How to protect your online purchases from porch pirates

By Katherine Ross/ValuePenguin

This holiday season, more than two-thirds of consumers will have packages delivered to their homes. Many, if not most, of those items will be shipped by online merchants. But a good chunk of those deliveries will never reach their intended recipients. Last year, according to BusinessWire, 11 million U.S. consumers had packages stolen from their doorsteps, and the prevalence of such theft is high enough that the term "porch pirates" has arisen to describe its perpetrators.

Here's how to best ensure your online purchases don't fall into the hands of gift thieves.

Personalize and optimize your deliveries

UPS and USPS allow consumers to personalize where a package will be left, so it's worth considering an alternative location to a highly visible front porch. Perhaps there's a side door that's less visible while still being accessible to delivery people.

If you have a friendly neighbor who's often home when you aren't, consider having packages delivered to that person instead, or asking them to keep an eye out and retrieve any packages that linger for too long in plain sight.

To customize delivery, use the tracking number you receive from the online retailer when the item ships from their warehouse. That should allow you both to track the progress of your shipment and, if you wish, to specify its delivery to a different location around the home. (For delivery to a neighbor, it's usually best, with their permission, to specify their name and address when you place the order.)

Use a Locker for your Amazon deliveries

Amazon purchases represent over 43 percent of online purchases in the U.S., and the retail giant offers the option of having them delivered to Amazon Lockers, typically located in nearby retail stores from which the company rents space. You then receive a locker number and a code that unlocks the locker door.

True, it may be less convenient for some people to receive an item at a store than on their doorstep, but the option also frees you from the need to be home to receive deliveries securely. Wondering if your package qualifies for a Locker? You can check here.

Consider a hardware purchase

Another option is to purchase gear that secures your deliveries by enclosing them, monitoring them or, in the case of a new Amazon product, allowing the delivery person to unlock your house to place them inside.

The Amazon Key, released on November 8, works by alerting a home's primary resident when an Amazon courier is near. The courier can unlock the door on which the Key is installed. That instruction also turns on the Cloud Cam, a webcam packaged with the product which connects to your smartphone. The Cam then records the delivery person entering and leaving your home; allowing you to watch the delivery live, if you wish. 

While it's troubling that one security firm was able to hack into the device, Amazon says it's tweaking the Key's settings to address the threat. A different upgrade to home security, which also allows you to monitor your packages, is to install a webcam such as Nest. The webcam continuously monitors an outdoor area and alerts you, with live video images, when a would-be intruder appears. A Nest outdoor webcam retails for $200, but there are cheaper webcams that cost as little as $80.

There's also the Package Guard, a circular device that allows deliveries to be placed on it. If they are removed before you disarm the device, an alarm sounds. Consumers can also purchase lockboxes that allow delivery people to secure your packages as they leave them. The Landport brand allows you to share your electronic code with the delivery driver, through the delivery company's website or via a mobile app. Landport boxes range in price from $200 to $800, depending on the size. Porch Box, priced at up to $200, allows consumers to attach a lock to the box, and share either the key or a key code with a delivery person. where delivery people can leave the parcels. Porch boxes can cost up to $200.

The goals for all these solutions are, of course, to promote less stressful holidays, including avoiding the need to re-order gifts or to pursue such problematic remedies as claiming their loss on your homeowners insurance.