Porch Piracy

USPS Postal Worker Appears to Watch Thief Steal Just Delivered Package – What Role Should Carriers Have to Prevent Porch Piracy?


Over the last few years, we’ve reported on a number of delivery stories, including positive stories like a heroic Amazon delivery driver saving a teen from a pit bull attack to the unbelievable story of a parent engaging in porch piracy using their child as the thief.

As front porch or home surveillance cameras are becoming more prevalent, all major delivery companies, USPS, UPS, FedEx, Amazon and others have been in the news at one point or another with one of these delivery stories.

This week, a new story emerged in Philadelphia that raises the question about what responsibility delivery personnel have to prevent porch pirates from stealing packages. Is this their job, should they intervene if they see it happen? The answer may not be that simple.

USPS Worker Appears to Watch Theft

First, let’s look at the incident from this week. In a video from a front-door surveillance camera in Philadelphia, a USPS carrier delivers a package to a resident who, seconds later, has it stolen by an unidentified person while the postal worker apparently witnesses the theft but does not interfere.

The Philadelphia/Point Breeze neighborhood resident claims to local TV station NBC10 that the package contained a $150 pair of sneakers she purchased as a birthday present for herself. “It’s just annoying I paid for something — it was a birthday gift for myself — and some random man took it,” the resident said to NBC10.

The TV station reached out to the Postal Service which said it’s investigating the incident to find out exactly what happened during this delivery.

USPS further said to the news outlet that postal carriers are instructed not to intervene in situations that may place them at personal risk, but are to report such incidents to their supervisor and police.

It is unclear from the NBC10 report if the USPS worker reported the alleged theft to a supervisor or police or if the Postal Service’s investigation was started because of the media coverage of the incident.

The Point Breeze resident feels strongly the delivery person should have had some responsibility to stop the theft. “There definitely needs to be an investigation and I don’t feel comfortable with her delivering my mail after seeing that video. I think there needs to be a suspension until it gets resolved,” she said.

Porch Piracy – A Growing Problem?

But while her frustration is understandable, should delivery companies and their people really intervene and put their health and lives at risk over a relatively minor theft? The customer bought a pair of sneakers, the box arrived, and some random person just snapped up the package from her doorstep.

If her surveillance video wouldn’t have caught the Postal Worker standing there as this alleged theft happened, she likely would have had to contact the online store for help to resolve the missing package.

In short, it would have never made the news and would have been just one of the millions of incidents that happen every year.

To offer some context on how large this problem has grown, a Consumer Reports survey from 2021 found that 11% of Americans had at least one package stolen from their home, with 64% in that group claiming it happened at least twice to them.

Actual crime statistics on porch piracy can be elusive because they are typically not tracked as a separate crime, but included in residential burglary statistics.

In addition, many shoppers do not report the theft to the police because they received a free replacement from the online retailer or they do not think it is worth reporting because the package value was low.

Online merchants know the problem exists, but their primary goal is to satisfy the customer and keep them happy so they come back to buy more products.

Unlike the early days of eCommerce when some retailers would request signatures on higher value items or insure packages, today, most online companies don’t bother with doing either.

The reason is simple, requesting a signature no longer makes online commerce convenient!

If a shopper is not home, they will either have to sign a release form for the carrier to leave the package the next day or the customer has to pick up the package from the local Post Office or delivery company office.

Insuring a package for damage or theft is also a time and money waster for many major online retailers. It’s far simpler and cheaper to “self-insure” and resolve the problem with a customer immediately, instead of going through some protracted third-party resolution process.

Remember, customer service and convenience is king, and if that means taking some losses, which the large online companies will bake into the cost of doing business, that’s fine.

Of course, porch piracy is more problematic for small sellers, especially those that sell on online marketplaces like eBay or Etsy.

Often, the only sale they make to a customer is that one sale because many buyers on online marketplaces are more loyal to the marketplace itself than to an individual seller. Repeat business does exist for some sellers, but many only get that one sale, and any loss becomes problematic.

Online marketplaces try to entice sellers to offer enterprise-level customer service by linking performance metrics to final value fees or search visibility. So, there can be an incentive for a seller to take a moderate financial hit to keep their business more visible and transaction fees lower on a marketplace.

However, for very small sellers to absorb a bigger loss, let’s say something around $500, purely for customer service reasons, could be a major existential threat. It’s the reason many small sellers will insure higher valued packages or even request signatures at the time of delivery.

Just ensuring a package, however, doesn’t necessarily solve the problem for small sellers. The time and effort it takes to file an insurance claim are usually beyond the patience level of the average buyer.

Buyers may still leave negative feedback or open claims against the seller that could impact their performance ratings on the marketplace.

Online marketplaces like Etsy or eBay are trying to accommodate both sides. But often sellers end up holding the bag in delivery disputes, regardless of how many times the marketplaces claim they protect sellers.

It’s one of the most common grievances by small marketplace sellers that they are being held to standards that only large sellers or online retailers like Amazon can afford.

Can Carriers Prevent Porch Piracy?

This particular situation with the USPS carrier watching the alleged theft occur in front of them brings up the role of delivery companies and the prevention of porch piracy.

Going back a decade or longer, some shoppers may remember when delivery drivers would try to hide packages under doormats (haha, that wasn’t obvious) or place the package under some furniture on the porch, between plants, or even give it to a neighbor that was home.

Virtually all of these measures are gone today as delivery vans are full and drivers no longer have the time to assess individual locations for best hiding spots.

In newer neighborhoods, condos, and apartments, USPS may use community Postal mailboxes that include larger lockable boxes that can be used for small parcels. But often that only helps a few packages.

Amazon, courier companies, and residential community associations have been expanding the installation of community parcel lockers and some consumers have even installed individual parcel lockers in front of their homes to protect from porch pirates.

Unfortunately, for millions of urban residents in areas such as Point Breeze in Philadelphia, their options are limited and often they only have the small area in front of their home which sits a few feet from the public sidewalk.

Some companies, notably Amazon being one of the first to do so, offer in-home or garage delivery, which offers security for packages left while consumers are not home. USPS, UPS, and FedEx also offer hold for pickup or evening redelivery options that customers can pay for.

Delivery carriers know this problem exists too and have been working to offer more flexible solutions to merchants and consumers. It’s a different world today from when the “Signature Required” option was the only reliable way to ensure secure delivery to a consumer.

But when it comes to actively intervene in a potential theft, that is a line delivery companies are not going to want to cross for safety and liability reasons. Delivery people are not trained to confront thieves and they have no idea if the criminal is armed or otherwise could become violent toward them.

While this may be frustrating for consumers, porch piracy is not solved by placing delivery personnel in harm’s way to protect a package. That is placing an undue burden on the folks making a living delivering hundreds of packages per day. They are not armed guards escorting money or diamonds.

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