Consumer Protection

Protect Yourself from Porch Pirates and Mail Marauders

By Tracy D. Rezvani, Administrator Montgomery County Maryland Office of Consumer Protection

As consumer habits have shifted towards e-commerce, deliveries have become increasingly targeted by thieves. In fact, USA Today reported that in 2017, 30% of Americans experienced package theft. However, even traditional mail is not safe from thieves. These thefts occur throughout the year, but often escalate during the holiday season. Two common scams that you should be aware of are “Porch Pirates” and “Mail Marauders.”

What are Porch Pirates?

“Porch Pirates” are essentially shoplifters who are moving their theft from the store to your door. While oftentimes these are shipments you ordered, these criminals could be stealing items they ordered in your name (called “hot package” scams) and arranged to be delivered to your address.

How can you reduce your chances of becoming a “Porch Pirates” scam victim?

Fortunately, you can take precautions to minimize your chances of experiencing package theft.

  • Track your package. This easily done through a package shipping number, and will help you know where your package is, making it easier to retrieve it as soon as it arrives. In fact, these criminals have been known to follow UPS or FedEx trucks and scoop up packages as soon as they are dropped off.
    Adjust your shipping address. Consider shipping your package to your workplace, or to a relative/friend you know is home, or opt for in-store pickups if you know your package will arrive when you are not home. If you’re shopping through Amazon, investigate using Amazon Lockers, the Amazon Key Smart Lock Kit, or Amazon Key In-Car Delivery.
    Install security measures. Installing systems like front-door security cameras, package theft alarms, warning signs, or motion activated spotlights may scare off potential criminals. Additionally, measures such as cameras can help identify the culprit if package theft occurs.
    Schedule packages to arrive when you are home. Many mail carrier services allow you to schedule package deliveries/pickups. You can also request to have your mail held by your post office.

It is important to note that these methods do not guarantee that you will never fall victim to a “Porch Pirate” scam, nor are they the sole measures you can take. However, they will still greatly reduce the risk, especially when combined.

What can you do if you’ve become the victim of a Porch Pirate?

If you believe that you have experienced package theft or have become a victim of a Porch Pirate, file a claim with the merchant and the shipper. If you have any evidence of the theft (particularly video footage), contact your local police department.

What are “Mail Marauders”?

Although mail theft is a felony, this does not deter “Mail Marauders.” When they see the flag is raised on your mailbox, they assume that there are envelopes inside containing bill payments and steal them. They use the checks in those envelopes to create counterfeit checks on your account and then try to cash them. They may also steal your incoming mail too, knowing that there may be checks or sensitive personal information that might be useful for fraudulent purposes.

How can you protect your mail?

One popular method is not lifting the flag on your mailbox; you should speak to your mail carrier before using this method, however, as this could cause confusion. There are other alternatives such as:

  • Using blue mailboxes around town to deposit your mail
    • Dropping mail off at the post office
    • Installing a security camera
    • Getting a P.O box for incoming mail
    • Purchasing USPS approved locking mailboxes

Keep in mind that Mail Marauders target both incoming and outgoing mail, so prevention measures should cover both types.

What can you do if you’ve become the victim of a Mail Marauder?

If you believe you have been a victim of a Mail Marauder, file a report with your local police department and the U.S. Postal Inspector.