Beware of ‘porch pirates,’ other thieves

Scams. The second of a two-part series on local scams.

| 20 Dec 2022 | 01:24

‘Tis the season!

Officials from local police departments once again are warning residents to guard against theft during the holiday season and are offering tips to help people stay safe year-round.

The most common thefts this time of year include “porch piracy” and burglary from homes and vehicles.

Local law enforcement also is warning people to guard against such crimes as distraction thefts and merchandise thefts by private sellers.

According to industry watchdog’s 2022 report, 49 million Americans reported having a package stolen in the past 12 months, with a total value of more than $2.4 billion.

In New Jersey, the dreaded “porch pirate” has plundered packages from more than 18 percent of the population, which prompted the legislation known as the Defense Against Porch Pirates Act, enacted in January. The law upgrades penalties for those convicted of package theft, including fines and imprisonment.

One of the issues is that porch piracy is hard to pin down. Vernon Township Police Chief Dan Young emphasizes the importance of having surveillance on your property, through electronic doorbell cameras, standard security cameras or a trusted neighbor who can accept your expected package while you’re away from home.

“When you know you’re getting a package, take proactive steps to bring it in as soon as possible,” Young said. “And if you get camera alerts on your phone, you’ll know when it was delivered. In the event of a theft or other issue, you’ll be able to look at your video and see what occurred, gathering valuable evidence for the police.”

Protect vehicles

Another major concern is vehicle break-ins.

Young emphasized that the No. 1 reason that vehicles are burglarized is that they are unlocked.

“Lock your car doors,” he said. “Do not leave your key fob in your vehicle, do not leave valuables in your vehicle, and consider parking in a well-lit area of your driveway.

“And if you see someone suspicious in your neighborhood, especially in the overnight hours, call the police so an officer can respond.”

Andover detectives also warn against small-vehicle theft, especially at a time of year when people are selling motorized “toys” on Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor and other social media sites.

They recommend that if you are selling a snowmobile, ATV, dirt bike or another small vehicle, do not put your address online where thieves can see it. Instead, use a designated online transaction safe meeting zone.

Andover Township and Byram Township police have these zones outside their stations, as do many other departments in the area. Residents may call their local police non-emergency line to determine if their department has one.

This advice is good for all online sellers who want to protect themselves from the burglary or theft of valuable items.

Protect yourself

While most burglaries and thefts are no-contact crimes, it’s important to stay vigilant and avoid being personally targeted while shopping during the holidays.

A popular method of theft is a modern take on old-fashioned pick-pocketing known as the distraction scam. These scams occur when people are approached by a stranger who often offers a “sob story” and engages the victim’s attention, distracting them, while their partner steals the victim’s belongings, most commonly their wallet or phone. By the time the victim realizes something has been taken, the perpetrators are long gone.

Along with the distraction scam, Andover police ask people to be mindful about carrying cash, valuables and purchases to their vehicles to protect against a “follow-out” theft.

In these instances, the thief watches the victim leave the bank or store and follows them to identify their vehicle. If the target drives away immediately, they find another mark. If the target puts their items into their vehicle, then heads into another store, they often come back outside to find their cars ransacked and the items missing.

Using these tips to protect yourself during the holiday season and year-round will reduce your chances of becoming a statistical victim of burglary and theft.

Local police want residents to know that although determined burglars will always find a way, the best protection is to be aware and take steps to avoid being a target.

(This is Part 2 of a series on consumer protection against scams, theft, and fraud. Read Part I here.)

Protect homes
The Andover Township Police Department’s Detective Bureau offered tips for keeping your holiday decorations and heirlooms safe:
• Don’t display valuable heirlooms in plain view. For example place Granny’s silver candlesticks on the table, not in the front window.
• Secure outdoor decorations, such as cut-outs and inflatables, with cable ties or bike locks to make them less of a target for a “grab and run.”
• Don’t let your trash can or recycling bin advertise pricey purchases. Break down and hide electronics boxes and appliance packaging so you don’t draw the attention of burglars.
Protect Vehicles
The Andover Township detectives want people to protect their vehicles in public and at home:
• When shopping, lock your doors between stops and hide purchases from view.
• Go straight home and unload your purchases. Don’t stop at a park or anywhere else that your car could be isolated for a while.
• Don’t leave your garage-door opener in an unlocked vehicle. It could be stolen and used to enter your home at the moment or at a later time.
Tips to avoid being the victim of a distraction scam or follow-out theft include:
Keep an eye on your surroundings while running errands.
• Be wary of strangers who have an unlikely story about why they need to talk to you.
• Carry all your money and purchases with you until you’re ready to head home.
“When you know you’re getting a package, take proactive steps to bring it as soon as possible.” - Vernon Township Police Chief Dan Young