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Package thefts can be prevented, police, experts say

Megan Guza
| Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, 10:40 p.m.
With more than 600 million packages being mailed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, thieves have ample opportunity to snatch boxes from doorsteps. Having packages delivered to a local UPS location is one suggestion police and experts say can help avoid theft. Pictured here, packages at the UPS Store in the South Side on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
With more than 600 million packages being mailed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, thieves have ample opportunity to snatch boxes from doorsteps. Having packages delivered to a local UPS location is one suggestion police and experts say can help avoid theft. Pictured here, packages at the UPS Store in the South Side on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015.
With more than 600 million packages being mailed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, thieves have ample opportunity to snatch boxes from doorsteps. Having packages delivered to a local UPS location is one suggestion police and experts say can help avoid theft. Pictured here, packages at the UPS Store in the South Side on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
With more than 600 million packages being mailed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, thieves have ample opportunity to snatch boxes from doorsteps. Having packages delivered to a local UPS location is one suggestion police and experts say can help avoid theft. Pictured here, packages at the UPS Store in the South Side on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015.

Mail carriers will deliver more than 600 million packages between now and Christmas, giving thieves ample opportunity to snatch an order from a doorstep before the customer does.

“It's a growing trend, and we do see it from time to time,” said Mt. Lebanon police Lt. Duane Fisher. “People will follow the UPS, FedEx or mail truck, or they'll case a neighborhood to know what time deliveries are being made.”

A criminal familiar with delivery times, he said, might drive through to see if many residents are home or away.

“You can make a pretty good profit, depending on what people are ordering,” he said.

Experts and police offer tips, the most basic of which comes down to not having a package delivered when no one is there to receive it.

Most Pennsylvanians, however, don't heed that advice, according to insurance company Allstate's Holiday Home Hazards poll.

The survey found 84 percent of Pennsylvania residents plan to spend money on gifts this year and 27 percent plan to spend more than last year. More than two-thirds said they have had valuables delivered to their homes when they're not there, and 8 percent experienced package theft.

Postal inspectors make nearly 10,000 arrests each year, many for mail theft, according to the U.S. Postal Service website.

Technology could be an answer.

A smartphone application local to Chicago was released this month that allows users to choose when a package is delivered.

The app, Doorman, gives users the address of a warehouse, which they can use as the shipping address during online checkout. Once the package arrives at the warehouse, customers are notified and they arrange for a delivery driver to drop it off when it's convenient for them.

For delivery services such as FedEx and UPS, technology offers more control. Beyond tracking numbers — which allow customers to see each stop a parcel makes — apps and websites give customers further control over deliveries.

A spokesman for UPS said that although thefts have not increased, attention to thefts is up because of things such as home security cameras.

“Incidents of theft involving UPS deliveries are rare,” spokesman Dan Cardillo said. “UPS delivers about 18 million packages every day, and our data indicate that the rate of incidents involving UPS has been relatively flat over the last few years.”

He noted that customers can have their packages rerouted to work, or can leave instructions telling a delivery driver where to leave a package.

A spokeswoman for FedEx said to make sure packages delivered to a home are not left sitting out, a person should require a signature. Similarly, customers can request their order be delivered to a FedEx office.

The FedEx website and mobile app let customers to choose a delivery time frame on a day of their choosing.

In Washington County, Peters police Chief Harry Fruecht said his department mostly sees holiday thefts from cars in shopping center parking lots.

“It's early for us yet, but it is a problem, especially with people out shopping who leave packages in the car,” he said. “Even if they lock it, it doesn't take a skilled person very long to get into the car.”

He said he would not discount thieves targeting doorstep deliveries.

“Whatever someone wants to take, they're going to find a way,” he said.

Megan Guza is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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