Porch package poachers pinched, cueing darker side of holidays

SAN JOSE — With the holiday shopping season in full swing, police are once again warning residents against a rising yuletide phenomenon after the recent arrests of a pair of porch package theft suspects in South San Jose.

Consumers’ increasing migration to online retailers for big-ticket holiday purchases has given rise to more instances of people walking right up to homes and taking newly delivered packages almost as soon as they land on doorsteps.

“A car stops in the middle of the street, a passenger pops out and runs to the front of a home, and takes multiple packages sitting on the porch,” said veteran San Jose burglary Detective Ashley Weger.

That’s almost exactly what happened in the case of two women who were arrested by San Jose police late last month in connection with at least a half-dozen porch poachings, investigators say. In one instance, the pair reportedly backed their vehicle into the driveway of a home they targeted, giving the appearance they might belong there.

They appear to have been thwarted by online shoppers adopting another technology, in the form of high-resolution home-security cameras. Weger said residents of a neighborhood in the Santa Teresa area shared surveillance images of people stealing packages from their homes on the Nextdoor community website.

The images were still fresh in the mind of a resident who recognized the two women as they were seen dumping empty boxes from the online-retailing giant Amazon into a dumpster behind a McDonald’s restaurant at Santa Teresa Boulevard and Cottle Road.

Vivian Mueller, left, and Brittani Macias were arrested Nov. 27, 2017 in connection with a string of porch package thefts in South San Jose. (San Jose Police Dept.)Vivian Mueller, left, and Brittani Macias were arrested Nov. 27, 2017 in connection with a string of porch package thefts in South San Jose. (San Jose Police Dept.) 

The resident called police, who used the given description of the two women and their vehicle — a maroon Volkswagen SUV — to track the suspects to a neighborhood where they were suspected of stealing packages, Weger said.

“There was a big box leaning up against the car when the officers found them,” Weger said, suggesting that the pair might have been caught in the act.

Police arrested San Jose residents Brittani Macias, 27, and 23-year-old Vivian Mueller in connection with at least a half-dozen porch and home thefts.

But the arrests mark just a tiny fraction of similar activity that police see over the month of December. A survey from national packing firm Shorr said as many as 23 million Americans are victims of package theft each year, and it has made many consumers wary of having high-priced items like electronics shipped to their homes.

“Every season, we’re going to see an increase due to the number of packages being delivered,” Weger said.


TIPS FOR PREVENTING PACKAGE THEFT

  • Schedule deliveries when someone’s home to receive it
  • Use tracking numbers and email and text notifications to closely monitor when packages arrive
  • If practical, utilize a postal drop for receiving packages, and locked mailboxes (e.g., Amazon lockers)
  • Have packages delivered to a workplace or apartment lobby where someone can sign for it
  • Connect with neighbors to make arrangements to sign for and receive each other’s packages when the other is not home
  • Affix security-camera angles so that they are not too high, capturing visitors’ faces and preventing from easily obscuring themselves with a hood or hat
  • Use cameras that record at least in 1080p resolution and have nighttime function

SOURCE: San Jose Police Dept.


She added that besides cruising through neighborhoods looking for front-door loot, thieves have taken to stealthily following delivery trucks. Some law-enforcement agencies have responded in kind by placing GPS trackers in packages in an effort to both catch and deter culprits.

But ultimately, the tried-and-true resource of sharp eyes and ears are the most effective deterrent to these thefts, Weger said, aided by increasingly affordable home-surveillance cameras.

The recent South San Jose case “was great because a person posted an image, and it spread, and more people realized they were victims,” she said. “It’s great when people can be observant. Get a license plate, get photos. It all helps.”

Weger also restated a key element to the process that sometimes gets overlooked: Actually reporting the theft to police, as a social-media posting, however viral, does not always make it to the attention of investigators.

“You have to make the report,” she said, noting that they can made over the phone by calling 311 or online at a police department’s website.