By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Last week, I ran a video on “package thieves,” in which YouTube personality, “ex-NASA brain,” and putatively high net-worth individual Mark Rober created a “glitter bomb revenge package,” which harmlessly exploded when a thief apparently stole a package from his porch. Here’s the video, which naturally went viral (“If you watch one video today, make it this one“), and which
successfully works the algos is genuinely funny:
This week, we learn that the video had some problems:
Some of that viral glitter bomb video was fake, says the former NASA engineer who made it
Earlier this week, a video that claimed to thwart thieves who took packages from doorsteps with a glitter bomb went viral. Now, the former NASA engineer and YouTube star who made the video has confirmed that some of the thieves’ reactions were faked.
Following initial hype, some internet denziens pointed out discrepancies in the video on the photo service Imgur. On Wednesday, the video’s creator, Mark Rober, confirmed that , although he had not known that was the case at the time he posted the video, according to a statement he posted Wednesday on Twitter.
Rober said he removed a minute and a half of the footage from the original video after learning that some of the ‘thieves’ were actually acquaintances of the person he asked to help plant the packages on doorsteps. Rober
In other words, Rober’s video gave the impression that package thieves, in his world, were more frequent than they really are. Now, I was going to write a thumbsucker on declining trust and the American urge to tinker as a driver for re-industrialization (potato gun YouTube compilation here), but first I thought I’d try to find some numbers on package thievery, which led me down a rathole of hucksterism. So I dropped my original plan, and now I’m going to write about the hucksterism instead.
The hucksterism begins with Rober’s video. At the top, one link for commission, apparently the sponsor:
This might be my Magnum Opus. Please see my comments below with regards to reports the video was partially faked. Go to https://XXX.com/MarkRober and use code MARKROBER to get 75% off a 3 year plan and an extra month for free.
(I XXX-ed out the URLs so as not to give Rober more hits.) In the middle, another:
High Speed camera courtesy of https://www.XXX-research.com/. They rent high speed cameras at killer prices. Hit them up
At the bottom, another:
MERCH- They are soft- https://teeXXXX.com/stores/markrober
Now, everybody’s got to eat, or, as Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” And heck, TV and what remains of our newspaper industry have sponsors too, right? That said, I did note that the second sponsor, a vendor of the high-speed camera Rober used, had a direct material interest in making package thievery seem like a bigger problem than it is. So, what are the numbers?
Here’s what we know about the numbers. USA Today:
While the FBI keeps no nationwide statistics on the problem, say they’ve experienced it themselves, according to a survey by Xfinity Home, Comcast’s home security service. The Denver Police Department, which tracks package theft, has seen incidents rise every year since 2015.
So the FBI knows nothing. If the thefts are evenly distributed, that would mean that a little less than one-third of my circle of friends and acquaintances have experienced the problem. That’s certainly not true for me. A search for “package thieves” on the Denver government site, which includes the Police Department, yields no hits, so wherever the thefts are tracked, it’s not done officially:
(“Package thief” also yields no hits.) But wait. The source for the “30 percent” figure is “Xfinity Home, Comcast’s home security service”? In other words, a company with a direct material interest in making people think there’s a big problem? As it turns out, venture capital loves this “home security” stuff, so here’s more on the Xfinity Survey from Venture Beat:
Last year, UPS said it would deliver more than 750 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, and according to a new nationwide survey commissioned by Comcast and conducted by Wakefield Research, being a victim of package theft.
So, 25% not 30%, but who’s counting? (Fascinatingly, the Venture Beat text appears to be ripped from a Comcast press release.) So I go to look for the Wakefield Research survey, and I can’t find it. Google has been crapified, but I can’t find the original of the survey, and the Comcast press release describing the survey does not include a link to it. Comcast does provide a description of the methodology:
The Xfinity Home from Comcast Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,000 U.S. adults, ages 18+, who live in a house or townhome, between November 15 and November 16, 2017, using an email invitation and an online survey. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.
Oh. An online survey. Not, apparently, of apartment dwellers. A week before Black Friday. With a population selected by an email invitation whose text we are not shown. Commissioned by a profit-making entity with an interest in the outcome. No red flags here!
And the Comcast study seems to be the best one! Here’s another Google hit on “package thieves.” From CNBC (2017):
Roughly 1 in 10 adults say they have had a delivered package stolen from their home, before they got a chance to open it, according to a 2016 InsuranceQuotes.com survey on “holiday hazards.”
Wait. Could “InsuranceQuotes.com” possibly have a direct material interest in increasing the fear of package theft? Wait again. CNBC is (ultimately) owned by Comcast, which also owns Xfinity, seller of home protection technology. And goodness! CNBC keeps recycling the same story with the same survey! 2016:
In a recent InsuranceQuotes.com “holiday hazards” survey of 1,000 adults, 21 percent of respondents said they have had gifts or belongings stolen from their home. One in 10 said they have had a delivered package stolen from their home before they got a chance to open it.
So, 10%, but who’s counting? Here’s another Google hit, this one a “Package Theft Statistics Report” from InBin. It starts out promisingly:
Everyone agrees: package theft is on the rise and while package theft statistics vary among sources, it’s something that impacts everyone.
Everyone agrees! Here comes the study:
A recent Package Theft Statistics Report was prepared the end of 2016 by August Home – a door lock company which looks to prove why you need a new sophisticated lock to let delivery companies into your home. Throughout 2017, several companies including Walmart and Amazon both announced plans to roll-out these smart doorlock solutions to allow their delivery people into your home with your order. While the statistics prove the need for greater security over package deliveries resulting in package theft, the approach InBin takes is different.
Statistics prove! But wait. August Home — there’s that word, “smart,” which tells you a scam is coming — has a direct material interest in fearmongering about package theft. At this point, we ask who InBin is. From their About page, here’s what they’re selling:
The InBin Parcel Box, a smart mailbox for all packages.
A company with a direct material interest cites another company with a direct material interest! And another Google hit, this one from Blink:
The survey revealed that, on a per-capita basis, rural areas had a higher rate of packages stolen per the population, and the states with the highest rate of package theft were North Dakota (26.2 times more likely), Vermont (16.43 times more likely), Arkansas (8.28 times more likely) and New Mexico (5.8 times more likely). North Dakota residents have a higher likelihood of falling victim to package theft than Californians!
And what is Blink — “An Amazon company” — selling? You’ll never guess!
Blink™ is the wireless home security system that sends motion-activated alerts & HD video to your smartphone. Systems starting at just $99. No contract, no wires and batteries that last 2 years!
I have more, much more, but time presses and it’s all the same. It’s hucksterism all the way down.
Instead of piling through fake surveys at the receiving end, how about we ask a shipper? Via Quora:
How common is package theft from doorsteps?
Based on my experience (tens of thousands of packages sent), I found it to be extremely rare.
The courier, whether it be USPS, UPS or Fedex, has an obligation to ensure that parcels arrive at their destination safely. That means the intended recipient, not the doorstep. Should the recipient claim they never received it, the courier is on the hook for the value of the package, ergo, their vested interest.
Generally, a signature is required when a parcel is delivered. However, this is not always convenient, as the recipient may not be at home to sign for it. The delivery person will usually make a ‘judgement’ call, determining the probability of theft, based on the neighborhood, apartment configuration (i.e. secure building), people passing by and historical theft incidences, among other factors. Further steps can be done to minimize the risk of theft by placing the package on the backdoor, side of the house or other inconspicuous area (with an accompanying note as to where the package has been left), leaving it with a neighbor or apartment office manager, etc.
When the risk is high, of course, these alternate forms of delivery will not be used for obvious reasons.
If you ask what percentage of packages never reach their recipient, I’d say less than 0.1 percent.
There are also two very obvious solutions that don’t cost a dime. One is to make sure you have to sign for your package. A second:
If you’re expecting a package while you’re on vacation or otherwise away from home, ask a neighbor to hold it for you.
Taking these two solutions together — unless you live in a completely atomized society — you don’t need a security camera, “smart” locks, bins, delivery robots, Amazon lockers, and above all you don’t need to let Amazon into your home.
 Back of the envelope arithmetic, so I’m putting this in a note, because my arithmetic is sketchy. Assume 30% of Americans have experienced stolen packages, each one time. There are 250,458,751 adults in the US. 251,000,000 * 30% = 82,830,000 stolen packages. Really? From the post, 750 million packages ship for Christmas (“between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve”). 750,000,000 / 251,000,000 = ~3 packages per adult. The average Amazon non-Prime customer spends $600 a year. Figure 25% of that is for Christmas, or $150, spread across three packages. (82,830,000 / 3) * $150 = $4,141,500,000 value of stolen packages. Really?
 There is also a Gini co-efficient aspect to this. Many of the stories come from San Francisco and Seattle — in Seattle, the thief was apprehended by the source’s gardener — which are atomized, and where income, and hence package value, tends to be high. So we may also have a case of Silicon Valley tech people projecting their problems and values onto the rest of us.