Police warn against ‘porch pirates’ during holiday shopping season

CRANSTON, R.I. – It’s the holiday shopping season, which is music to the ears of porch pirates looking to snatch your online deliveries from your front porch.

“They see it as a low risk, high reward crime,” explained Cranston Police Lt. Matthew Kite. He says these thefts ramp up now.

Last year, almost half of the city’s package thefts happened from October 1 through Christmas. 14 packages were reported stolen during that time frame.

“The more we can do to harden the target and make it less of a crime of opportunity, the better,” said Kite.

Home surveillance systems have been helpful with catching the so-called porch pirates, according to Kite. But if you aren’t looking to spend the extra money, there’s another way: only have packages delivered when you or a trusted neighbor are home, or send them to your workplace.

Tracking your package can also help you keep an eye on things, but beware of scammers – one security weakness and they’re in.

Just ask the United States Postal Service. The mail service just fixed an issue that allowed anyone who has an account on its website to view delivery details for some 60-million other users, through its Informed Delivery online portal.

“[The thieves] actually wait for the mail to arrive by tracking it and they leave the premises before anyone even knows they were there,” explained Cyber Security Expert Nicholas Tella, a professor at Johnson & Wales University. Tella used to be the commander of the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

To fix the issue, USPS now mails a notice to your home if an online account is created for your address. But Tella cautions by then, it may be too late.

“The best way to protect yourself is to sign up for an [Informed Delivery] account, that way someone can’t sign up for one in your name or completely withdraw.”

To withdraw from the Informed Delivery service, email eSAFE@usps.gov and request to block an individual account.

As for online shopping tips, Tella recommends the mantra: “When in doubt, check ‘em out.” Take some time to investigate an online merchant’s reputation if you are unfamiliar. He says it’s not common for “bargain basement phantom Web site” to show up during the holiday season and then vanish afterward. To find out when a site was created, run a basic “WHOIS” search on the site’s domain name.

© WLNE-TV 2018