Ottawa police warn of 'porch pirates' stealing Christmas gifts

Ottawa police are warning online shoppers about ‘porch pirates' — thieves who swipe packages from people's doorsteps when they aren't home.

'Someone had stole it right off my front steps. It's pretty low'

Ottawa police explain how 'porch pirates' operate 0:47

Denise Reilly saved up for five months to surprise her daughter on Christmas with a gift she'd never expect — an expensive pair of Lululemon pants. But she says a thief swiped the package from outside her apartment building in Kanata last Friday before she could walk downstairs.

The 52-year-old single mother of two is disabled, living on social assistance, and said she can't afford to replace the $100 leggings in time for the holiday.

An Ottawa resident installed a security camera out his front window to catch porch pirates after one of his UPS packages was stolen from his doorstep last December. (Facebook)
She's the latest victim in Ottawa of "porch pirates" — thieves who prey on online shoppers by stealing packages dropped off at the shoppers' doorsteps.

"It's not fair," said Reilly. "How bloody dare they. I'm angry, I'm hurt and I'm upset. It's got to be stopped."

Ottawa Police said there have been at least six incidents in Orléans alone reported to police this month. The contents of the packages, in some cases deliveries from Amazon, were stolen and the boxes and wrapping were later found by police in Pine Vista Park.

"It's a crime of opportunity," said police spokesperson Const. Marc Soucy. "Christmastime a lot of orders are placed online … Whoever was stealing them was acting fast."

'I could have cried'

CBC News has learned of at least a handful of other cases in different areas of Ottawa that haven't been reported to police.

Denise Reilly said her apartment building is full of senior citizens. She doesn't believe any of her neighbours would have taken her package and is blaming a 'porch pirate' instead. (Facebook)
In Reilly's case, she was upstairs in her apartment when Canada Post dropped off the package three days early. The delivery person never called her to notify her, she said.

"I don't know if they're overwhelmed with packages," said Reilly. "Or they're so used to people not answering the door that they just throw them up against the door. They don't even try ringing your doorbell. I was home and I know they didn't buzz me."

It wasn't until her neighbour knocked on her door and said she spotted the delivery sitting outside their apartment building in the cold that Reilly went looking for the gift.

"I could have cried," said Reilly. "They were nowhere to be seen. I know how much my daughter would have loved them. I was very upset."

'It's pretty low'

Amanda Olsen, 25, spent weeks on the phone trying to get her money back after her package was poached from her Nepean townhouse doorstep.

She doesn't have a vehicle or time to shop in stores, she said, so she depends on home deliveries for day-to-day items. 

For someone to come by and swoop it off my steps is very disappointing- Amanda Olsen, Online Shopper

The box she ordered online from Walmart was filled with $60 worth of clothes, Christmas gifts and snacks for her six-year-old son. The company usually doesn't leave packages on her doorstep unattended but in this case it did, she said.

"Someone had stole it right off my front steps," she said. "It's pretty low, especially because it was things for my child. For someone to come by and swoop it off my steps is very disappointing."

Olsen has been spending the little free time she does have on the phone or emailing the company for a refund. It took her two weeks to convince Walmart her package was actually stolen, she said.

Advice from police

There are ways to protect yourself from these types of thieves, according to Ottawa police.

Most companies give customers a tracking number. Police are advising people to keep an eye on when their package is expected to arrive and then either make sure they're home or ask someone they trust to be there.

"You can know almost to the minute when your package is being delivered," said Const. Soucy. "Ask a neighbour 'if you see a delivery truck come by our street can you check if it's my package and take it inside.'"

If you get an email saying the package was dropped off, make a quick phone call to someone you know, he added. As well, make sure you report the crime to police.

'We take the security of mail very seriously'

Canada Post wouldn't provide CBC News with the number of reported thefts this holiday season.

"We take the security of mail very seriously and do everything possible to keep it safe," wrote Canada Post spokesperson Philipe Legault in a statement to CBC News. 

Canada Post will attempt to drop off the package directly into the customer's hands, Legault said. But if no one is home, they will "use their best judgment in making a delivery decision."

Customers do have options, Canada Post said. They can make sure their package requires a signature so it isn't left outside, or they can sign up online for Flex Delivery that allows customers to pick up their packages at a post office instead. 

As for Amazon, the company said customers can also select to pick up their packages at Canada Post retail locations. 

"The vast majority of deliveries make it to customers without issue," wrote the company in an email to CBC News. "In the rare case something occurs, we work with customers to make it right."

Canada Post said customers can sign up for Flex Delivery online so they can pick up their packages at more than 6,000 post offices. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)