JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Though we think of the holidays as the season for giving, for criminals it has become the season for taking. And in many cases, they're snatching packages right off people's porches.
With more and more doing their holiday shopping online this year, that means more packages to be delivered and more tempting targets for thieves.
Earlier this week, News4Jax obtained home surveillance video of a porch pirate snooping around Jacksonville's Oceanway neighborhood. Police used that video to track 26-year-old Jessy Allen Van Meter to two pawn shops the very next day.
According to Van Meter's arrest report, he was seen stealing a package just two minutes after it was delivered. There was a similar case in Atlantic Beach a month ago where two men believed to be part of a theft ring were just minutes behind a delivery man.
Almost 26 million Americans, or about 8 percent of the U.S. population, say they've had a package stolen from their porch or doorstep during the holiday season, according to a 2017 survey from InsuranceQuotes.com.
It's a growing problem that shipping companies are well aware of and are constantly working to combat.
In New Jersey, for instance, Amazon teamed up with law enforcement. They installed doorbell cameras and planted decoy deliveries equipped with GPS trackers on people's doorsteps, so when thieves take the bait, they're easy to track down.
"The strategy is good because, of course, if you're able to gather up enough information and enough packages going to one large location, you might be able to break a ring comprised of a lot of people that are doing this," said private investigator Tom Verri.
Fortunately, there are resources available to help consumers avoid becoming victims of theft. Here's what you can do to stop porch pirates from running off with your packages, and what to do if they are stolen:
Track your packages
The US Postal Service, FedEX and UPS all have systems to track your packages from the retailer to your doorstep. All three use tracking numbers that can be used to figure out where the item is and when it should be delivered to your home.
With the postal service's Informed Delivery app, you can have email or text alerts about packages sent to you automatically, and you can post delivery instructions for the mail carrier if you won't be home when the package gets there. UPS' My Choice program and FedEx's Delivery Manager offer similar options.
Amazon helps you keep track of your packages, too, with tracking information that can be found in your order details. In addition, the retail giant offers a service where drivers will take a photo confirming where and when a package was delivered.
Deliver to your office or neighbor
Another surefire way to thwart porch pirates is to not have packages delivered to your home at all. Many people have holiday packages delivered to their workplace or to a trusted neighbor nearby who'll be at home when the item arrives.
FedEx will hold your package for pickup at one of its FedEx Office locations or at Walgreens. Packages sent via UPS can be picked up at a UPS facility, diverted to a UPS Store or even delivered on another day that's more convenient for you.
Likewise, Amazon offers Amazon Lockers to all customers. On top of being a safe and secure delivery location, they're also widely available. In fact, they have locations in more than 900 cities and towns across the U.S.
Invite the delivery person in
Maybe you can't stay home during the day when those precious packages arrive -- hey, you gotta work to pay for those things, right? Sending stuff to your workplace isn't allowed, and you're not tight enough with your neighbors for deliveries to be left with them.
But there are a few other options if you have an Amazon Prime membership. Amazon's Key Smart Lock Kit allows you to remotely unlock your door so a package can be dropped off inside your home. Or use Amazon's Key In-Car Delivery, which allows a delivery person to put a package in your back seat or trunk when it's parked on the street.
What to do if your package doesn't show up
So you got an alert saying your package was delivered but it's nowhere to be found. You can file a police report -- and then also do this:
- If it was delivered by the US Postal Service, you can fill out a Missing Mail Search Request. The main drawback with this, though, is you have to wait seven business days after the package was supposed to arrive before you can take advantage of this option.
- If it was delivered by UPS, the company encourages you to contact the sender to start a claim, because UPS says package senders have the most essential claim documents, like invoices, receipts, etc.
- It if was delivered by FedEx, there's an online form to fill out a claim for a missing package.
- Amazon's "Where's My Stuff?" page offers lots of helpful tips on what to do if your package ends up missing.
Copyright 2018 WJXT and CNN.