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More Manitobans shopping online this year means more opportunities for thieves to swipe packages

A Manitoba-wide ban on the sale of non-essential items in stores and a push for people to stay home this holiday season means more people are doing their shopping online — but that also means more opportunities are presented to parcel thieves. 

Matthew Sebastian had a package stolen from his front steps last weekend. 

“There’s no better way to put it, but it feels like an absolute violation when something is taken from your property,” he said.

Sebastian is one of the rare victims of porch theft who was able to get the package back. His security cameras caught the entire incident, and after he posted video of the theft to social media, the package was returned with an apology note.

“They’d seen their face all over Facebook, and that people [around them] had seen that, and they were apologetic and remorseful, and they hopefully learned a lesson out of it,” Sebastian said.

“Do I feel like it’s genuine? I hope so,” he said of the apology.

“That’s really all I want at the end of the day — if somebody can learn from this and realize that their actions are going to be taken very seriously.”

Matthew Sebastian says having a parcel stolen from his doorstep felt like a violation. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Sebastian may be an outlier when it comes to having his parcel returned, but he’s not alone when it comes to having one disappear from the doorstep.

Parcel theft usually goes up from November to January, said Const. Garnie McIntyre, who is with the Winnipeg Police Service’s community relations division.

“But what our property crime unit is letting us know is it’s gone up significantly” this year, he said.

McIntyre couldn’t give specifics on just how much parcel thefts have increased, but police hope to get a better picture soon. 

The Winnipeg Police Service’s online crime reporting website will now allow victims of property crimes to check off a box specifying the theft of a parcel, to start tracking the frequency and locations of these kinds of crimes. 

“That way we can track it and we know where to send the resources if there’s what we call a hot spot,” said McIntyre.

That’s why police encourage anyone who experiences parcel theft to report the crime, even if it may not lead to the return of the goods.

Ways to prevent theft

McIntyre said parcel theft is often a crime of opportunity, where people see the package and decide the risk of getting caught is low. Other times, thieves are looking for those opportunities.

“Literally, people are following delivery trucks, delivery drivers, they’re waiting for the delivery to be put on the step. They take the time to look around,” said McIntyre.

Police say there are things consumers can do to protect themselves. That could mean arranging to have the parcel shipped to another trusted location, like the home of a neighbour or an office or business where people can receive packages.

McIntyre said shoppers can also choose shipping options that require a signature, or sign up for delivery alerts to let you know when the package has arrived.

A package was taken from Matthew Sebastian’s front steps Saturday morning, but was later returned with an apology note. (Submitted by Matthew Sebastian)

If a theft does occur, police don’t recommend posting videos to social media, because people could be falsely accused if misidentified.

They definitely don’t encourage people seeking any interactions with thieves in attempts to get items back.

“Let us do this. That’s our job” said McIntyre. 

“I get [that] people get frustrated but you can’t take the law into your own hands.” 

More packages being delivered

Canada Post says while it doesn’t track thefts of parcels, it hasn’t seen any uptick in the amount of calls about missing packages.

“Many people are at home right now, and are able to get their parcel as soon as it is delivered,” said spokesperson Sylvie Lapointe.

“We’ve improved our tracking technology to provide customers with better information as they track their package’s progress so they know when to expect their parcel to be delivered.”

There’s also the option of having your package delivered to a post office for pickup instead.

Canada Post’s app and website allow you to designate a preferred drop off spot, like a side door or back porch, where the package would be out of sight of potential thieves, so long as the postal carrier can safely get to the spot.

The corporation has seen increased volumes in online shopping deliveries since the start of the pandemic, and expects that to continue through the holidays.

In October, Canada Post began encouraging people to start their holiday shopping and shipping earlier, suggesting the increase in online purchases, combined with the usual seasonal parcel surge, could overwhelm capacity and cause significant delays.

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