Monday, January 22, 2018

Porch Pirates Get Clever

Porch pirates steal stuff from your front porch.  But suppose you don't order anything?  They take care of that, too.

I've read two postings recently online about a new gag for porch pirates.  These are folks who cruise suburban neighborhoods during the day when every one is at work and take FedEx and UPS packages off people's porches.    Usually, there are some decent goods in there that they can sell for drug money.

And is a pretty easy gig, too.   When I started working from home, I would take a walk around our neighborhood during the day with the dog, and was startled to see how empty the place was.   With dual-income families, public school, and day care, no one was home on most houses on my street.

And this is why I say having a a pile of guns to prevent break-ins is kind of dumb.   If they want to steal from you, they just back up a truck to your house during the day and take all your stuff - including your guns.   The best you can do is have maybe one firearm and know how to use it, to prevent someone from breaking into your house while you are there - but the smarter burglars know not to break into occupied homes for that very reason.

Getting back to porch pirates.   You decide to outwit them.   You have things delivered to a P.O. Box, or to a friend's house who is always home.  Or to your parent's house or your work address.  The latter can be problematic, of course.  I once had a new computer delivered to the Patent Office, and the folks in the mail room thought, "Hey, free computer! Swell!" until I schooled them otherwise.

Or maybe, you just don't tend to order things online.   So what they do is steal your credit card and order for you.   They then have the items shipped to your home address, and wait for the delivery and pick it up.   Unless you get a fraud alert or have your bank and credit card accounts set up to e-mail and/or text you every time a charge is made (a feature many banks, such as Bank of America, offers) you may never know the charge was made.

There are variations on the game.  They might change the address slightly so it goes to a neighboring house.   That way if the resident is home, they can knock on the door and ask if a package "for them" was mistakenly sent to that address.   Or it may be a way of preventing you from finding the box.

One person reported finding a flyer for a non-existent computer repair company on their door on the day of delivery - a flyer than none of his neighbors received.   Some suggest it may be a ruse to allow folks a legitimate reason to be approaching the door (and walking away with a computer box).

Of course, you are not liable for these charges to your credit card.

There are other weird things these thieves are doing as well.   To prevent you from reading any e-mails alerting you to the credit card charges or purchases, they send you 100 or more SPAM e-mails, so your inbox is "bombed".  They are hoping you are checking e-mail on a smart phone and just delete them en masse apparently.

Another person reports that the thieves intercepted the packages (for expensive iPhone X's - a commonly bought item, apparently) and then returned them, unopened, to the Apple store for iTunes cards, which they then cashed in.   The hapless victim then has trouble getting a refund from his credit card, as Apple is showing the product was already returned and a refund given!  Ouch!

A hotel clerk reports yet another twist - people make reservations at the hotel and have the packages shipped there in care of the hotel.   They show up to claim the package and then cancel the reservation.   After this happened three or four times, the hotel wised up and called the Police.

Another person claims that fraudsters, if they can't intercept the package at your home, will send you an official-looking e-mail with a return authorization label, so the package gets sent to their address.  At first, this sounds less plausible to me, as the return address might appear suspicious and also leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the police to follow.  But once again, they just porch pirate.  They merely wait for the "returned" merchandise to be sent to an address near them and..... pirate it off the porch, or claim to be the resident (complete with fake ID).

For $2000 laptops and $1000 iPhones, it can be a pretty lucrative gig, even if only 1 out of every 4 packages is intercepted.  It begs the question as to why the phone people don't make it easier to track these things and shut them down if they are stolen, but as someone once explained to me, a stolen phone often means a sale of a new one to the victim, and a cell plan sale to the purchaser of the stolen one - a win-win for the telco.   I suspect these more sophisticated porch pirates are doing this en masse and shipping these overseas for resale.   Probably Russia.

But you live in a safe area!  Gated community!  Upscale neighborhood!   They wouldn't dare try to pirate from your porch!  You have ten security cameras and an exploding dummy "bait box" waiting from them!

Oh, but think again.  They either use a different address on the order, or, if the merchant doesn't allow this, they try to re-direct the package once it has already been shipped.   They call the shipper (UPS or FedEx) and tell some sob story about how they are visiting relatives and want the package redirected to a new address - and then porch pirate it from that porch!   Since they are not having it shipped to their own address, they can't be traced.

In a way, none of this surprises me.  It is like the non-existent dog scam that used my stolen debit card as a small piece of a larger enterprise.  It is not a simple "I take your credit card and buy things with it" kind of deal, but layers of an onion which make it hard for Police to investigate and nearly impossible for them to catch anyone.

It is like these squirrel videos I see on YouTube.  People put up obstacle courses to keep squirrels out of their bird feeders and the squirrels just learn to overcome the obstacles.  The homeowner adds more discs, spinners, rotating cylinders, and whatnot, and the squirrel merely figures out a way around these.

I am not sure what the answer is, of course.  But another aspect of modern American living goes by the wayside.  Having stuff delivered to your porch is, apparently, a thing of the past for more and more Americans.