How to protect holiday packages from doorstep thieves

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By Ben Popken

There's nothing more anxious than fretting over picking the perfect gift to mail only to worry whether it got intercepted by a doorstep thief. Police are reporting several disturbing incidents of package theft across the country. Even though some of the culprits are caught on camera, they may escape arrest, leaving consumers to bite their nails after they click "send."

With this year being the biggest CyberMonday shopping season since 2010, there could be more packages in the mail, creating more opportunities for these doorstep Grinches.

In Michigan, neighbors and a porch camera caught thieves as they tailed a UPS driver and picked up the packages he left behind. When police caught the suspects, they had over two dozen packages in their van, including speakers, clothing, and a 30-pound bag of dog food.

It's not just the Wolverine State. Five thieves were arrested last week in Chicago for stealing packages from porches. In New York a home surveillance video surfaced on YouTube with a bold thief strolling up to a woman's door and snagging a package from her steps.

Though alarming, mailers say actual doorstep package thefts are relatively rare. UPS spokesman Andy McGowan said "a very small number" of packages are stolen. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service didn't have statistics readily available.

Still, there's no need to gift unsafely. Here's how to protect your holiday packages from those who would snatch them off your loved one's porches.

Add signature confirmation

For a small fee you can require that someone signs for your package before the delivery person drops it off. It's not foolproof, but it increases the odds of a safe delivery. At FedEx, either the shipper or recipient can make that request.

Use premium package control programs

For $5-$10 per request, you can get access to power delivery tools at UPS at FedEx that allow you to reschedule times or specify delivery windows. For a $40 annual fee, UPS My Choice members can make as many requests as they want. FedEx Delivery Manager also has some free options, like a 14-day vacation hold or specifying that you want it delivered to a specific area, like tucked behind a grill or planter.

Get it delivered to your local mail facility

All the major carriers will allow you to re-route packages to your local mail office. "These centers can serve as a "mailroom receiving agent" and offer a real street address, secure 24-hour access (at participating locations) and email or text notification when you have a package waiting," said UPS's McGowan. At FedEx, this is free, UPS and USPS charge a fee. UPS also accepts packages from all carriers. 

Enroll a friend

If you can't be home, have a trusted friend or family member pick up your package and hold onto it.

Get presents at work!

Have the package mailed to you or your giftee's workplace.

Keep your eyes peeled

"Neighbors protect neighbors by flagging suspicious activity to each other and the police," Sheriff Anthony Wickersham of Macomb County in Michigan told TODAY.

If it does get stolen... check your credit card

Many issuers offer theft protection. If your package gets stolen, file a police report immediately and send it to your credit card company. They'll refund your purchase, up to $500 or $1,000, depending on your credit card company's policies. 

Email Ben Popken or @bpopken.