7 Tips to Keep 'Porch Pirates' From Stealing Your Holiday

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  • The holidays are expensive enough, so don't let thieves take your holiday gift packages.
  • You can have items delivered to secure locations, like a P.O. Box or your place of work.
  • Follow shipper tracking closely, or even ask a neighbor to snag a package off the porch for you.

It's not just the Grinch you have to worry about.

The holiday season can be a particularly expensive time of year. This year, we're also grappling with record-high inflation, which has even come for your fancy holiday coffee. There are certainly plenty of ways to save money during the holidays. But one place where you might be more hesitant to cut back is your spending on gifts. It's really the time and care you extend to your loved ones all year that counts, but I can understand the impulse to splurge a little. Just try to avoid going into credit card debt, especially as interest rates rise.

What you don't want is to pick out the perfect gifts -- only to have someone steal your packages. These nefarious thieves are called "porch pirates," and it can be a real bummer to get that email from Amazon saying your package was delivered, only to discover it's missing. Here's what you can do to ensure your holiday gifts make it to their intended recipients.

1. Add special delivery instructions

In many cases, you can specify how you want packages delivered to you. You could add a note that packages should be left on your back porch if your front entrance is extremely visible to your whole neighborhood. You could also consider requiring a signature for delivery; if you're ordering something expensive (such as jewelry), this is always recommended, and if you're ordering something age-restricted (like alcohol), it might be required by the shipper anyway. You'll need to be home though -- if you miss the delivery a few times, your package could be sent back.

2. Use a P.O. Box or pick-up location

Rather than having packages delivered to your home, you could consider getting a post office box or using an Amazon pick-up location, if you're ordering from Amazon. These are set commercial locations (or self-service locker kiosks within them) where Amazon drivers can leave packages and you can swing by to pick them up.

3. Have packages sent to work

This was my trick for years when I lived in a string of rentals with no safe place to leave packages and I also worked away from home. If your work building is publicly accessible and there's a place to leave packages, you can put in the office address as your delivery location. You may run into trouble if the delivery attempt is made when the building is closed, but this works in most cases (and if your employer doesn't mind).

4. Track that tracking

While modern life has its downsides, package tracking is definitely not one of them. I work from home now, but I live on the second floor of a two-family house and can't see my front porch (or the mail carrier) from my apartment. As soon as a tracking number is available, I sign up for text alerts, so if a package hits the porch, I get notified and can run down to grab it.

5. Install motion-sensor lights

Motion-sensor lights might be a good addition to your home even without the threat of porch pirates, as they can save you from fumbling to get your key in the door on a cold dark winter evening when you forgot to turn on the porch light -- again. While having a light turn on as someone jumps onto your porch won't keep them from grabbing the box and taking off, it may give them some pause about whether you might have other security measures in place -- or they might assume you flicked the light on and are watching them through a nearby window, ready to report a theft.

6. Consider a video doorbell

Smart doorbells with cameras are quite the hip trend these days, and sometimes you can find a good deal on one by buying at the right time and using the right credit card. They can serve as home security cameras and can be set to notify you if someone's at your door. Plus, some camera set-ups are audio-enabled, allowing you to speak with your visitor (and vice versa). If you have one of these and someone swipes your package, you'll have recorded video evidence of the theft.

7. Ask a neighbor for help

Finally, if you're friendly with a neighbor and you know they'll be home on a day when you have a package coming, you can ask them to snag it and hold it for you to keep it from getting stolen. I've lived in multifamily houses off and on for years and have done this for neighbors and vice versa. If you ask a neighbor to help you out, consider thanking them with a holiday baked good. (One time, I got banana bread for bringing in the big TV my upstairs neighbors ordered.) Having a good relationship with your neighbors can come in handy in all kinds of other situations, too.

Lost a package?

If you're the victim of porch piracy, here's what to do:

  • Contact the retailer: Some will tell you that you're out of luck, as the risk of loss passes to you as the buyer once the package leaves the shipper's hands. But some companies may provide you a replacement item free of charge.
  • Contact the shipper: You can file a claim for the lost item and maybe get reimbursed.
  • Check your credit card benefits: If you used a credit card to make the purchase, you may have purchase protection benefits that will reimburse you for the loss.
  • Contact the police: There may not be much you can do, but if the package you lost contained something expensive, it might be worth it. You may also need a police report to file a claim with a retailer, shipper, or your credit card company.

Losing a package to porch pirates can put a damper on your holidays. Follow these pointers to stop them in their tracks.

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