HCSO plants bait packages on residents' doorsteps to help catch holiday gift thieves

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Porch pirates are gearing up to steal holiday gifts left on people's doorsteps, but their formidable foe, the Harris County Sheriff's Office, is ready to stop them.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday kick off the holiday shopping season, and this year, retailers are anticipating an increase in home deliveries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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To combat the possible thieves that may be lurking nearby, who are ready to grab the delivered gift before a notification of successful delivery even sends, Harris Co. deputies are launching sting operations in the area.

"Beyond catching porch pirates who come into our neighborhoods to snatch our holiday packages, our goal is to also deter this activity from taking place by letting would-be package thieves know that we're out here," said Burglary and Theft Investigator Javier Ureña.

Investigators said their operation consists of placing multiple decoy packages with an attached tracking device on people's porches. If a thief takes one of the GPS-tracked packages, investigators will receive an alert and can follow it in real-time. And, when a thief opens the package, a camera will start taking photos of the suspect.

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The sting operations will take place in areas in the county that have been identified as most at-risk based on theft reports and tips from shipping companies. Last week, Ureña led an operation in the Westlake community in Katy. Although no porch pirates took the bait, it allowed investigators to test their new equipment.

Despite the increased presence of authorities in some areas this holiday season, HCSO is urging residents to take steps that will help avoid packages being stolen from their doorstep, like signing up for tracking notifications, retrieving packages as soon as they arrive or requiring a signature for delivery, and considering other delivery locations like Amazon Hub Locker locations or PO Boxes.

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Mail theft is a federal offense punishable with up to five years in prison and fines. Call the Sheriff's Office at 713-221-6000 to report any stolen packages or suspicious behavior.

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