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Missing package? How to handle Tampa Bay porch poachers and package thieves

We break down how to report a stolen package, when to contact police and whether a Ring camera is worth it.
Amazon contract drive, Manuel Moreno of Pinellas Park delivers packages on Dec. 4 throughout the Pinellas Point neighborhood of St. Petersburg. [BILL VARIAN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Amazon contract drive, Manuel Moreno of Pinellas Park delivers packages on Dec. 4 throughout the Pinellas Point neighborhood of St. Petersburg. [BILL VARIAN | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2019

St. Petersburg’s Kenwood Nextdoor page is on high alert.

The neighborhood online message board is cluttered with posts about “porch pirates.”

Kenwood is hardly alone. One Nextdoor user shared a video from a doorbell camera of two boys — no more than 12 — running off with an Amazon package from a home in nearby Harshaw Lakes neighborhood. Another warns neighbors about a man seen in a El Camino with a bed full of packages seemingly following a mail truck down First Avenue N. in the heart of Sunshine City.

Already, online retail leader Amazon has said its Thanksgiving/Black Friday through Cyber Monday sales beat last year’s records. That means millions of parcels are journeying to homes across the country.

Law enforcement agencies from around the region say as online ordering continues to grow, so does the opportunity for theft. With so many questions and fears surrounding package thefts, the Tampa Bay Times is here to break down what’s going on and what you can do to protect your presents.

A FedEx truck is parked while making deliveries on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. [SARA DINATALE | Tampa Bay Times]

Are more packages being stolen every year?

Neighborhood apps — Nextdoor, Citizen and Amazon Ring’s Neighbors — can make crimes feel like they’re occurring at high rates because they create a level awareness people didn’t have before. Information about relatively minor crimes is more accessible than ever, but that doesn’t mean they’re happening more than ever.

The FBI reported that the rate of burglaries was down nearly 13 percent and the rate of larceny — or the theft of personal property — down about 6 percent nationwide in 2018 from the prior year.

The rate at which packages are stolen can be difficult to suss out, as law enforcement largely groups them with other property thefts that don’t involve stashed deliveries. It’s also not uncommon for someone to report a missing or stolen item to the vendor, such as Amazon, but not to law enforcement.

Related: St. Pete ‘porch pirate’ picked up by Pinellas Park police

Tampa police, however, track reported porch thefts within its city limits. Last November, they logged 25 stolen packages. This November, there were only 10 reported.

“So far this year, we’re not seeing anything out of the ordinary,” said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez. “Generally, over the last five years, we’ve seen this kind of thing ramp up.”

Most studies about stolen packages are now a few years old, making it difficult to say if there has been any meaningful shift. Xfinity Home, Comcast’s home security service, said a 2017 survey showed 30 percent of Americans have had packages stolen.

Will getting a doorbell camera do anything?

Security companies, of course, report that the addition of their cameras can scare off would-be package thieves. It’s not uncommon to see videos of delivery bandits shared by law enforcement on social media in an effort to identify the culprits.

“The growth in security cameras such as Ring has allowed us to identify such crooks and make more arrests than we could have in the past, unless someone actually witnessed such a theft," said Pasco County Sheriff’s spokesman Ken Doll.

But the most effective way to ensure your packages are safe is not to leave them in the open by the front door for any amount of time.

Amazon contract worker Manuel Moreno, of Pinellas Park, begins a delivery to a Pinellas Point home in St. Petersburg on Dec. 4. [Tampa Bay Times]

How do I keep my packages safe while I’m at work or out of the house?

If you’re ordering packages from Amazon, you can choose an Amazon locker as your delivery address. Amazon has lockers all over: at Whole Foods, inside Stein Mart, outside of gas stations. Amazon’s website allows you to search by address to find one near you.

You can also opt to have a package delivered to your office or to a relative or neighbor you know will be home. Most brick-and-mortar retailers allow shoppers to pick up online orders in stores. FedEx has the option of having packages held at Walgreens. UPS has businesses in its network it calls “Access Points" that also will hold packages.

Related: What happens after you click ‘buy’ on Amazon: Inside Ruskin’s fulfillment center

The U.S. Postal Service allows packages to be held for pickup using the “USPS Package Intercept" systems on its website. That way, packages can be held at the post office. The postal service also enables people to authorize carriers to leave packages somewhere other than a front porch. Even placing a parcel on the side of the house — or anywhere else out of view — can make it less of a target.

My package is missing. What do I do?

If you have a security camera, watch the footage to figure out if the package was removed or never delivered. If stolen, contact the local police and seller. Your credit card company also may be able to reimburse the charge. Law enforcement will contact the U.S. Postal Service’s investigations branch when necessary, but you also can call it at 877-876-2455.

If you don’t have a security camera, first make sure the package wasn’t placed somewhere out-of-sight in an effort to keep it safe. Amazon has drivers take photos of where they put packages to make items easier to find and to help determine if they were swiped.

If it’s unclear whether a package was stolen or just never delivered, Amazon says to wait 48 hours before putting in a claim. If your item was purchased from a third party but delivered by Amazon, you should first contact that seller who will then handle the claim process. If your item was sourced and delivered by Amazon — as with Amazon Prime items — you will begin the claim directly with the company.

Amazon will refund up to $2,500 of the purchase price and shipping.

I have no evidence. Should I still report the crime to police?

Without a video or witness, the police will not be able to do much to bring your porch thief to justice. But having a record of the incident can help your neighbors as police track theft trends and targeted streets.

In general, any documentation, such as an incident report with police, can only help you get your item or money back. Be sure to hold on to any receipts, credit card statements and email correspondence between yourself, the seller and the delivery service.

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