Goodwin as saying. “And even more than a year later I think privacy and safety concerns still outweigh the benefits of preventing porch theft. The idea of giving a ‘key’ to your house [doors are opened remotely] to a random delivery driver still doesn’t sit well with most people.”

Then there are the tried-and-true solutions: Asking neighbors to keep an eye out for deliveries as well as suspicious activities, having your packages delivered to a neighbor you are certain will be home, asking that packages be delivered to your back or side doors instead of to the front for all the world to see and having your parcels delivered to your workplace.

Meanwhile, high-tech firm are trying to address the growing piracy problem. And security firms, delivery services and online retailers are trying to come up with both low- and high-tech solutions.

One idea is to install motion detectors. Another is to install a doorbell camera. The latest model from Ring.com ($170) allows you to monitor your home from anywhere, even half-way around the world. When motion is detected around your front door, you receive an instant alert, and you can respond with a booming voice telling unwanted guests to skedaddle

Another new service mentioned in the report is BoxLock, which provides homeowners with a smart padlock designed to protect deliveries. It works similar to Amazon Key, except that when a package is scanned at your front door by the delivery driver, a nearby storage box rather than your front door is unlocked. Only packages addressed to the customer — and that are actually out for delivery that day — will unlock the BoxLock ($175).

Similarly, another service mentioned is called Landport, which is a secured delivery drop box homeowners can install on their porch or stoop. The box ($600) is bolted to its location and features an electronic keypad on which a delivery driver enters a unique access code to open the lid.

A less expensive alternative may be something like the booby-trap package invented by a Tacoma, Washington, homeowner who had packages snatched from his front porch four times two Christmases ago.

His box is pretty simple, according to the local News Tribune newspaper. “It contains a plate holding back a firing pin, connected to a string tied off to the interior doorknob. When the box is pulled on hard enough, it moves the plate, allowing the firing pin to set off a 12-gauge shotgun blank.”

Bang! Run for your lives! Forget the package, and run!

Without spending money, porch theft is a difficult problem to address, Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and COO of the risk-mitigation firm Chargebacks911, says in the insuranceQuote report.

“While there are organized groups who engage in this practice, it is most often a crime of convenience; the thief sees a package sitting unattended and simply grabs it,” she says. “Delivery confirmation can help by serving as evidence for a transaction dispute, but it doesn’t prevent the root of the issue: the theft.”

If you can’t stop them, at least you can try to get even, even if it’s just a little bit of revenge. According to a recent article on porch piracy in The Washington Post, one D.C. resident who had nearly $1,000 worth of packages taken from her porch left thieves a booby-trap — a box heavy with her two dog’s excrement.

“It didn’t stop them, though, “ the owner told the newspaper. But at least it did extract a small measure of satisfaction.

Lew Sichelman is a seasoned writer with 50 years of covering the housing and mortgage markets under his belt. His biweekly Inman column publishes on Tuesdays.

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