Package thieves bring bad tidings at holidays

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BENNINGTON—During every holiday season there's a Grinch that could put a damper on online shopping by stealing packages from porches.

It's estimated that digital sales will hit $92.71 billion by Christmas, according to Fortune.com. It's up 17.2 percent from 2014's 14.4 percent increase in holiday sales.

In Bennington County, crime rates don't necessarily spike during the holiday season, but package and car thefts have occurred, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said.

Major news outlets refer to the type of thieves as "porch pirates."

"In the past, we've had limited issues with people following a UPS truck or Fed Ex truck or watching packages get delivered and having had packages disappear," he said. "It's difficult to prove unless someone has a home surveillance video camera. Generally, with the [shipping companies] everything is computerized."

He suggested asking employers permission to get packages sent to a place of employment so that delivery is guaranteed.

Last year, NBC news estimated that 23 million Americans would have packages stolen from their homes.

While Amazon is a leading provider in online sales each year, Fortune reporter, Doucette said packages can be vulnerable if items are shipped in a box specific to the company, such as Best Buy. That gives thieves a better idea of what the package is, i.e. a tech item which is more valuable.

"I think that we certainly have our fair share of drug related issues," he said. "If people find a package that they can sell for a tenth of what it's worth, they're going to do that. There are people that just don't have money or the means to buy their own things or steal from others. I don't think that happens a lot but it does on occasion but it's the risk of what's in the package."

Doucette said those who do get packages stolen can sometimes get replacements from the company, but then the seller loses profit.

"There's a lot of people that get their stuff removed from their step and they get it replaced," he said. "The company is out money and shipping charges."

The United States Postal Service has a tip sheet from the inspection service about what shoppers can do to stay safe.

"It does happen unfortunately. We've seen instances, where organized crews will follow a delivery service truck so as quick as the package is being delivered they're right there to pick it up," said Stephen Doherty communications specialist for the postal service.

Chief Jeff Whitesell of the Winhall Police Department added that people shopping online should fill in the box that says "specific delivery instructions." Some companies allow a suggested time and day for the package to be delivered or require a signature from the homeowner.

He also mentioned a device called "Ring," which is a security camera built into a doorbell. When someone rings it, a notification is sent to the resident's smart phone.

With out-of-town travelers visiting area ski resorts, Whitesell said he deals with a quick jump in population and different demographics -- folks from New York and New Jersey for example. Between November and April, the population spikes from 1,500 to 2,000 up to 12,000. Winhall Police Department patrols the town as well as the Stratton Mountain Resort.

One scam he's had experience with is people renting an apartment or house for their stay and it turning out to be a scam.

"There's all kinds of different thefts and scams," Whitesell said. "We've had a series of house rental and apartment rental scams on Craigslist. People really need to investigate thoroughly if they rent a ski house or apartment for a period of time. Don't send money up front and [identify] who [you're] talking to and make sure the property is available."

Other potential thefts involve retail and items left in cars, Manchester Chief Michael Hall said. The town sees an influx of shoppers at the local and outlet stores.

"My advice to folks is what it generally is to be vigilant and aware of what's going on," he said. "If you see something out of the norm or something that makes you look twice, you want to call the police. We haven't had any instances of people wandering around but certainly if you were to encounter people out of place, it would make sense to give the police a call."

Generally, he said neighborhoods look out for each other and people behave themselves.

"Sometimes we don't even get a call in a 24 hour period, which speaks a lot," he said. "It's a changing world out there so we do have to be aware of what's going on around us."

Other tips:

-Lock your car if out shopping with bags inside, or take a trip home to drop them off.

-Get packages delivered to work.

-Provide company with specific instructions to deliver when someone is home to sign for.

-Invest in a security camera.

-Report suspicious activity to the police.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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