Lauren Kribbs expected to find a package on her doorstep when she drove home Thursday evening with her 10-year-old son, Hunter. It was a Christmas present for him — drawing notebooks because he likes to make his own comic books. She had received the alert from UPS at 1 p.m.
By 4:30, when she pulled into the driveway, the box was gone.
“Hey!” she yelled out to a neighbor boy on the sidewalk. “Have you seen anybody come to my porch? They stole something again today.”
Just days after Cyber Monday shoppers broke records for online orders, package thieves began hitting neighborhoods, scoping out trucks as delivery workers plopped packages from Amazon, eBay and other retailers on doorsteps in broad daylight while people were at work.
It was the second day in a row that package thieves stole a Christmas gift for Hunter, who has autism. On Wednesday, a Nintendo-themed board game went missing.
And Kribbs was far from the only one targeted; at least 15 neighbors in her area complained of missing boxes.
The Houston Police Department did not have an exact tally of the total reports of stolen packages this week, but spokesman Victor Senties said officers were aware of an uptick in reports.
They also are meeting with delivery-truck drivers at UPS and FedEx to train them to spot possible thieves on their tail.
Neighbors began chattering about the stolen packages on Nextdoor.com, a neighborhood social-networking service, sharing videos or photos of thieves running onto front porches.
Sometimes they rummaged through the boxes, taking what they wanted and leaving other empty boxes behind to make it appear nothing was stolen, said Caitlin Bowers, who lives in nearby Woodland Heights, Texas, and whose security camera captured a theft at a neighbor’s home.
For some residents like Kribbs, a single mom who said the several presents she bought online were about all she could afford this year, it seemed the Grinches had stolen Christmas.
“I’m so upset right now. There’s nothing there. There’s nothing anywhere,” Kribbs said, just after a failed look around the back porch for the box.
Trey Berniard, who lives in Oak Forest, Texas, lost a Christmas gift this week to package thieves and described the same thing that Bowers caught on video in Woodland Heights: The thieves had left a random empty box on his doorstep that belonged not to him but to a neighbor down the block, whose packages were taken, too.
He posted the news in his homeowners’ association Facebook group, and several other neighbors responded that they also were hit. One woman was sitting at home when she received the UPS alert and checked 10 minutes later to find the box was gone.
Lt. Johnny Gonzales, in the Houston Police Department’s burglary and theft division, confirmed at least four reports in the northeast Houston area, a small fraction of the thefts, no doubt.
The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office confirmed another three since Tuesday.
Gonzales said police will often increase patrols.
“During the holidays there’s an increase just because of the volume of packages being ordered,” he said. “Security cameras are a great way to avoid being a target, because it deters the person from stealing, and if we do get a picture — a lot of neighbors post them on Nextdoor — usually we can always follow up.”
Rather than relying on the police to catch the thieves, though, plenty of neighbors and area business owners have taken prevention into their own hands.
Business owners in the area have started allowing customers to use their addresses for deliveries, storing the packages until residents can grab them later on in the evening.
Online shoppers can schedule deliveries in advance for a time when they are home, or use Amazon Locker, in which customers can send their package to an Amazon kiosk where it will be stored until the customer can pick it up.
Amazon also recently rolled out Amazon Key, which authorizes delivery workers to go into people’s houses using software that includes a security camera to capture the delivery — software that costs $250 for Amazon customers.
Despite the thefts, Kribbs said Christmas may turn out better than she thought.
After friends and even strangers had heard of her son’s first stolen presents on Nextdoor, dozens of people reached out asking for her address: They wanted to replace the gift themselves. Many asked for Hunter’s full Christmas list, Kribbs said.
“It felt like the whole neighborhood reached out,” she said. “Hunter and I just want to thank everybody. I want to thank my full neighborhood for really banding together.”
Neighbors in Oak Forest, Texas, responded to the thefts with a similar attitude.
They’re all on high alert now, Berniard said, and those who are at home during the day have agreed to watch out for boxes.
“It’s just neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.
Just after Berniard’s package was stolen Monday, he got a call from a friend down the block.
“He said, ‘Hey, I got hit, too,’ ” Berniard said. “ ‘But I have your box.’”
It was empty.