Forget the Grinch: Now porch pirates stealing Christmas (packages)

There’s no doubt online purchasing has made the holidays a little less harried for Christmas shoppers. It’s also provided a gold mine for so-called “porch pirates” — opportunistic thieves who are cleaning up on everything from LED televisions to Burberry button-downs.

“We typically see an increase in package thefts during the holiday season due to the dramatic increase in packages being shipped this time of year. Criminals also know this,” said officer D.T. Hannah of the Atlanta Police Department.

Hannah said package thefts are treated as any other crime; an officer is dispatched and a report is written.

Sometimes they get their suspect quickly.

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On Dec. 1, moments after a receiving a call about a man seen taking packages left on the porch of a house on Monroe Drive, a nearby APD officer on patrol spotted the thief, riding a mountain bike just as the caller had reported.

Inside the suspect’s backpack police found men’s shower gel, a water bottle and a dog leash — items the homeowner was expecting, and the same items on the packing list left behind in one of the boxes.

Arrests are more likely when the homeowner has surveillance cameras trained on their front door. Earlier this month, video footage helped lead Smyrna police to an Amazon contract worker who admitted to stealing from his own delivery truck. Twenty three empty boxes were found at the driver’s residence.

“Package theft and theft from autos are two of our biggest priorities during the holiday season,” Hannah said. Officers are placed on heightened alert and advised of the need to be particularly mindful of package thieves while patrolling city neighborhoods.

Officers usually assigned to administrative duties are put on patrol to augment the numbers on the streets, Hannah said.

The problem has become more pronounced as home package deliveries continue to rise.

UPS driver Dan Partyka heads out on his route. It costs more to deliver items to individual doorsteps, so the rise of online shopping has forced UPS to adjust. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM (Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

UPS expects to deliver 750 million packages this season, up from 500 million five years ago. The parcel service typically ships more than 19 million packages a day. But between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, that daily volume nearly doubles.

UPS spokesman Matt O’Connor said the company does not disclose the cost of package theft, but the world’s largest shipper has instituted a number of programs to safeguard consumers’ packages and to make deliveries more convenient.

“We work very hard to make sure everyone’s packages are delivered in time for Christmas and the holidays,” O’Connor said.

The Sandy Springs-based company launched an app called My Choice that allows customers to pick where and when deliveries arrive, direct drivers where to place packages and receive alerts when goods are delivered. More than 40 million UPS customer use the app, which they can also use to direct drivers to deliver the package to a designated friend or neighbor, or a pickup location such as a UPS Store, UPS Access Point locker or a neighborhood delivery partner.

UPS has more than 9,000 merchant partners, such as grocers, dry cleaners and their own stores, that will hold shipments for customers. The company also has more than 300 Access Point lockers, which are secure self-service locations, typically in urban areas.

“The intent of these two programs is to give consumers more control of how and when they receive their residential deliveries,” O’Connor said.

VIEW A MAP OF CRIME in the metro Atlanta area:

FedEx said there’s likely no way to guarantee 100 percent package security, but you can boost your peace of mind.

The Memphis-based company, the second-largest carrier after UPS, handles hundreds of millions of packages during the holiday season. Security concerns are a constant.

FedEx suggests three approaches to safeguard deliveries, company spokeswoman Rae Lyn Rushing wrote in an email:

*Consider an alternate destination. You can have the item sent where there is likely to be someone home during the day – a friend, family member or neighbor. You could also use FedEx Onsite, a list of alternate delivery locations, including grocery stores and Walgreen pharmacies.

*Have the package sent to a FedEx location. “We’ll hold it for you for up to five business days,” wrote Rushing.

*Request a signature – especially if you are shipping something valuable.

— Staff writers Rhonda Cook, J. Scott Trubey and Michael Kanell contributed to this article.

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