The woman looked casual as she walked up the sidewalk, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She neared the doorstep of a home in Cedar Hill, and reached down for a brown box, picked it up and took back to a truck.
But Chejuana Willis-Martin, the home’s owner, didn’t know the woman and didn’t see her until she scanned through her doorbell camera’s surveillance video this week.
Willis-Martin had been expecting a package from her mother-in-law; instead she found out that the woman in the surveillance video had stolen the package in broad daylight, about noon on Nov. 18.
As online shopping peaks near the holidays, thieves are taking advantage of an easy, often low-risk opportunity to snag packages left unsecured on front porches. And they have plenty to choose from.
In November, total online sales hit $43.9 billion, up 7.4 percent from last year, according to Adobe Digital Insights. More than $3 billion in online sales were made in one day on Cyber Monday this week.
This week, police in Fort Worth and Arlington sought public assistance in finding suspects accused of stealing packages from front porches. One of the thieves, in west Arlington, was wearing an orange safety vest “to make himself look official,” police said.
In another Fort Worth incident, a woman was caught allegedly stealing several boxes at once from a porch in the Monticello neighborhood, according to surveillance video screenshot posted to Facebook.
On Thursday, Lakrisha Reed, a Grand Prairie resident, caught a thief on surveillance video stealing about $300 worth of children’s clothes from her porch.
“We work hard, and this happens,” she said. “I’m just sick.”
One resident of a neighborhood in north Arlington posted this on Nextdoor on Wednesday:
“Light Blue sedan following the delivery trucks … and trying to swipe packages.”
Another resident from the same neighborhood posted:
“I have a parcel missing from yesterday. I left it a day in the hopes it would turn up. Unfortunately it hasn't. Has anyone received it by mistake?”
‘More than a simple theft’
“This is more than a simple theft,” said Sgt. VaNessa Harrison, an Arlington police spokeswoman. “A package left at the door can also signal that no one is home which means homeowners could also become victims of burglary.”
The theft at Willis-Martin’s home left her and her husband feeling violated, she said.
Their stolen package was a vintage San Francisco 49ers letter jacket. It had belonged to her husband’s stepfather, who recently passed away.
“It’s more sentimental than monetary value,” she said. “It’s important … If anyone can pinpoint who this person is, just let them know they can drop the jacket off on our front porch.”
It’s more sentimental than monetary value. It’s important. . .If anyone can pinpoint who this person is, just let them know they can drop the jacket off on our front porch. Chejuana Willis-Martin
Residents have several options to prevent package thefts, though some might take away from the convenience of online shopping.
Amazon, UPS and FedEx offer services in which packages can be delivered to nearby lockers, which are often located at gas stations and convenience stores.
With Amazon, for instance, customers can select a “Pickup Point” location when they check out by searching for a locker near their address.
The lockers are scattered across Tarrant County, including one at a QuikTrip on Hemphill Street south of downtown Fort Worth, at a 7-Eleven near TCU, and at several spots along Interstate 35W and Loop 820 in south Fort Worth.
When the package arrives at the locker, Amazon will email the customer a bar code, which they’ll use to pick up the order.
‘We’ll come pick it up’
Arlington police Sgt. Harrison also offered these tips:
▪ Consider using another address if you are going to have multiple packages delivered during this shopping season. Your neighbor’s or work address is a good alternative.
▪ Use the tracking numbers to track your packages. This may assist you in planning when you will be home to receive packages.
▪ Install a camera that is out of reach and that aims right at your doorstep. While this may not always deter criminals, it offers great leads for police.
Several products have been invented for specifically targeting front-porch package thieves.
The iBin is a weatherproof lock box that delivery workers can drop packages in.
The Package Guard is round device about the size of a Frisbee. When a package is placed on it, the Package Guard sends a text or an email to the customer, notifying them of the package’s arrival. If someone tries to steal the package, the Package Guard sounds off a loud alarm, similar to a car alarm.
Willis-Martin, whose package was stolen in Cedar Hill, typically has about a dozen orders sent to her doorstep during the holiday season.
“We just contacted the post office and UPS,” she said, “and told them, ‘Anything that comes to this address, leave us a notice, and we’ll come pick it up.’ ”