How often do you return home from work or the gym and find a package you've ordered online just waiting for you at your doorstep?

Every time this happens, consider yourself lucky.

According to a 2017 package theft study from YourLocalSecurity.com, 71 million Americans had a package stolen from outside their home in 2016. "Porch pirates" nabbed nearly three-quarters of these packages during the day while the intended recipient was at work, the study finds.

So as we close out a five-day stretch of majorly-slashed prices and embark on the busiest shopping season of the year, you're being warned to think twice before getting a gift shipped to your home without a plan in place.

Beyond expensive home security equipment, there are a few ways to help ensure all of your orders end up in your hands and your hands only.

"If you know when it's going to show up, maybe you can have a neighbor or somebody looking out for you," said Paul Oster, a consumer safety expert and president of Better Qualified in Eatontown. "You can also require a signature for the package, so the delivery service isn't going to drop the package unless you're home."

While the main draw of online shopping, for many, is avoiding the store itself, potential delivery nightmares can be avoided by choosing to have your item "shipped to store," Oster added. Yes, you'll have to trek to the retail establishment, but only for a quick stop — one that hopefully doesn't put you in the way of too many crowds.

Online retail giant Amazon has a couple special options available for folks too hesitant to leave a package for hours on their front steps. Consumers who sign up for Amazon Key give permission to drivers to leave a package just inside the door. The company also has "lockers" set up at retail locations throughout New Jersey and beyond; consumers can pick up their shipped items from a secure box.

Oster noted there is also technology available that alerts consumers, in real time, when a package has been delivered to or removed from their front porch. Beyond a user alert, a blaring alarm is emitted when the package is removed earlier than expected.

In the YourLocalSecurity.com study, 73 percent of respondents said they believe their porch is a safe place for package deliveries.

"Unfortunately right now, that's just not the case," Oster said.

The National Retail Federation projects online shopping will increase between 11 and 15 percent in November and December compared to the same period last year.

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