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‘Porch pirates’ on the hunt for holiday shipping booty

By Kevin Limiti • Special to

They take on the title “porch pirates,” but really, they’re package thieves — the dark side of the busy holiday shopping season deliveries.

Just two weeks ago, two people were arrested for stealing packages from porches in Hartwick, Garrattsville, and New Lisbon, according to New York State Police. The pair were arrested November 15 and charged with petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree, and conspiracy in the sixth degree.

The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta asked local police departments for strategies local residents can employ to protect their packages.

Agnieszka Dembinska, public information officer for the New York State Police, said package thefts happen throughout the year, but become more common as the holiday season approaches.

“It happens every year now that more and more folks are using online services,” Officer Dembinska said. “We usually see an uptick around the holiday times.”

Officer Dembinska recommended shoppers sign up for delivery alerts to know when their package arrives, or use a service such as Amazon Locker. She also said to call the police if residents see somebody acting suspicious, including a person driving slowly in a way that is unusual for the neighborhood.
Oneonta Police Chief Chris Witzenberg said there was no “perfect solution” to porch piracy, although there were some things resident could do to protect their delivered parcels.

“Anytime we’re talking about online shopping it gets tricky,” Chief Witzenberg said. He suggested “having some signs of life at the house or having packages delivered to a place where you can pick them up.”

According to Chief Witzenberg, practices such as this can help protect people’s packages.

“Every year we have some sort of package theft,” Chief Witzenberg said. “One person, if he or she is so inclined, can go through many packages.”

Police suggest, too, that buyers add special instructions such as delivering to a back door or to a trustworthy neighbor who might be home.

“Even dummy cameras would be enough of a deterrent to make them move along,” Chief Witzenberg said.

Otsego County Sherriff Richard Devlin said it helps to keep delivered packages out of sight.

“It’s a tough thing,” he said. “These people are driving around looking to see something unattended on the porch. It’s really no different than going to a store and stealing. They have no idea what’s in that box so they’re just hoping it’s something that pays.”

Corporal James Kelman of the Cooperstown Police Department said the number of calls the village department gets each year from package thefts is “in the single digits” but nevertheless had suggestions on how to give residents “peace of mind.”

He echoed the advice of his local law enforcement colleagues, but also suggested using the Amazon Ring, a video doorbell, and/or to let the post office know if they’re going away so they can hold their mail.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but so far we haven’t had many problems with package theft,” he said. “We’re in a different climate now, so we may see an increase, but at this time they’re not prevalent in the village.”

The New York State Consumer Protection Board, too, offers package safety tips, as well, urging consumers to take special care to guard against package and delivery scams.

Here’s what they recommend:
• Keep track of your packages. Package tracking and delivery scams are common during the holidays. Review the tracking information for your package and note any issues right away through the merchandisers’ websites.
• Beware of phishing attempts. Another common scam this time of year is scammers using phishing emails and text messages and impersonating delivery companies (e.g. UPS, USPS, FedEx), banking and credit card companies, and other large retailers (e.g. Netflix, PayPal, eBay, Amazon), which often include links to sites attempting to steal your information. Always open a browser and type the company’s website address yourself instead of clicking on a link in an email or text message.


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