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'Porch Pirates' Driving Up Package Thefts This Holiday Season

A report estimates 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their homes — and that number is expected to increase as online sales surge.
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Call it the work of the Christmas Grinch. Or of many, that is.

As U.S. online retail sales finish out a record year — estimated to reach $334 billion — the ubiquitous Christmas package this holiday season has become a sought after item for burglars.

A report from released last week finds that an estimated 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their homes. That number, the site warned, is only expected to increase as more Americans purchase goods online rather the traditional brick and mortar store.

These "Porch Pirates," as the report calls them, typically tail a delivery driver and pounce on the merchandise as soon as the driver is out of sight.

Rick Deckman’s home security cameras caught the process in real-time. The thief, Deckman said, followed a UPS driver in broad daylight to his Malibu home and snatched two packages that had been placed outside his front door.

"I was blown away," Deckman told NBC News. "I mean, I just couldn't believe that something like this was really happening."

For consumers like Deckman, the convenience of shopping online may no longer outweigh the drawbacks of the items being potentially stolen. Given how crucial public confidence in security is to the mail delivery industry’s business model, industry leaders have vowed to address the problem.

The United Parcel Service (UPS) — which estimates that it will deliver 630 million packages between Black Friday and New Years — is giving its customers alternatives to how they receive their packages.

This past summer, the company moved to expand its UPS Access Point network — which offers package pickup and drop off primarily at neighborhood convenience and grocery stores, dry cleaners and delicatessens — to 8,000 U.S. locations and 22,000 worldwide by the end of this year.

In a statement to NBC News, a UPS company spokesman acknowledged that package theft was gaining notoriety as more incidents are caught on home surveillance systems like Deckman’s and even, in some cases, posted by victims to social media platforms.

The spokesman noted that, in addition to Access Point, customers could contact drivers online to notify them of their choice for alternative drop-off spots.

Police in Rancho Cordova, California, have recently begun a program to catch the thieves. Dressed in street clothes and driving unmarked cars, officers deliver packages filled with fake electronics and GPS devices to homes across the Sacramento suburb. The program has thus far not produced any arrests but officials say they believe the decoy packages may help deter future robberies, said Deputy Matthew Deaux.

"The more that people know that we're doing this," Deaux told NBC News. "The less likely they are to do it."