A longtime Utah mail carrier shared these tips to help thwart holiday package thieves

The U.S. Postal Service anticipates delivering about 900 million packages this holiday season, making it prime time for “porch pirates” to make off with gifts.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mail carrier Aaron Saxon, who has been an employee of the U.S. Postal Service for 26 years, delivers mail on Saturday Dec. 11, 2021 in South Salt Lake. Working his 13th day in a row, he expects to work straight through to Christmas.

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Devin Dunn was on paternity leave when a package was swiped from his porch in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Wells neighborhood earlier this month. In fact, he was sitting in the front room, tending to his new baby.

The carrier had set it down without knocking on Dunn’s front door. After about 15 minutes, Dunn got an alert on his phone notifying him that his doorbell camera had detected a person outside. But he was preoccupied and didn’t notice, he said.

By the time he checked, the package containing $80 worth of baby clothes that his wife had ordered was gone. Video footage shot by their doorbell camera showed a person pulling up to the couple’s house on a bike, walking up and grabbing the parcel, then hopping back on the bike and riding away.

Dunn said he feels hesitant to shop online now. A representative with the retailer told him they may be able to help, but only if Dunn submitted video proof of the theft.

He said he’s frustrated that responsibility often lies with the consumer to replace stolen goods. And he’s not alone.

(Screenshot via doorbell camera) A "porch pirate" makes off with a package that had been sitting on Devin Dunn's porch in Salt Lake City on Dec. 6, 2021.

Sheri Bloomfield, who lives in West Valley City, had two children’s winter coats and a pair of snow boots stolen from her porch. The package was delivered later than she expected, and stolen before she noticed, she said.

Chad Jepperson, a Salt Lake City firefighter, told The Salt Lake Tribune he recently had to buy two expensive avalanche beacons: the one someone stole off his Poplar Grove porch about 30 minutes after it was delivered, and the one he ordered to replace it.

Jepperson was told the potentially life-saving device was “delivered appropriately,” so there wasn’t much the company could do. He said he plans to use a secure drop-off location, like an Amazon Hub, when he makes future purchases online.

Tips from a local mail carrier

In Salt Lake City, reports of larceny are down slightly compared to last year. The broad term refers to theft of personal property, including package theft. There were 10,023 reports of larceny from January to November 2020 compared to 9,267 reports from January to November this year, Salt Lake City police data shows.

Package theft specifically tends to increase after Black Friday and decrease after Christmas, SLCPD spokesperson Brent Weisberg said. Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, 30 such thefts were reported to the department, though not all victims report package theft to the police.

The U.S. Postal Service anticipates delivering between 850 million and 950 million packages during this year’s peak holiday season, making it prime time for “porch pirates” to make off with gifts.

That’s where Aaron Saxon comes in. The 26-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service spends most days delivering mail in South Salt Lake and expects to work straight through Christmas, so his co-workers with kids can be with their families, he said.

He shared the following tips he’s picked up from his time on the job:

  1. Secure the drop-off location: Have packages delivered to your work, an Amazon Hub locker or counter, a UPS Store locker or another safe spot. You can also have the U.S. Postal Service hold packages for up to 15 days at a post office of your choice. Parcel drop boxes for home deliveries are also available to purchase at big-box retailers.

  2. Conceal the drop-off location: If you have packages delivered to your home, create an area where the view is blocked by hedges or large flower pots, then ask your mail carrier to set packages in that spot. If you have a storm door, make sure visibility is blocked on the bottom half, then ask that thin packages be placed between the storm door and your front door. Saxon says an empty garden hose box on your front porch also makes an unassuming drop-off spot — just communicate the secret to your mail carrier.

  3. Use the “buddy system”: If you won’t be home when a package is scheduled to be delivered, enlist a family member or trusted neighbor to watch for it and hold it for you. And consider being a good neighbor to others, watching for suspicious activity after area deliveries arrive. If you see a package get swiped, make sure to get an accurate description of the person and call the police. “We’re all in this together,” Saxon said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mail carrier Aaron Saxon, who has been an employee of the U.S. Postal Service for 26 years, delivers mail on Saturday Dec. 11, 2021 in South Salt Lake. Working his 13th day in a row, he expects to work straight through to Christmas. He works extra shifts during the holidays so his co-workers with kids can be with their families.

A U.S. Postal Service spokesperson also recommended that residents check their mailbox every day and not let mail build up. Informed Delivery is a free service that notifies you via email or text when a package or other mail is arriving soon, so you’ll know when to collect it.

Customers should also check final pickup times on blue USPS collection boxes, so outgoing mail doesn’t sit in the box overnight or over the weekend.

What to do if a package is stolen

Some people take creative measures to catch “porch pirates,” like the Bankhead family in Orem. When Justin Bankhead found that his family had several packages worth hundreds of dollars stolen, he offered a $500 reward to anyone who could help him catch the suspected thief, he told The Tribune.

The money ended up going to his 14-year-old son, who put a dummy package containing a GPS tracking device out on the family’s front step, Bankhead wrote on Facebook. The thief took the bait.

Surveillance camera footage posted on social media shows a man wearing a black-and-gray hooded coat run up to the front door, grab the goods and run away. The family then pulled up the GPS device’s tracking information and contacted police, who arrested the man, a spokesperson confirmed.

But Sgt. Mark Wian with the Salt Lake City Police Department said it can be dangerous to confront package thieves.

“If you see something, say something — from a safe place,” he said. “Do what you can to capture a good suspect description of the person or the vehicle. But we would never encourage anyone to confront someone, because you put yourself at a great safety risk. Leave that up to us.”

Some package-theft victims may not think it’s worth it to file a police report, Wian said. But such reports can help police link thefts to specific areas or organized operations. You’ll also receive a case number that you can submit to shipping companies.

Anyone who sees something suspicious may call the Salt Lake police department’s non-emergency dispatch number at 801-799-3000. Residents can also file reports online at SLCPD.com.

Reports of mail theft, identity theft or fraud can be reported to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at USPIS.gov/report or by calling 877-876-2455.