Walking her dog through Rodgers Forge one weekday before Thanksgiving, Laura Elstro noticed how many packages had been delivered to her neighbors’ front porches.
Remembering complaints she’d heard about the theft of such deliveries, the entrepreneur had an idea — she could turn collecting those parcels for people into a business.
“Unfortunately, I thought there is a real need for this,” Elstro said.
Her Package Rescue service, launched this month to serve a few Towson and North Baltimore neighborhoods, is among the alternatives cropping up as package theft has become an all-too-common byproduct of online shopping and delivery, especially around the holiday season.
Deliveries reach a fever pitch in the weeks leading up to Hanukkah and Christmas, with FedEx, for one, expecting a record number of packages in its global network, as many as 400 million. At the same time, more people have become victims of theft, with nearly 26 million people reporting they have had a holiday package stolen from their doorstep, according to a November survey by InsuranceQuotes.
“We’re definitely seeing more people tell us that they have been affected by theft during the holidays, particularly packages left on porches or doorsteps,” said Laura Adams, a senior insurance analyst for InsuranceQuotes. “It is a shockingly large number. It’s unfortunate that it’s on the rise.”
Police in at least two local jurisdictions, Baltimore and Howard counties, have issued warnings in recent weeks hoping to head off such theft. They’re reminding residents to take steps such as arranging to have packages delivered when they are home or looking for alternatives.
“Obviously with the increase of packages being delivered, we’ll see or are likely to see an increase in theft off front porches,” said a Baltimore County police spokeswoman, Officer Jennifer Peach.
She said the department does not track package theft specifically and much of it likely goes unreported.
The police warnings came as two men who pleaded guilty to a theft scheme in Columbia were given four-month and five-month jail sentences Thursday by a Howard County Circuit Court judge, the county state’s attorney’s office said.
The men, Amjad Jaouni, 29, and Ernest Ohanyan, 26, both of Baltimore, were arrested Dec. 7, 2016 after police found them driving a truck loaded with 75 packages they had stolen from 15 nearby streets. The state’s attorney’s office said in its announcement that the sentences showed the judge did not view the theft as a victimless crime or a single act. Packages were taken from 50 different homes.
Rob Daeschner said he has stopped sending deliveries to his home in Rodgers Forge after four packages intended as Christmas gifts were stolen from his porch last Wednesday night.
Daeschner, who moved into his home over the summer, noticed footprints in the snow to and from his door, then learned the missing packages had been delivered. He and his wife were home at the time, but he said the delivery person never knocked or rang the bell. A neighbor across the street later found a package ripped open along with an invoice. Two of the retailers, Macy’s and J.Crew, have told him they would re-send the items.
“People are going around looking for these packages,” he said. “Your concern level does grow.”
He said he and his wife have decided to have packages sent to their parents’ homes or delivered to work.
“I think we will do that moving forward, but no one should have to do that,” he said.
With theft on the rise, customers are becoming more reluctant to have deliveries sent to their homes, choosing instead, like the Daeschners, to send items to a workplace, relative or store or other business that accepts packages.
Others are installing security cameras or lockbox products, such as Landport, outside their homes. FedEx lets consumers customize deliveries to fit their schedules and specify where outside the home to leave products and offers options such as FedEx Onsite, a network of alternative delivery locations such as a FedEx shipping or office center and some Walgreens and grocery stores.
Amazon began offering its Amazon Locker program in the Baltimore area a year and a half ago, setting up nine package pick-up points, most in Shoppers Food and Pharmacy Stores. The online retail giant now has more than 40 locker locations in the Baltimore metro area. Customers are notified by email when the package arrives and use a unique code to retrieve their order from the locker.
“Customers love the convenience of Amazon Lockers and being able to control where and when they pick up their package,” Jim Billimoria, an Amazon spokesman, said in an email.
Amazon also launched Amazon Key for its Prime members in some cities, including Baltimore, which lets Amazon deliver packages just inside a front door with the help of a smart lock, a security camera and an app.
Amazon has introduced such options as its operational costs have increased as a result of package theft, said Ravi Srinivasan, assistant professor at Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business in the department of information systems, law and operations. Retailers, especially larger ones, typically absorb the cost of lost or stolen packages, he said.
As e-commerce grows and theft continues, more home-delivery services or alternatives, such as the Package Rescue idea, are likely to emerge, he said.
“It’s a question for each customer whether they are willing to pay the cost of somebody holding onto the package or [choose to] go to the store,” Srinivasan said. “It’s all about a willingness to pay.”
Elstro said she has handled about three or four pick-up requests a day. Using the customer’s tracking number, she keeps tabs on packages and picks them up within 15 minutes of delivery. Or she’ll contact the retailer and work within a delivery time frame, checking every half-hour or so.
After picking up packages, she leaves a note and sends texts and emails to arrange to deliver the package personally or have the customer pick it up. Package Rescue offers service in Armagh Village, Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh and Anneslie.
With Package Rescue, the single mother of two said she is taking a two-pronged approach to the problem of delivery theft, preventing thefts while donating a portion of proceeds to Toys for Tots Baltimore.
The business charges $12 to pick up one or two packages, $15 for three or four and $18 for five or more parcels.
She’d like to add other neighborhoods eventually by hiring local residents to handle areas where they live, a job she sees as ideal for stay-at-home mothers. She is running Package Rescue through her business Balancing Act, which connects residents with a variety of services in the community, from child care to shopping to cleaning. She also runs a nanny placement service.