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You've been anxiously awaiting delivery of those high-end, noise-cancelling headphones that you found online for half price, the perfect holiday gift for your music-loving squeeze.
The delivery service gives you a time, and so you rush home from work that day, eager to tastefully wrap the gift. But there's nothing there. Nothing on the front step. Nothing in the front hallway. Nothing left with a neighbor.
If something like this has happened to you, you're far from alone. The sheer quantity of goods that people are buying online for the sake of convenience — 1.5 million package deliveries per day in New York City — has placed severe strains on delivery systems at the same time it is attracting thieves eager to swoop in and make off with packages left on porches and front steps.
The New York Times estimates that 90,000 of those packages, or about every 16th one, are either stolen or disappear without explanation.
And it's not just New York. One recent study of "porch pirate" rates in the country found that cities in the West had the highest theft rates, with San Francisco claiming the top spot.
In addition, the market research firm C+R Research conducted a national survey of 2,000 people who had shopped online in the previous year and found that 36% had packages stolen.
If you are like most people, your first reaction when you think you've had deliveries stolen is to contact either the seller or the delivery company. And that's the right thing to do, because most of the time you can have the product redelivered or receive a refund. The more established the retailer, the better will be your chances — Amazon is particularly reliable — but as C+R found in its survey, 27% of the victims reported that they'd gotten nothing.
So when you buy online, convenient though it may be, you're always running a bit of a risk. So what should you do to reduce the risk of porch-pirate theft?
There are many ways. Here are a few:
Then again, you could eliminate all this paranoia in one simple, old-fashioned way: Do your shopping in a brick-and-mortar store.