A woman in a pink T-shirt and beanie crept up to the Tempe house, quickly snatched a package from the porch and scurried back to her car.
At his job several miles away, homeowner Rob Biggs got an alert on his iPhone announcing movement in front of his home near University Boulevard and Mill Avenue on December 7. Glancing at the surveillance video on his phone, his stomach sank — the Christmas gifts he purchased for his father and brother had been stolen.
“I want the Christmas presents they took back so I can give them to who they are for,” Biggs tells New Times. “These weren’t like little, cheap toys. These were gifts for adults. And they cost quite a bit. It’s not something that I can replace quickly or easily.”
Biggs is among a number of reported package thefts this holidays season across the Phoenix area, says Ed Trejo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Phoenix.
“We do see an increase of parcels being removed from people’s curbside or doorsteps this time of year, whether they're delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, or UPS,” he says. “I think it’s a crime of opportunity.”
In a half-dozen cases this season, the theft was captured on home-surveillance video mounted outside Arizona homes and apartments.
In Anthem last month, motion-detection surveilance cameras caught a package thief at Alex Ristanovic’s home.
In the video, a woman holds her phone to her head, appearing to talk as she approaches the front door, picks up a package and dashes away. Quickly, she hops in a waiting vehicle and a getaway driver speeds out of the camera's view.
“After watching the video, that’s when anger set in — you can see how they drove by, planned the theft, faked their approach, and then ran with the boxes,” says Ristanovic, a 40-year-old IT consultant. “Clearly they’ve planned this. As they cased the neighborhood, our cameras show them driving up and down the block slowly. They had the courage to do this in daylight.”
In Ristanovic’s case, however, the burglars didn’t get away with a bundle — the contents of the packages were drapes for the living room and a bottle of fish oil.
“We actually had a hearty laugh as we figured that once they open the boxes, the disappointed look on their face would be priceless,” he says. “One tan window curtain — not even a pair — and a bottle of fish oil supplements. Our second thought was that it would be even more entertaining if this led to their capture."
In October, Gordon Harris, 53, was out of town when his home’s security system, equipped with a motion detector, sent an alert to his phone.
When he reviewed the web camera feed, he saw a man taking packages off his front porch at his north Scottsdale home near Jomax.
“I could see somebody come into the picture, take a couple of UPS packages and run away,” he told Huffington Post.
Within moments of seeing the video Harris alerted police, his neighbors and the retailer, resulting in a refund of his items.
In Anthem last month, motion-detection surveillance cameras caught another package thief at Alex Ristanovic’s home.
While surveillance video can be powerful in solving these thefts, Trejo advices that homeowners never leave a parcel unattended in front of a residence.
“You can ask to schedule your package to get delivered to your address during the time you are going to be there,” Trejo says. “You can also consider using an alternate shipping address. A lot of folks send items to be delivered at a work location.”
For Biggs, his house in Tempe actually was hit twice by the same thief. In the video, a woman in a beanie returns eight minutes after snatching the first package to make off with the rest left near the front door.
“I think what happened is these people drove up, grabbed a package, drove into the alley, opened it up, and tossed the box,” he says. “And they probably had been collecting several packages through the course of the day.”
Included among the stolen gifts were custom items and an expensive telescope lens used for stargazing.
Biggs called the Tempe Police Department and has personally spent the last few days investigating the crime. He said he’s learned from his neighbors that many packages have gone mysteriously missing from around the neighborhood, although he may have been the only one to catch her on video.
He’s offered a $500 reward to anyone who can help identify the woman from the video.
And the thief’s attire caused Biggs to give the woman a nickname in the surveillance video he posted on YouTube — Meg Griffin from Family Guy.
“You can see in the video that she is dressed like the cartoon character [Meg Griffin] is dressed,” he says. “I’m mad about the theft, but what can I do? Well, I can make fun of her."
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To report package theft, an online complaint can be filed at the U.S. Postal Inspecting Service or 877-876-2455.
(This story originally was posted December 10.)