When Arthur Russel opened his front door one sunny morning, he was frustrated to find his expected delivery missing – but he was far from surprised. On countless occasions, he had become the target of ‘porch pirates’ – thieves who snatch packages from the doorsteps of our homes. But Arthur wasn’t defeated – instead, he dreamt up an ingenious plan to teach these thieves a lesson.
The phrase ‘porch pirates’ first appeared around 2010, and these people have stolen all kinds of valuables from under our noses over the years. In fact, 64.1% of Americans have lost deliveries to these thieves over the past year! Like many others, Arthur was fed up with the rise in crime.
The wrong person
In the case of Arthur, however, porch pirates had meddled one too many times with the wrong person. A former Navy SEAL, he was ready to put his cunning to the test and outsmart the thieves who had caused him such annoyance and wasted so much of his time and money over the years.
Arthur plotted to plant a decoy package on his doorstep, lying in wait for would-be thieves. His first attempt to create a booby trap took several weeks, and he wasn’t satisfied with it. This original model would trap the fingers of whoever tried to make off with the package. But he wanted to devise something more elaborate.
A fright they wouldn’t forget
“I was thinking, how could I scare them and make them drop my package and then never come to my front porch again?” Arthur has since recalled. He didn’t want to injure anyone, but he did want to give the porch pirates a fright that they would never forget.
Ditching his initial design, Arthur started to test out different boxes that would maximise fear and deter the porch pirates from hassling him ever again. He set out to the hardware store to search for some unusual supplies – which drew a confused look from the cashier.
Finally inspired, Arthur spent one day assembling his device. He dressed it up as a very ordinary-looking mail delivery, and tested it out several times in his backyard, laughing in satisfaction when he found that every single part of it was working perfectly, every time.
A deafening sound
Arthur’s trial runs produced such a commotion that he was left with ringing in his ears. Now all he needed was the finishing touch to his plan – a security camera. He bought one at a local store, and installed it right next to his doorbell so that he could see the device at work.
Arthur put the device just outside his front door and retreated to watch the chaos unfold via the video camera. Astonishingly, his plan kicked into action that very afternoon, when the first porch thief took an interest at the apparent delivery resting uncollected on his doorstep.
The first victim
Arthur was surprised to find that the very first would-be thief was a woman. She strolled up to his doorstep confidently. At first, she rang the doorbell to check if anyone was at home. But a motion sensor light knocked her confidence, and she began to back away without taking the parcel.
As Arthur looked on via the camera, he saw the woman’s getaway car parked nearby. As the woman tried to abandon the plan, a man in the car leant out to encourage her, telling her to return to the porch once more. After a moment of hesitation, she walked back towards Arthur’s house.
The moment that the thief grabbed the package – while looking around warily – a huge boom echoed through the neighbourhood. She screamed and fled in terror – but was totally unharmed by Arthur’s device. He was delighted at how well his plan had worked. She even dropped her cell phone in his front yard, leaving useful evidence behind.
What was the secret behind Arthur’s device? It was a simple mechanism. Inside the box was a plate that held back a firing pin. When triggered, the firing pin set off a 12-gauge shotgun blank. And the trigger itself was simply a string, running from the package to Arthur’s doorknob.
Arthur has insisted that his device is totally harmless. He tested it over and over again, and even tried placing a tomato inside the package to prove how safe it was. “It never hurt me once,” he said in an interview. “It didn’t hurt the tomato in there either.”
In the interests of honesty, as well as covering his back for potential lawsuits, Arthur made sure that he warned would-be thieves before they had the chance to snatch his device. He put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign, and he taped a warning note to the box itself – making it as obvious as possible that the device was not all it seemed.
Nevertheless, thieves continued to take the bait. A few days after his first success, he caught another thief in the same way as the first woman – with another startlingly loud sound. “I know it’s crude, but there’s nothing scarier than a 12-gauge,” he commented.
Arthur’s boom box was a triumph, and cops started taking Arthur’s claims of porch piracy more seriously. Though they disapproved of his unusual methods, they used his door cam footage to track down some of the thieves – while Arthur was able to sit back in satisfaction.
Arthur was a bachelor, and his company at home was an 8-year-old tomcat named Boots. Quiet and sweet-natured, this cat was nevertheless instrumental in another one of Arthur’s revenge plans for the porch pirates. He decided to fill one unassuming porch package with Boots’ kitty litter.
For a truly revolting discovery, he poured the litter into an empty Amazon package and left it out as bait. Laughing to himself, waited to see what happened next on his porch camera. Unfortunately, this particular male thief picked up the litter package and walked some distance away with it, never guessing the contents!
Thrown in disgust
The man opened the package a short distance away, and threw it into the street in disgust when he realised he had been tricked. But one of Arthur’s well-meaning neighbours later retrieved the package, recognising the address on it. This unfortunate neighbour noticed a note among the box’s gross contents.
‘You’re on camera’
Amongst Boot’s litter, Arthur had left a note which read: “Hi, you’re on camera. F-you thief. Hope you like cat c**p.” Amused but understanding, the neighbour approached Arthur to tell him his plan had failed. The neighbour wasn’t happy about the mess in the street, but he detested porch pirates just as much as Arthur did.
Arthur made similar attempts by filling packages on his porch with garbage, but they suffered the same fate as his kitty litter surprise. The sympathetic neighbour recommended that Arthur should think outside the box, so to speak, and try for something more subtle next time. And as he said this, he asked Arthur to pass on his more successful methods, so that he could copy them!
Arthur’s final design contained another surprise for wannabe thieves. He blew up a simple balloon and then poured glitter and confetti into it. This time, he used a carefully positioned pin to make sure that whoever opened the package would pop the balloon – with explosive results. But he abandoned this method when he decided it wasn’t scary enough.
Glitter bomb revenge plots have become something of a viral phenomenon on social media. Mark Rober, a former engineer, has racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube by publishing videos of his glitter bomb packages at work. Given how popular these videos are, it’s clear that hatred of porch pirates is truly widespread.
Brazen and reckless
The ease of porch piracy has even become something of a joke to the perpetrators. It appears that package thieves have become more brazen, even reckless, in recent years. Saint Paul, the capital of Minnesota, USA, has suffered from some of the worst examples.
A little thank you
Saint Paul resident Hilary von Smith discovered that a Christmas present had been snatched from her doorstep in 2019. Unbelievably, the thief even wrote her a cheeky note, signed “the new owner of your package.” It read, ““So just a quick little thank you for leaving me the opportunity of stealing your package.”
‘A d***head move’
“Very nice of you. Thank You,” the note concluded. Smith spoke to news station CBS about this cruel piece of evidence. She commented that she was “angry and confused and quite flabbergasted” by the note, and she also wrote on Facebook that it was “a d***head move.”
“I do appreciate a nicely-crafted ‘thank you’ note, but this is ridiculous,” she recalled to CBS. “It’s brazen and arrogant.” Despite a wave of porch piracy in the city, Sergeant Mike Ernster of St Paul Police said that this note was “unheard of” and “something we’ve never seen before.”
Unfortunately, this particular thief was never tracked down. Unfazed, von Smith told news outlets with a smile that she has created her own decoy parcel, containing “a little gift from my dog,” in case this bold criminal ever returns to her porch or others attempt to do the same.
The St Paul Police Department, like many others across the USA, has attempted more formal decoys to track down porch pirates. They have planted GPS devices in packages, so that they can follow and arrest anyone who wanders off with such ill-gotten goods.
Operation Drop Box
St Paul police named their mission Operation Drop Box, but this is far from a secret project. On the contrary – the police want as many people as possible to know about GPS tracking in random packages. It seems that little else has a chance of striking fear into the hearts of thieves.
Steve Linders, a spokesman for the St Paul Police Department, has explained: “We want would-be thieves to know we have the technology and maybe they’ll think twice before stealing someone’s package off their front step.” Their colleagues in Edina, New Mexico, California and Oregon have launched similar bait projects.
Amazon takes action
In Jersey City, police tackled the issue alongside Amazon. They worked together to install doorbell cameras and leave out bait parcels. In 2020, according to marketing research firm Digital Third Coast, Jersey City is the third worst city in the United States for porch piracy – ranking behind only St Louis and Minneapolis.
Warnings are often issued around the run-up to Christmas for people to be on their guard against porch piracy. But the truth is that we are seeing these crimes becoming even more common at all times of the year, as a result of the global rise in internet shopping.
There are several ways to deter and tackle this kind of crime yourself. Police recommend that you arrange delivery times for when you’re at home, or that you ask a neighbour to collect valuable packages from your porch if you aren’t around. It takes a community to fight this kind of theft.
As unattractive as possible
James Falvey, the acting police chief in Milford, Massachusetts, has another tip. He recommends that you make sure parcels are dropped off in plain sight, where anyone on the street could spot a theft taking place. “Make it an environment that they think they’ll get caught,” he said. “Make the area as least attractive to them as possible, so they think they’ll be seen.”
Hotspots and trends
Likewise, many companies have tracking systems so that you can monitor your delivery every step of the way. But when porch pirates do many things to overcome your precautions, the most important step you can take is to report it to the police. Without data, law enforcement cannot spot trends and hotspots for package theft.
Searching for witnesses
Constable Sebastien Lemay of the Ottawa Police force has noted the importance of theft reports from the general public. “We need to know where these incidents are happening. Some of these incidents would be hard to investigate but there may be a witness or video footage or leads we can follow.”
What’s more, when it comes to reporting theft, it doesn’t matter how big or small, valuable or cheap your stolen parcel was. According to CTV News in Ottowa, “Police say [porch piracy] is considered a crime of personal property, no matter how much the package is worth.”
Arthur’s story may well inspire you to get creative in protecting your packages. But are there any dangers in booby-trapping parcels and leaving them out as bait? Lawyers and cops alike have warned against taking such action. Satisfying though it may sound, it can seriously backfire on you.
Laws about property defence vary between countries and states. In the USA, the law does not look favourably upon booby-trappers, and any attempt to hurt porch pirates could land you in serious trouble. Attorney Trey Lindley in North Carolina has summarised: “You can’t create a package that could harm someone.”
The risks may not be obvious at first. But Trey Lindley gives the example of the glitter-bomb traps: “Peering at it at eye level when the glitter spins, there is a foreseeable risk it could get into someone’s eye.” He recommends that you focus instead on reporting thefts to the police and installing a home video camera if possible.
Others have also weighed in on the glitter bomb method. “While you may feel justified and reasonable in your means of defending your property, you might be committing an actionable civil tort and possibly a criminal offense,” according to Daytona Beach Injury Attorneys.
“Here, [Mark] Rober’s glitter bomb package appears to be a non-lethal means of deterring thieves from his boxes,” Daytona Beach Injury Attorneys further noted. “Although it requires the thief to steal the decoy, they will likely think twice before trying to take from that house again.”
An injured thief
“An injured thief could make an argument that a malfunctioning booby was not a reasonable non-lethal method of protecting one’s property,” Daytona Beach Injury Attorneys added. On the whole, it seems that extravagant ploys to deter thieves are rarely worth it.
Keeping packages safe
Overall, we’d recommend that you stick to signatures, delivery confirmation, home security cameras and safe pick-up spots to keep your packages safe. While Arthur’s inventiveness impressed many, it takes more than glitter to stop a crime wave in its tracks.