A package wrapped in paper under a tree is almost irresistible to children at this time of year.
When it’s left on a front porch, it’s often criminals who can’t resist.
With the Internet becoming the holiday shopping experience of choice for more and more people, opportunistic thieves are finding it easy to play the role of the Grinch, pilfering packages from porches and patios. That’s why delivery companies are warning their customers to take steps to avoid a very teary Christmas by ensuring that their items do not become easy pickings.
“Criminals follow behind UPS trucks, or those from FedEx or the Postal Service, because they know the delivery person is going to be delivering holiday packages,” said Natalie Godwin, a spokeswoman at UPS’ Atlanta-based corporate offices. “We see this every year.”
It happened again this week.
Amherst police arrested Shaquille Holman, 20, of Watson Street, and Ezekiel Polite, 20, of Deerfield Avenue, and accused them of grabbing packages throughout Snyder. The two now face charges of criminal possession of stolen property, petit larceny and other charges.
It happened because of an increasingly common occurrence: No one was home to accept the package, no other accommodation was made, and a delivery person left the packages where a passerby could see them.
But as one Christmas song says, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Each of the major carriers – UPS, FedEx and the Postal Service – offer varying degrees of protection for holiday customers’ package deliveries.
For instance, at UPS, a free program called My Choice – a program that enables customers to manage their deliveries by setting their own preferences – already boasts 25 million customers nationwide, Godwin said.
“So many people shop online for the convenience; this is a convenience service for deliveries,” Godwin said.
The free service allows customers to receive updates on packages by email, text message or telephone. Included are delivery reminders, alerts and delivery confirmation notifications. For a $40 annual fee, customers can leave UPS instructions on where to leave a package, unlimited rerouting and rescheduling options, as well as selecting a confirmed two-hour delivery window.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, Godwin said, UPS will deliver 527 million packages. That’s in addition to the 385 million delivered by the Postal Service and 280 million more by FedEx.
Although vendors can, for a fee, choose to require signatures from customers in shipping its goods with all three carriers, such volume makes obtaining signatures on every item costly and impractical.
Thank the Internet and the explosion of online shopping. Take the largest online retailer, as one example: Amazon.com, which showed $15.7 million in sales in its first full year of operation in 1996, grew its business by 838 percent to $147.8 million just a year later.
Today’s net sales are dwarfing those early figures.
By 2007, Amazon.com reported sales of $14.8 billion, only to be eclipsed by $19.2 billion in sales in 2008, and an astounding $48.1 billion last year, according to the company’s 2011 Annual Report.
Amazon.com, which reports it does a “disproportional” amount of its sales in the fourth quarter, uses 20 different carriers – including the three main services and a host of regional carriers – to ship merchandise. Signatures with Amazon.com, are required only on delivery of shipments above $1,300, according to information on the company’s website.
Most orders on Amazon.com can be easily tracked online by customers. Tracking information details when the shipment left its facility, where it progressed en route to its destination and the date, time down to the second and location of delivery.
Customers seeking updated information about their orders with Amazon.com are invited to visit their specific account page. Additional information regarding delivery instructions are provided under the “Where’s My Stuff?” header under “Help” for “Shipping & Delivery.”
At FedEx, involvement in the delivery is a little different, but customers still do have input.
Armed with the FedEx tracking number, Stanley said, customers can request a route change, even when the package is already in transit. Customers can also leave instructions for the delivery person.
“A customer asked us to leave a package inside the gas grill [at his house],” Stanley said. “We said, ‘OK.’ We will do that if it’s within reason.”
FedEx Ground, Stanley pointed out, also allows customers to schedule an actual appointment time for package delivery. He also said that when customers are concerned deliveries might be made when no one is there to receive it, the intended recipient can also request the package be routed back to a FedEx Office location where it can be picked up later.
The U.S. Postal Service provides similar benefits with package delivery, although its services come with a feature the others don’t have: built-in law enforcement oversight by the Postal Inspection Service.
“It’s an added security. We’re definitely fortunate in that,” said Karen Mazurkiewicz, local communications coordinator for the U.S. Postal Service. “The Postal Inspection Service is the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. They are there to make sure whoever is using the mail is doing so lawfully.”
In all, there are about 1,500 postal inspectors nationwide that, as federal law enforcement officers, “carry firearms, make arrests and serve federal search warrants and subpoenas,” according to the service.
Postal Service officials encourage anyone who believes they have been a victim of mail theft to contact local police as well as submitting a complaint with the Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455 or online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
Mazurkiewicz also pointed out that Postal Service carriers are uniquely familiar with their delivery areas because they deliver mail there every day. Carriers concerned about the security of deliveries “can opt to leave notices of attempted delivery and bring items back to the Post Office for customer pick up,” she said.
Besides programs offered by UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service aimed at protecting valuable packages, some practical customer suggestions offered by the carriers include:
• Asking a neighbor you trust to keep an eye out for a delivery and retrieve the item for you.
• Requesting the carrier to either change the address for delivery (possibly to a workplace) or having it held at the carrier’s local office for future retrieval.
• Requiring signatures upon delivery by arranging it in advance with the shipper or, where applicable, the carrier delivering the package.