About a month ago, Riverbank residents caught on a security video a woman stealing a package that had just been delivered to their front porch.
The residents turned over the video, and Detective Jon Gingerich posted it on the Riverbank Police Services’ online site. He also distributed it to the media, including modbee.com. Then Facebook users began sharing it and, well, you can pretty much guess what followed.
A few days later, the thief returned the package. Questions asked, but no charges filed. What caused this sudden change of heart?
“People who recognized her blew it up,” he said. “She got phone calls from somebody she knows.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
The comments left on the Facebook pages were absolutely brutal, shaming her in just about every way possible. Gingerich wouldn’t release her name because she won’t be prosecuted. But he said he’s had several discussions with her since – she pleaded to have the video taken down from the various sites – and he thinks she learned a valuable lesson:
Pilfer packages from porches, and expect no pity from the public. And also know that you soon could become an online celebrity in a very bad way.
“It’s a great source for us,” Gingerich said. “We catch lots of people through the social media.”
But more get away with it because most folks don’t install the surveillance cameras. And thieves tend to hit nearby communities where they don’t think they’ll be as recognizable, though social media can be the great equalizer.
“Most of the ones we get here in Riverbank come from Modesto, Oakdale or Waterford,” Gingerich said.
All of this is germane because “Cyber Monday” – the first Monday after Thanksgiving, which is a day before Black Friday, which we all know really began in August – is upon us. That means the UPS, FedEx, U.S. Postal Service and DHL delivery trucks can expect dramatic rises in package drop-offs, many of which are left on front porches.
Some of those trucks will be followed through neighborhoods by people like the aforementioned unscrupulous but not arrested thief, looking for a merry Christmas at someone else’s expense.
Bee reporter Marijke Rowland recently wrote about being a victim of package theft. Her mom sent her a box of books Rowland’s dad used to read to her as a child. They had real sentimental value to Rowland. The value to the thief, if anything, the price of a drug fix.
So how do folks avoid becoming victims? Well, the obvious answer is to buy locally and in person, and be smart enough not to leave items in plain view while you continue shopping. Smash-and-grabs, for crooks, are the easiest of pickings and cost you not only the price of replacing the stolen gifts, but also a few hundred bucks to replace the car window they broke to get to it.
But those who out crooks on Facebook probably also shop online and therefore need to protect their own investments upon arrival.
The shippers suggest you have packages delivered to the workplace or to a neighbor who definitely would be home and expecting it. Or, if neither is an option, when placing the order online include instructions to the driver to leave the packages out of plain view – behind an outbuilding, or a fence, etc.
Most shippers also will send a text alert a day in advance, including a ballpark delivery time.
Gingerich urges neighbors at home to watch for vehicles that follow the delivery trucks into neighborhoods, and to report license place numbers when possible.
“You might not be a witness to something happening at that moment, but it could happen around the corner and we’d at least have something to go on,” he said.
And, of course, it never hurts to have a high-quality surveillance camera that provides a good look at the bad folks. But if you order a system online, make sure someone is home when the delivery truck arrives.
You’d hate to have it stolen from your front porch before you can even hook it up.