AI monitors package theft for UPS as rise in “porch piracy” continues

A doorbell camera in Chesterfield, Virginia recently caught a man snatching a box containing a new iPad worth $1,600 from the arms of a FedEx delivery driver. Hardly a day goes by without a similar report. Package theft, often referred to as “portal piracy,” is a major criminal business.

While the price of a single stolen package is not extremely high – a study found that the average value of stolen goods in 2022 was $50 – the absolute level of package theft is high and continues to rise. In 2022, 260 million delivered packages were stolen, up from 210 million packages the year before, according to home security consultant SafeWise. Overall, an estimated 79% of Americans fell victim to porch pirates last year.

In response, some of the major logistics companies have introduced technologies and programs to stop the crime wave. One of the most recent examples, soon to be deployed on a larger scale, came from UPS in June with its API for Delivery defense, an AI-powered approach to reducing the risk of delivery theft. The UPS engineer uses historical data and machine learning algorithms to assign each location a “Delivery Confidence Score,” rated on a scale of one to 1,000.

“If we have a value of 1,000 for an address, that means we are very confident that the package will be delivered,” said Mark Robinson, president of UPS Capital. “At the other end of the scale, about 100 … would be one of those addresses that would be most likely to experience a loss at the delivery point,” Robinson said.

Using artificial intelligence, DeliveryDefense from UPS Capital analyzes address characteristics and generates a “Delivery Confidence Score” for each address. If the address has a low score, a package recipient may recommend in-store pickup or a UPS pickup location.

The original version was designed to integrate with major retailers’ existing software via the API – a beta test was conducted with Costco Wholesale in Colorado. The company declined to provide information related to its collaboration with Costco. Costco did not respond to a request for comment.

DeliveryDefense, Robinson said, is “a great way for merchants to make better decisions about how they ship packages to their recipients.”

To meet the needs of more merchants, a web-based version for small and medium-sized businesses will launch on October 18, just in time for the holiday shipping season.

According to UPS, the decision on delivery options, which are made to mitigate potential problems and improve the customer experience, ultimately rests with the individual merchant, who decides whether and how to address any delivery risks, including, for example, insuring the shipment or shipping to a Store location for pickup.

UPS already offers its Access Points program, which allows consumers to have packages shipped to Michaels and CVS locations to ensure safe deliveries.

How Amazon, Fedex and DHL try to prevent theft

UPS isn’t the only one fighting porch piracy.

Among logistics rivals, DHL relies on one of the oldest methods of all – the “signature first” approach to deliveries, which requires delivery personnel to knock on the recipient’s door or ring the doorbell to obtain a signature to deliver a package. DHL customers can choose to leave shipments at their front door without a signature. In such cases, the delivery person takes a photo of the shipment as proof of delivery. A FedEx The representative said the company offers its own picture proof of delivery and FedEx Delivery Manager, which allows customers to customize their delivery preferences, manage delivery times and locations, redirect packages to a retail location and place packages on hold.

Amazon has several features to help ensure packages arrive safely, such as an estimated delivery window of two to four hours “to help customers plan their day,” an Amazon spokesperson said. Amazon also offers Photo-on-Delivery, which provides visual delivery confirmation, and Key-in-Garage Delivery, which allows eligible Amazon Prime members to receive deliveries in their garage.

Debate over doorbell cameras

Amazon is also known for its attempts to use new technologies to prevent piracy, including its Ring doorbell cameras – the gadget maker’s parent company was acquired by the retail giant in 2018 for a reported $1 billion.

According to Courtney Klosterman, communications director for insurer Hippo, camera images can be important when filing police reports. But the technology has done little to slow porch piracy, according to some experts who have studied its use.

“I personally don’t think it really prevents much porch piracy,” said Ben Stickle, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University and an expert on package theft.

Recent consumer experiences, including the example of the iPad theft in Virginia, suggest that criminals may not be afraid of the camera. Last month, Julie Litvin, a pregnant woman in Central Islip, NY, watched thieves get away with more than ten packages, so she installed a doorbell camera. She then quickly got footage of a woman stealing a package from her door. She filed a police report, but said her building’s management company didn’t seem interested in providing much help.

Stickle cited a study he conducted in 2018 that showed only about 5% of thieves tried to hide their identities from the cameras. “A lot of thieves, when they came up to the camera and saw it, they just looked at it, took the package and walked away anyway,” he said.

Data from SafeWise shows that six in 10 people reported having packages stolen in 2022. Rebecca Edwards, security expert at SafeWise, said this reality reinforces the view that cameras do not prevent theft. “I don’t think cameras in general are a deterrent anymore,” Edwards said.

The best ways to prevent delivery crime

The increase in packages delivered has made them more attractive to thieves. “I think it’s increased since the pandemic because we’ve all been getting a lot more packages,” she said. “It’s a crime of opportunity, the opportunity has become so much greater.”

Edwards said the two most effective measures consumers can take to prevent theft are to require a signature to leave a package behind and to place the package in a secure location, such as a locker.

Large lockers start at around $70 and can cost thousands of dollars for the most discerning.

Stickle recommends a locker to protect your packages. “Sometimes people call and say, ‘Could someone break the box open? Well, maybe,’ said Stickle. “But if they don’t see the item, they probably won’t go to your house and try to steal it.”

There is always the possibility that your neighbors will be watching your front door and occasionally picking up items. Even Some local police departments are willing to hold packages.

UPS AI comes at a time when there are concerns about the rapid deployment of artificial intelligence and potential bias in algorithms.

According to UPS, DeliveryDefense relies on a data set derived from two years of domestic UPS data and includes an extensive sample of billions of delivery data points. Data equity is built into the model, a UPS spokeswoman said, with a focus “solely on delivery characteristics” rather than individual data. For example, in one area, an apartment complex has a secure mailroom with a lock box and chain of custody, while a neighboring complex lacks such security, making it more vulnerable to package loss.

But UPS AI isn’t free. The API starts at $3,000 per month. For the broader universe of small businesses offered the web version in October, a subscription service starts at $99 per month, with a variety of other pricing options for larger customers.

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