La Vida SoCal: The Death of the Honor System

Posted December 23, 2015 by The Argonaut in Columns
By Tony Peyser
There’s finally a name for people who steal packages delivered to homes and apartment buildings: Porch Pirates.

The U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx were rather reluctant to provide specific data about such thievery for a recent story by CNBC. UPS gave the most specific answer of the three: that the numbers are “scant.”

But Google “Porch Pirates” and you’ll soon see enough stories from coast to coast to suggest that there’s a national epidemic.

Merchandise is falling through the cracks because online retailers and delivery companies have long seen their job as getting specific items to specific addresses, not literally into the hands of whoever placed the order. The system worked because of the honor system, which now appears to be as dead as wine coolers.

The rise in porch piracy has everything to do with the rise of online shopping. Internet retail giant Amazon so far hasn’t even been part of the porch piracy discussion — instead, they have the post office running Sunday deliveries for their Amazon Prime customers and creating a special part-time workforce (called city carrier assistants) to do it.

In a recent survey, the National Retail Federation found that some people plan to make as many as half of their holiday purchases online this year. When it comes to shopping, we’ve become a society more likely to drive by the mall than to it.

Those in the business of moving all that stuff from Point A to Point B are dealing with the fallout.

The post office has launched My USPS, an online dashboard that allows users to check the status of domestic packages 24/7 from a computer or mobile device.

UPS is addressing porch piracy with Access Point locations at local businesses — Hallmark Cleaners on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, Trading Post Liquor Mart in Venice and the Eco Pet dog grooming salon in Westchester, for example — that offer a secure space to store packages until they can be picked up. The company also has an app, UPS My Choice, which allows online shoppers more control over home delivery times.

Entrepreneurs are also seeing opportunity. Doorman is a new startup allowing users to schedule their own delivery times for $3.99 per package, but so far it’s only available in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

Apps, it’s worth noting, have also had downsides when it comes to porch pirates. In the San Fernando Valley, thieves used a delivery system’s smartphone app to follow delivery trucks and scoop up the goods before the owners did. Now some delivery drivers are being told to look out for tails and alert local law enforcement if they think they’re being followed.

As criminals get more innovative, law enforcement is trying to catch up. The Rancho Cordova Police Department in Sacramento County has gone so far as to place GPS-tagged “bait packages” on doorsteps.

At the same time, Porch Pirate victims are getting increasingly frustrated.

A woman in Westchester whose block has been repeatedly targeted recently posted to social media that she’s considering putting dog droppings inside nicely wrapped packages and leaving them out for thieves. An extreme option for sure, but can you blame her?

Santa Monica Police Sgt. Rudy Camarena offered other suggestions for outsmarting porch pirates:

•    Require a signature for package deliveries

•    Have packages delivered to your workplace or someone who is home during the day

•    Purchase delivery insurance when possible

•    Have retailers send items to a nearby brick-and-mortar location or look into Amazon’s package locker locations

It probably goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: If you see someone taking a package that five-will-get-you-ten isn’t theirs, don’t confront them. It’s not worth getting injured over your neighbor’s complete set of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” action figures. Call the police with 411 regarding the thief’s description and the year and make of their getaway car.

The British poet D.J. Enright once recalled how people discussed their innocent childhood and bragged that the front door of their family home was never locked.

Enright, a sly fellow, suggested, “You didn’t have anything worth stealing.”

These days, however, most of us do have some things worth taking. Porch Pirates — Exhibit A of how we’re hopelessly addicted to online shopping — mean we have to keep a closer eye on our deliveries and maybe visit a brick-and-mortar shop once in a while.

One Comment

    addie segerman

    Very good advice

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