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Homeowners use cameras, horns, dog poop to protect packages from porch pirates

Porch pirates, beware. This holiday season, consumers are getting smart.

Thieves who figured they could make an easy score of deliveries left at homeowners’ front doors have found themselves caught on doorbell video, blasted by air horns and tricked into stealing boxes of dog and cat poop, as fed-up consumers try to fend off package thieves.

“You feel very violated when someone does something like this,” says Elena Gonzales of Evanston, who was hit by a package thief in October but caught the culprit on video.

Gonzales’ Ring.com wireless-doorbell system recorded the whole scene: A blond woman moseys up to the house, peeks at an empty baby stroller, then pretends to knock while peering in the window. She leaves for a moment, then comes back, picks up the box and carries it away.

The creepy part? Gonzales and her baby were home as it happened.

The huge box was packed with a brand-new compost bin, so the joke was on her, Gonzales says. But she’s still mad that someone would have such gall.

Gonzales used the Ring.com Neighbors app to share the video online and saw that another Evanston user had posted similar video of the same woman.

With that, Evanston police were able to arrest Tiffany Gourley, 40, of Evanston, and charge her with two counts of misdemeanor theft.

After Gonzales supplied a police report, Amazon sent her a replacement bin.

Kristen Driscoll of West Rogers Park hasn’t been so lucky. A video captured her birthday present — a Dallas Cowboys “ugly sweater” — being snatched off her porch Dec. 6 by a thief who had an accomplice waiting in a van.

“It’s just the nerve of somebody, that they can get away with that,” Driscoll says. “I’m glad it was something for me and not for my kids.”

According to Chicago Police Department crime statistics, there were 95 thefts from residential porches or hallways from Nov. 25 through Dec. 5.

On Nov. 29, three teenagers were spotted stealing packages off a porch in the 300 block of West Goethe Street in Old Town. A 64-year-old man who witnessed the theft ended up being hit in the face with a metal pipe by a 14-year-old and robbed by the other two teens. The police caught all three and charged them with armed robbery.

Online videos here and elsewhere show people fighting back against porch piracy by rigging air horns or leaving boxes with dog or cat poop to leave as a surprise for thieves.

In one video, a California man runs fishing line from a bait package to an air horn, which blasts if someone tries to steal the box. He records the startled thieves as they drop it and run.

More tips to fight porch pirates

Don’t like the thought of rigging horns and boxing up poop? There are other, easier ways to thwart package thieves:

  • If your boss doesn’t mind, have packages delivered to your office.
  • Have packages held for pickup. Amazon Locker service is available in Chicago, and FedEx and UPS also let you arrange for them to hold a package until you can go get it.
  • The U.S. Postal Service offers Informed Delivery, which lets you see which packages are coming and leave delivery instructions if you won’t be home.
  • For valuable items, consider requiring a signature for delivery.
  • And always track any package you order.