Portal pirates stole my online purchases, but now I have a secret weapon – and her name is Norma | Arwa Mahdawi

EEvery time I decide to do something useful with my life, the universe conspired against me. For example, last week I decided that I’m going to get into gardening. Growing stuff seemed like a healthy way to deal with the crumbling of American democracy and the rapid decline in civil liberties. It’s certainly healthier than my usual coping mechanisms: drinking wine and complaining.

Well, I don’t know much about gardening, but I know you need soil, so I ordered some big bags of the stuff online. It took Earth a few days to arrive and minutes before it was stolen by porch pirates. Two guys dressed like delivery men rushed to my front door and towed it in their car. Instead of spending the evening tending my garden, I drank wine and complained.

You may also have seen a porch pirate in the wild – they are everywhere. Online purchases have skyrocketed during the pandemic, as have parcel thefts – on both sides of the Atlantic. In my Philadelphia neighborhood, thieves often follow vans and wear hi-vis vests or Amazon uniforms to ward off suspicion. Ordering online has become a real game show: you have five minutes to get your stuff before someone else does.

Parcel theft obviously isn’t the biggest problem in the world – the company you ordered from will usually send you a replacement – but it still feels hurtful and frustrating to have your belongings stolen so brazenly. Especially since the police don’t really care and there’s nothing you can do about the problem other than stop ordering things to your home. (Which I never will because 1) I don’t have a car and 2) I’m lazy.)

You know what definitely doesn’t deter parcel thieves? Video doorbells or surveillance cameras. When we moved in, our house had a video doorbell, so I turned it on because I thought it might be useful. All it does is capture footage of the porch pirates at work, which kinda just insults the injury. The doorbell also sends you so many notifications that you can go from a normal person to a paranoid freak in a matter of days.

Another extremely bad idea when dealing with package thieves is trying to trick them with fake packages containing dog poo or glitter. Mark Rober, a former Nasa engineer, has achieved mild internet fame with YouTube videos of booby-trapped packages of glitter exploding on the pirate porch. The videos are satisfying to watch, but I wouldn’t attempt it at home unless you want to make yourself a target for someone of questionable morals and your address.

The only benefit I found with rampant parcel theft is that it was a good way to meet the neighbors. Across the street there is a pretty old lady named Norma who has made it her mission to be the neighborhood watch. She sits on a folding chair outside her house most days and snatches packages whenever she sees them, which is extremely helpful. The only problem is that now I never know if a thief has the package or if Norma has it.

She can also be a little overzealous, thank God: the other day I put a bucket of leftover food out for the composting service to collect, and she took off with it. “Someone’s going to take the bucket!” she scolded when I explained that I left it out on purpose. “They will pour out the inside and use it to clean.” It was truly a heartwarming image: a porch pirate coming home from a long day and stealing packages to mop the floor with my compost bin.

Anyway, this story has three morals: 1) save your leftovers, 2) get rid of your video doorbell, and 3) find a Norma.

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