Would-be thieves have started staking out Midlands porches in search of unattended boxes that contain holiday gifts, a Columbia police officer says.
Thieves know this is the time of the year when people get items delivered to their doorstep or when people hide gifts from prying eyes in the trunks of vehicles – and thieves are watching, said Columbia police officer Orlando Santos. Some thieves will even follow delivery trucks around neighborhoods to see where packages are dropped off.
“A lot of thieves know that this is the season to expect packages,” Santos said. “If you can keep everything out of sight, (your house) will be less attractive.”
It already happened to Terry Dimmery, during the Thanksgiving holiday. While he was away from his home near Five Points, a delivery service mistakenly left a package on his porch that was meant for his neighbor. On Thanksgiving Day, the cat sitter found an Amazon box in Dimmery’s bushes that had been ripped open.
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When Dimmery and his wife, Betsy, returned Friday, he found one of his six surveillance cameras had caught the whole thing. “The video caught him carrying the toy down the sidewalk,” Dimmery said. “It all happened within a minute.”
At 1:52 p.m., on Thanksgiving Day to be exact.
Dimmery said the man sat on the steps leading up to his porch, opened up the box quickly, pulled out everything and walked away with the toy that his neighbors had bought for their elementary school-aged child.
To avoid falling victim to these types of crimes, the spokesmen for the Richland County and Lexington County sheriff’s departments echoed each other in the call to have packages delivered to the workplace.
“If your business or workplace, for whatever reason, does not allow that, we advise sending it to a trusty neighbor or making an arrangement with a family member,” said Capt. Adam Myrick, spokesman for the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.
Myrick referenced the case of a part-time seasonal UPS worker who was arrested in 2015 for allegedly stealing packages from more than a dozen homes. The investigation revealed the driver was delivering packages and returning later in the day to take those that were left unattended.
Lt. Curtis Wilson, of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, said there have been no reports of packages being stolen yet. But with the holiday season already here, an increase in reported thefts is possible.
“With these packages, again, just make sure that you take appropriate precautions when having them delivered,” Wilson said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re living in a day and age where we have to monitor deliveries.”
UPS spokeswoman Natalie Godwin suggested to those who are having packages delivered through the company to sign up for a free service that allows for homeowners to specify how they want packages delivered.
“You can leave directions,” Godwin said. “Say, you want it delivered on the back porch or on the side of the garage or you can reschedule it. UPS will hold it for seven days.”
Santos said people who are buying items online and at stores should also consider the boxes they throw away.
“It’s more of what you showcase to the thief,” Santos said. “When we’re walking or driving around at nighttime, we’ll see there is a big 55-inch TV box in front of your residence; you just told the thief that you purchased a brand-new TV.”
Fold boxes into garbage or recycling receptacles, he said. And residents who leave for vacation during the holidays can register their homes as vacant, so that patrolling officers know that someone is not supposed to be home.
“And if you ever see someone walking around ... call 911,” Santos said. “If looks suspicious, then it is suspicious.”
Ways to protect mail and packages:
1. Avoid sending cash by mail.
2. Don’t leave delivered mail and packages unattended.
3. Consider an alternate shipping address.
4. Customize delivery by redirecting packages to a new address or post office.
5. Hold mail at the local post office when going out of town.
6. Secure the shipment by using delivery or shipment services that require a signature.
7. When shipping valuable packages, opt for the registered mail service.
Source: U.S. Postal Service