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Detectives: COVID-19 leading to a spike in holiday package thefts

Posted at 7:01 PM, Dec 10, 2020

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Law enforcement leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay are warning all of us about a spike in package thefts.

It comes as more people shop online to stay safe from COVID-19 and a growing number of people ship gifts to friends and family members who they may not be able to gather with this year.

Holiday gift-giving and receiving will look a little different this year and detectives say “porch pirates” are taking advantage.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office shared a recent video with ABC Action News showing one man who detectives say was caught on camera snatching one package after another from a Tampa apartment mailroom. Another video that deputies say shows a woman in Riverview toting around two backpacks for looted goods.

Amanda Granit, the Public Information Officer at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says doorbell cameras are extremely helpful in solving package theft crimes.

“How often do we not only get clear video but video of them in the act of a crime? It’s a detective's dream to have this type of thing,” she explained.

A study by Chicago-based research company C & R found 36% of Americans had a package stolen at least once in the past year. Tampa also recently ranked #19 in the nation for the number of porch pirate crimes.

One piece of advice from detectives: put special instructions in your online order for your package to be placed behind a bush, fence, or at your side door.

Major David Gerardo at the St. Petersburg Police Department says that could make the package harder for thieves to spot.

“Just ask the delivery service to take one extra second to keep that package out of view and that could be the difference between someone walking off with your Christmas gifts or not,” he added.

HCSO also recently launched operation “Pinch A Grinch.” You can now ship packages directly to two Sheriff’s Office locations to keep the boxes safe until you’re able to pick them up.

Through Dec. 21, 2020, those packages can be shipped to HCSO’s District 3 office, located at 7202 Gunn Highway in Tampa or the district 5 office, located at 10128 Windhorst Road in Tampa.

Package distribution times are Monday through Friday from 7 A.M. To 8 P.M. and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. A deputy at the front desk of each of the two district offices will be available to assist.

Residents must have a government-issued photo identification card and an order tracking number in order to accept their packages. Packages must be less than 50 lbs.  

Last year thieves in Hillsborough County snatched 274 packages worth more than 76,000 dollars.