PoPville PSA: Be Aware of Package Thieves During the Holidays


Photo by PoPville flickr user johnmcochran2012

Dear PoPville,

With the holiday season upon us, I wanted to send out a warning/heads up/reminder to the community regarding packages left on your porch. This story also has some positive aspects regarding amazing people in our community.

Today (11/29/2012) I received a note in my mailbox from a good Samaritan regarding packages stolen from my front porch. Apparently, 2 adult men (potentially of Hispanic ethnicity according to the witness) in a red convertible (car brand not known) were throwing lots of empty boxes in the alley by Delafield and 8th St NW. There is a homeless man who lives near the alley and he saw the guys. He managed to write their licence plate number down (note… not with a pen and paper, but by scratching it into a wall with a nickel or nail). He then let the woman who lives in the house backing up to the alley and/or her lawn care guy know AND he grabbed one of the boxes that had the address still on.

The boxes had the the address information torn off most of them, but there was one they overlooked; it had my roommate’s name and our address. The lawn care gentleman brought the box to us, tried to ring the bell, spoke with our neighbor, and left us a note and let us know what was up. I called him and he gave me all of the details he got from the man and let me know that he, and the homeless man, could be contacted by the police for a report. It turns out 3 of us in the house had boxes stolen.

I filed a police report this evening. I’ve never filed a police report before, but the officer came out right away and went to check out the alley to see if the other boxes were still there.

I’ve lived in Petworth for 4 and a half years and have never had a package stolen. I’m sure there will be people who would say “oh gosh, you can’t have anything delivered to your home when no one is home,” but that is ridiculous and not something I think any of us should have to fear.

The purpose of this email is to let everyone know to be on the lookout, especially with the holidays upon us, for this car or for anyone taking a package from their neighbor’s porch. Additionally, I want to thank – publicly- the people responsible for alerting my roommates and me to what happened. It is so easy for people to see someone littering, especially someone like the homeless man who may be skittish of drawing attention to themselves, and look the other way. However, these neighbors went out of their way to try to let someone know and were willing to speak with the police. My roommates and I can get the businesses to reimburse us/ship us new products, but knowing that our neighbors are looking out for us gives us a better peace of mind.

I apologize for such a long email, but I do want to thank TJ, the owner of Neighborly Lawns, for coming to our house AND bringing the box they found. If I can do anything, I’d like to draw some attention to his business. I promise (for the cynical) I don’t know this man, have never used his services, and haven’t even met him in person. However, he took to time to do this for strangers, so if you need grass cutting, landscaping, hedge trimming, or anything else his number is 202-706-0022 and email is neighborlylawns@yahoo.com. The least my roommates and I can do is pass along his information!

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Obviously we haven’t heard anything yet from the police. I hope this hasn’t happened to anyone else in the neighborhood. Hopefully by speaking out that we can all continue to do an amazing job looking out for one another.

Another reader warns:

Package Thefts/1000 Block of Irving St, NW

I don’t know if other area residents are having the same problem, but my house has had 4 UPS packages stolen off our porch this week (before my roommates and I figured it out). It’d be great if you could send out a quick warning to PoPville. This was multiple packages over multiple days, so I suspect that this is not a random occurrence and that other houses in the area may be targeted as well.

87 Comment

  • Theft on 1300 block of Taylor St.
    Someone stole diapers from our front porch

  • “I’m sure there will be people who would say ‘oh gosh, you can’t have anything delivered to your home when no one is home,’ but that is ridiculous and not something I think any of us should have to fear.” Maybe in a perfect world it’s not something any of us should have to fear, but we see here that in the real world, people steal packages from front porches. I have EVERYTHING delivered to my office.

    • Seriously, dude had 4.5 years of really good luck. Either get your stuff signed by a neighbor or sent to your work address.

      • For those of us who work in government buildings – having stuff shipped there is not always a good answer i.e. irradiation – ruins electronics etc.

        Also of note – we live on Chapin St. NW – ourselves and several other buildings have the same problem of people gaining access to the building and then taking packages from in front of peoples doors.

        we have been resisting a surveillance system – but we may be moving in that direction.

        • Oh my, you’ve made me wonder how many government buildings would expose someone or something to the possibility of irradiation.

        • Why would you be resisting a surveillance system? The cameras alone have a great deterrent effect. And if anything does happen (a robbery, assault, or even rape), then you’d have very good evidence.

          Seems like a no-brainer solution to me at a minimal cost.

      • That’s ideal, but not always feasible. My neighbors are at work all day like I am, and I used to work for a company that prohibited employees from getting personal packages delivered to work (and the mailroom went through everyone’s mail–as in opening it up, not just sorting it for distribution around the office). Fortunately, at my current office we’re technically not supposed to get personal packages delivered but they’ll let it slide if we’re judicious about it. So for small things, like a couple of books from Amazon.com, I cross my fingers with home delivery, but for the occasional valuable item, I ship to my work.

    • Yeah, what you SHOULD have to worry about and what you DO have to worry about are two different things. Potentially valuable things left unattended in a city are at risk of being stolen, doubly so during the holiday season. You can wish that weren’t so, but that doesn’t mean that you should expect that it will be.

    • +1. I think the only way you can safely have something delivered to your home when you’re not home is if you live in a secure condo/apartment building (and sometimes not even then).

    • PDMtP

      Exactly what I clicked through to say. Don’t do it unless it’s something no one would steal. (I had heavy and not very useful steel parts for a bookshelf delivered to our house, and someone still opened the box to see if it was worth taking.) This has been a problem for years, and it’s not going to go away – not that people SHOULD be stealing things or we should excuse those who do, but this is as risky as leaving your bike unlocked or your iPad on the back seat of a parked car.

  • Thanks for the PSA. It would be great if the OP could find a way to thank the homeless man as well.

  • houseintherear

    Get a PO Box. It’s fairly cheap. Yes, it sucks that we don’t live in Maryland and can’t have our packages delivered and sit on our porches all day, but that’s the breaks.

    • I thought package delivery (some delivery services) do not deliver to PO boxes??

      • PDMtP

        When my now-wife and I were dating, she worked for the government and had a box at The UPS Store. They accepted packages for her (UPS or not).

      • FedEx doesn’t deliver to PO boxes. But I believe there are some private businesses (ie, not a real PO box at the Post Office) that have their box addresses set up to make it look like an office (like your “box” address would be 123 Main Street, Suite 100) rather than a PO Box, so they may sign for FedExes and the like.

  • I try to never have anything delivered to my house but I know a lot of folks can’t get packages at work either. Its just one of the frustrations of city living. But I wanted to commend TJ of neighborly lawns! He did a lot of lawn work for us when we first moved in. he is a genuinally good guy and neighbor for people who are looking for lawn help and like to help a local business. (he lives up on Webster).

    • I don’t mean to sound cheeky but what do you do? Do you never have anything shipped to you?

      • I can have packages delivered to work, so usually do that. I’ve also had packages sent to my sister’s house in MD or to a friend’s house in VA. It’s a hassle compared to getting it on my own doorstep, but it’s way less hassle than dealing with replacing the shipment and I get to see people I don’t see as often as I’d like.

      • I can have things shipped to my office, my husband can’t. I get some looks from coworkers though about getting too much shipped. So I also have things shipped to a friend who lives in one of the new buildings in Ciolumbia Heights because its secure and she has a doorman who will accept packages.

  • you are crazy to have packages delivered to your home when you’re not there, anywhere in DC. Sorry but its true.

  • I have packages delivered to my house all the time. If UPS or Fedex feels it’s safe to leave it, then that’s good enough for me. If it gets stolen Amazon will replace it. If it happens more than once or twice, UPS will stop leaving it or Amazon will start requiring a signature.

    • Requiring a signature doesn’t mean much if the UPS driver is content to get a signature from just anyone.

      When I moved into my current place, there was a mixup and the DSL router was delivered to the house instead of to my office. Somebody signed for it as “Juan.” I asked a couple of the neighbors, but no one knew of any Juan and I had to get the router re-sent.

      Just because you CAN get something re-sent doesn’t mean that it’s not a hassle to do so.

    • So . . . you don’t take reasonable precautions because you can shift your losses to someone else. Nice.

      • What reasonable precautions should I take? Drag my packages home from the office on my bike? No way. UPS and Fedex are both large, experienced corporations who are quite capable at loss prevention. I trust them to know how to get packages safely delivered to an urban residence. And since I’ve never had a stolen package, I don’t believe my trust has been misplaced.

        • PDMtP

          Seriously? You think it’s UPS’s job to stop crime in DC? To leave a guard at your house until you get home? UPS’s job is to send the package where you asked them to. If you asked them to do something silly, that’s on you. And “this is obviously fine because no one has stolen my package yet” is like saying “there are no risks to smoking because I don’t (or my 97-year-old aunt doesn’t) have lung cancer.”

          • They are paying UPS/FedEx/whatever to deliver a package to them securely. If they fail to do so, it is on the carrier service, not the person who purchased the service.

            UPS shouldn’t be leaving packages unattended in areas where it is at risk of being stolen. Its UPS who is at fault if a package is stolen or damaged, not the consumer.

          • I didn’t say there’s no risk. There’s risk to getting out of bed in the morning. I said I trust UPS to accurately judge those risks.

            There’s risks to handing to your credit card to a waiter and having him take it to the back to run it. I do that too, without thinking twice about it. Visa is also very good at loss prevention.

          • PDMtP

            What nonsense. You have a choice when you ship: require someone to be home to sign for it, or leave it if no one is home. If you choose to have them leave it, how secure your home is not in any way UPS’s responsibility. They’ve done what you asked them to do. (If they accept instructions from you and don’t follow them, that’s different.)

            Think realistically about what you want “The Man” to do – is UPS supposed to wait there until you get home? Stop all crime in your neighborhood? Build a safe on your front porch? When did they agree to do any of that, and how would they?

          • UPS often just throws packages on the front step without even ringing the doorbell or taking a few steps to put the items in a niche or basement stairway where they are at least out of sight.

        • But its unclear to me how you expect them to assess risk. My house and front porch looks sweet and homey to anyone walking by. But sit a package out there and the wrong person walks by and sees a crime of opportunity. Honestly, even if Fed ex is responsible for replacing it, what a pain in the ass. If I want something enough to have it shipped, I really actually want it sooner than later and don’t want to deal with filing a loss report, reoridering, resending and hoping it shows up weeks later.

        • figby

          Hahaha. Your faith in the corporation is hilarious. Have you ever tried to report a missing package to UPS? They neither bother nor care. Once they drop it wherever, it’s strictly your problem.

    • How would UPS or Fedex know if its safe or not?. Their job is to leave a package not make sure the thugs in the alley are gone etc. There are thieves who will actually follow a UPS/Fedex truck around, especially in more upscale ‘hoods like Cleveland Park around the holidays to steal packages. its actually a pretty regular thing west of the park. I honestly can’t believe someone who lives in the city would write something so naive.

      • Right, it’s a “pretty regular thing”, and yet UPS just keeps dropping packages on porches with no signature. Like they’ve never bothered to map lost packages and look for unsafe areas.

        UPS delivers 20M packages a day. They are very good at getting packages to their destination. If they think there’s a good chance a package will be stolen, they won’t leave it without a signature. Trust your UPS man’s judgment. He’s a professional.

        Fair warning, though, if they miss you three times, you’ve got to go all the way to Landover to pick it up from them. Fedex you can just go to Florida and NY, or redirect to a fedex store.

        • Become a regular reader of the CP listserve, yes stolen packages regularly. I guess you are super lucky though. Hope that streak continues in the City.

    • I get peeved because this should be a solved problem. When the package arrives at the final hub, automagically send me a secure email or a txt asking if I would like to pick up the package at the hub, direct it to a 7-11 locker (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=200689010) or a post office, UPS or FedEx Office store.

      If I do nothing, delivery proceeds as normal. If I look at my schedule and tomorrow is my day off, that’s cool, too. If I know I won’t be home, I can reschedule or reroute to somewhere that’s the most convenient. I know, I know, last minute rerouting a package would be a logistics nightmare, right? I don’t see how that’s any less efficient than physically having the delivery person leave a slip on my door on the first day, come back to check to see if the slip is filled out on the second day, somehow manage to mark a “not home” delivery exception when I really am home on the third day, until I finally give up and go to the hub anyway on the fourth day.

      On the other hand: I never, ever trust a package to be left alone and I always leave notes and select signature required. And yet somehow magically packages are left on my doorstep when I get home from work. I’ve also used the Pick-Up-At-FedEx-Office option when they first rolled it out and the employees were poorly trained and returned the package days before my receipt said I had to pick it up. These are all solvable training and technology issues.

      Speaking of office delivery, I’m still pretty weirded out by the fact that I always see unattended FedEx carts that are full of packages on the sidewalks of Metro Center/NY Ave.

      • Interesting idea but how do they know what your email address and/or phone number is?

        • This information could easily be placed in the shipping bar code. Also, your phone number is sometimes even printed right on the shipping label specifically for UPS/FedEX to contact you.

      • Late to the thread, I know, but UPS does this. You sign up on their website once and you can get all sorts of notices for every delivery (when shipped, before delivery, once delivered, …). They will change delivery last minute for you for $5.

  • gotryit

    I think I should leave a box with junk in it in front of my cameras…

  • I’ve thought about just getting a really big mailbox that could handle the usual range of package sizes. Has anyone gone that route?

    • I’d also be interested to hear if people have had any luck with this.

    • UPS and FedEx can’t use US mailboxes. Also, the thieves often follow the delivery trucks around, so they’ll just open it up and take packages from your mailbox.

      • I’ve seen various models where packages can be inserted only, with an internal gate-type thing that prevents someone from snagging things that have already been delivered. You need a key in order to retrieve them. The only issue is that most of these are on the ugly side.

  • We ordered 1000 poop bags. I would be sooooo pissed if my poop bags were stolen.

    • bfinpetworth

      Ha, we order poop bags in bulk too. So much better than left over grocery bags!

      • Definitely! Also, we have 3 pups … small, medium, large…. there isn’t enough groceries to keep up with that. Buy bulk or home. :-) (FYI – we bought a fixer upper in 2009. The large pup came with the house…. a victim of the economy. He got to keep the house though & now he lets us live there.)

    • Allison

      Haha, not being a dog owner, I read this as you had ordered 1000 bags of poop. Then I realized “poop bags” means bags FOR poop, not OF poop.

      Although the look on the thief’s face when he opens a box to find 1000 bags of poop would be well worth the price.

    • When my boa constrictor was still alive I used to order frozen rats from (yes really) rodentpro.com. I always kind of wished someone would steal the box, just so I could picture them opening it up. . .

  • I had the same problem last year at this time and noticed that only UPS delivered items were being stolen off my front porch in ParkView. FedEx and USPS? Fine. UPS? Gone.

    Now all my packages are delivered to my office in VA.

  • My roommate gets packages delivered to our house. Typically online forms have space for a second line of information under the line for your street address. He writes “Please put in bushes by the door” and they always do, concealing it from anyone driving by on the street.

  • I was wondering, too, why more/most people don’t have packages delivered to their office unless they make specific arrangements to either be home/work from home/have someone be there to accept delivery? Seems like a win-win situation, unless office has a policy not to accept personal package deliveries.

    • Well you answered your own question for one. A couple others:

      -might not be an option if you don’t actually work in an office
      -not always practical if you don’t drive to/from work

      • Thanks. Did you see that I included “work from home” in my comment. I get that not everyone necessarily has an office. While I get if an office does have a no personal package policy or enacts one during the holiday season, since that would burden the mail room by many, many and that wouldn’t be fair to the staff. I was just surprised that more people didn’t say they had them sent to their office, especially if it was an occasional package (not hundreds during holiday time).

        • Let me clarify – “might not be an option if you don’t actually work in an office and also don’t work at home”.

          • Oh, as in a traveling salesman/woman. I did forget to include that in my thinking!

          • I was thinking more of contractors, service industry workers (e.g. waiters, bartenders), teachers or daycare workers, but yeah, same idea. Also all sorts of self-employed people. Basically folks who don’t have a fixed physical workplace or have a non-office fixed workplace.

    • Taking a big package back on the metro=major pain in the ass, that’s one reason. Also, at my last office, packages had to go to a distribution center for screening before making it to the office (security measure), so took a lot longer to get to me.

      • Gottcha, but I did say that “unless your office has a no personal package policy” and I do understand the reasons why if they did. As for the pain of hauling packages received, I’ve done my share of lugging big/awkward packages 10 blocks (e.g., vaccum cleaner) but I did it. It wasn’t great but I knew the risk of having it delivered to my apartment was not worth it.

    • Many of us work at federal agencies where personal package delivery is not an option.

    • After the staff at my previous job (most of whom were apartment-dwellers) grumbled about a new “no personal packages” policy (we were a staff of about 150 and employees had to go down to the mailroom to retrieve their packages, so the impact on the mailroom’s workload was never that significant, anyway), management relented a tiny bit and said “Well, fine…I guess if the package is a surprise, we won’t turn away the delivery person.” Which resulted in a kinda hilarious trend of employees picking up the mailroom’s phone calls and going “Really? Someone sent me an Amazon.com package?! Who could it be from?? Wow, what a TOTAL SURPRISE!”

  • I don’t remember who the poster was but I think it was last year (again around the holiday time?) that talked about how s/he would fill boxes with cat/dog poop and set them on their porch. Those boxes went missing but I think that took care of future problems for them.

  • Both FEDEx and UPS will ship to one of their retail stores closest to you and hold it there for pickup. After a rash of package thefts from my front porch in COlumbia heights, (I work in a secure facility where I can’t get personal packages delivered at work I just started having them sent to the FedEx place on 14th. Its easy, and I only live two blocks away.

  • I caught a woman opening and stealing contents of packages from the entryway of my building a couple months ago. I confronted her and recovered the items. I then posted a description of her with a note about what happened and to call the cops if you see her. I had neighbors leaving nasty notes calling me a racist because I described her and as part of that description included her race.

    So this Christmas, fuck my neighbors if they’re too dumb to have stuff shipped to work. I won’t stick my neck out and watch for people stealing stuff. I think you’re inviting theft if you have things mailed to you in this city.

  • Anyone else see this apropos article on dcist today? Awesomeness. http://sfist.com/2012/11/29/noe_valley_woman_nabs_package_thief.php

  • At the beginning of the month, I moved apartments and UPS refuses to leave packages at my new place. I live in a small building that’s locked and has no staff to sign for items. I’ve signed the UPS package slips and asked them to leave packages in the bushes next to the porch. They just ignore me, mark the package as undeliverable again, and leave. (Or, more likely, see the sticky thing still on my door and just drive by without stopping to even see if I’ve signed it asking them to leave the item. In 3 delivery attempts, I got 1 sticky note which makes me think the driver didn’t even get out of the truck the other 2 times.) Some things are items that no one would ever bothering stealing and I’ve consented to them leaving the items and they still won’t. USPS and FedEx leave stuff with no problem. And, my building doesn’t have a buzzer system (you have to call my cell so I know you’ve arrived) but UPS doesn’t equip its drivers with phones. So, to get packages, I have to stay home from work all day and hope that I hear them pounding on the door downstairs so I can go sign for the package. It is one of the most annoying things ever. Some of the items I’ve ordered are too large for me to haul on public transportation from my office so I wish they’d just leave them when I ask. Plus, they told me there was a fee to change the delivery address and my only other option was to pick the item up at the shipping warehouse somewhere out in Maryland–at a location not metro accessible. It didn’t seem like having it delivered to a local UPS store was an option. I’ve had 2 UPS deliveries since I moved and already I’m ready to just start ordering things from places that only ship USPS or FedEx.

    • That’s beyond annoying.

      Even if you’re home, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a package. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been home all day and went out the front door and either seen a package just dumped on the stoop, or a note that they “attempted delivery.” And yes, the doorbell works. So whomever posted, “trust your UPS guy, they’re professionals” – we must live in a parallel universe. (And delivery guy as a professional – WTF?)

    • PDMtP

      For those who say “it should be the carrier’s responsibility to make sure packages don’t get stolen,” this is what it would look like: your home didn’t look safe, so please come to Landover. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Sign up for UPS My Choice (free) and you can set your preferences to state that you don’t require a signature for deliveries. This was my best option when I first moved and UPS wouldn’t call my unit on the callbox because the old owner’s name was still listed.

  • At my old place in MtP I got lucky, we had an empty space under the stairs where everyone (USPS, UPS and FedEx) left packages. Because of the angle of the street, it wasn’t visible unless you walked around the stairs and looked.

    In addition to never having a package stolen, we had two bikes locked up there for an entire season with no trouble. We were also at the far end of MtP with little to no foot traffic (except neighbors).

    • PDMtP

      Just a warning – we’re on Adams Mill (busy street, little foot traffic) and we still have had people come up two flights of stairs and open boxes on our porch (though we don’t have anything left there that’s easy to take or worth stealing). “They can’t see it from the street” only works if they’re not following the truck, which is common (MPD actually caught some guys by just doing the same thing), and the flip side of that is no one can see them from the street.

  • I recently had my new iPhone stolen by FedEx employees before it was even delivered to me, so you can’t even trust the delivery companies. It was suppose to be delivered to a FedEx store downtown, but mysteriously disappeared en route. The FedEx employee at the store even confessed to this happening around the holidays.

    • Not surprising in that I think I’ve heard that delivery companies hire temporary workers to help them out during their super busy holiday season deliveries so 1. you get people who might not be all familiar with route and therefore don’t do things your normal delivery person does and 2. not sure what the vetting process is when hiring these temporary holiday employees is.

  • jim_ed

    We have an oversized wicker basket that sits on our porch next to our bench that seems to blend in with the decor, so the packages go in there. They aren’t visible unless you’re standing directly over the top of the basket, and doesn’t look like its specifically meant for package holding. So far, no missing packages.

    That being said, anything valued at over $100, I have sent to my in-laws house in VA and pick up on a free weekend day.

  • We have lived through one wedding (with gifts sent to house) and 3 Christmases at our home in Brookland and typically have no problem with maybe 95% of things getting delivered. But it does seem to be worse around holiday time. And more often than not it is an issue with USPS packages instead of UPS and FedEx. The most annoying one to me recently was our order of Christmas cards that was (presumably) stolen from our porch. WTF? Who wants our personalized Christmas cards?

  • The PSA should probably read: Beware of Package Thieves . . . Period. This thread and related ones – like don’t leave your $5000 triathalon bike on your porch unattended even for 36 seconds – pops up on a regular basis outside of the holiday season.
    Maybe things have changed but requiring a signature used to be the norm for package delivery. Now, outside of Fed Ex, I rarely get a “failed delivery, we need a signature” notice. 9 out of 10 times the shipper sends it without requesting a signature on delivery. I assume that some bright minds at these companies have figured out that even when they allow for some losses by theft, it’s more cost efficient to not pay for a delivery that requires a signature.

  • This is awesome. If the police don’t act on this shortly, follow up with them. It is the easiest thng in the world for the police (or even you) to look up someone’s license plate number and get their identity and address. There is no excuse for the police not to make an arrest in this case.

  • Slightly tangential: Not sure if anyone has noticed this on Amazon recently, but husband pointed out a new feature to me. When filling out the shipping address, Amazon now has a little place where you can put the security code for locked apartment buildings or gated communities, which could solve a lot of the “could not deliver” conundrum.

  • I’d like to say that Neighborly Lawns does a great job and TJ is a great guy. We also recently had a box swiped from the porch and then discovered empty by a neighbor a block away who contacted the senders via info on the receipt left in the box. Great neighbors in Petworth! This seems to be an organized effort by outsiders.

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