Package thief owned by tech geek

December 19, 2018 • 11:30 am

UPDATE (2019): Reader Bryan writes me that at least 2 of the 5 packages may not represent real thefts, but favors done by friends of the people who left the packages on their porch. This tweet tells the tale:


From C|Net and other sources, we hear of the cleverness of Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer who devised a clever (and diabolical) way to foil package thieves. In America, at least, this is the time of year when people steal packages left by delivery services on people’s porches: these thefts are almost a fixture of the nightly news. The thieves are hard to catch, even with porch camera video, as they often cover their heads.

Well, Rober developed a way to foil them by making fake packages that explode with glitter, emit fart smells and noises, and have phones in them to not only photograph the perpetrators, but send the video to a cloud. The phones also have GPS sensor that enabled Rober to recover the discarded packages and the phones.

Here’s what he did, and it’s way cool. Sadly, there’s no information about whether any of these thieves were caught; I suspect not.

44 thoughts on “Package thief owned by tech geek

    1. Actually, I’ve heard of that one. It’s advertising on this side of the pond too, and making a deal about keeping European customer’s data on European servers. Has a decent reputation, for a consumer-grade VPN.

      The gadget – somewhat over-engineered, for sure. But the obvious question is “why do people permit delivery people to leave parcels on the porch? Ever?” Even assuming a house has a porch or a unique front door.

        1. Nobody better dare come to my enclosed front porch which currently has 4 batches of cookies and a brining turkey on it..

          1. Now we can phone you and say “have you checked the turkey?” and it will be your own horror story.

          2. I’ve counted the cookies😬
            There’s salted chocolate-chunk shortbread, chocolate chip bark, Lebeküchen and chocolate ginger.

        2. Deliveries fit through the letter box, or you get a card giving you tracking data and the contact details for the local depot. Which can be inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as having to do an insurance claim against the delivery company for their loss of your package.
          I’m just surprised that there aren’t (or weren’t) more products like strong boxes bolted to the house with a combination padlock, which I had two houses ago. Send the combination to the delivery company as part of the instructions, and change the combination with each day’s delivery (or as often as you like).
          Of course, these days, those strong boxes are at the supermarket, which is under 5 minutes walk from the (shared) front door. Or a different national chain store which will accept the delivery at one site and deliver it to another store using their internal delivery network within a couple of days. But that store is almost 10 minutes walk away.

          1. Or it’s delivered to a neighbour and then a card is left telling you where it is. It seems crazy to just leave a parcel in plain sight.

          2. This is workable, if you know your neighbours. Which is why there are “special instructions for delivery” boxes on at least some shipping websites.

          3. These options are not available to most people who receive packages. They don’t know their neighbors. They don’t live near a shipping deliver box. They don’t have a postal slot remotely big enough for packages.

            I receive countless packages to my front porch. I’ve had missed deliveries and a few odd packages delivered to the wrong address. But I’ve never had one stolen. Then again, I work at home and they don’t often sit out there very long.

            The vast majority of packages that are left at front doors are not stolen. Yes, there are thieves out there. But it shouldn’t be such a mystery that people have deliveries made to their front doors.

  1. There must be a gene for that. Getting even is very satisfying. Monkey’s seem to have a sense of fairness and when robbed put up a major fuss.

  2. It is brilliant, and Amazon are also using decoy parcels in conjunction with the police, but some of the footage seems a little staged at times. Also, not one person caught by the trap decided to smash the parcel to see if it had GPS, cameras or other recording devices. Seems odd to me, I would have certainly dismantled it to investigate (probably outside, given the fart spray).

    1. I’m sure they will now, but honestly, I doubt they’d consider it. I mean, when was the last time you checked a parcel for a GPS tracker, camera, or other recording device? You don’t look for what you don’t expect to find.

      1. Given that it launched glitter and fired a spray can, I would suspect an Arduino at the very least (they are somewhat ubiquitous). From this it is a short step to GPS and some some sort of GSM, bbith relatively cheap these days.

        Also, I can’t believe that it was left in a parking garage having lunched glitter over the inside of someone’s car without being backed over.

        1. That’s a given 🙂

          With the number of views that the video has had I suspect that he has had the desired effect on his subscriber base.

          I still like the idea, though I don’t think I would bother with the expense of making one because around here it would end up submerged in a drainage dyke… that is what some yobbish kid did with our wheelie bin when it was left out for emptying. The wheels were rusted solid by the time it was found and the council would only give us a half size bin as a free replacement!

  3. There are lots of people requesting that he sell them, but I think the price would be prohibitive. However if you are willing to forgo getting the package back, skipping the video and GPS, then you could make a very cheap version that does the glitter/stink bomb, or even worse effects (eg. paint, hunter’s chemical lures, expanding foam, etc.).

    It’s disappointing to see how often it was stolen, although you could tell quite a few things about the people that stole the package. Glad I don’t live in a neighbourhood like that.

    1. Take a bit of wire and bend it to a U shape, with hooks on both ends. Attach 2 rubber bands to a washer, Attach the other ends of the rubber bands to the hooks on the wire. Twist to create tension. Put the assembly into an envelope (carefully). Fill the envelope with glitter.

      Needs a sturdy envelope, but I’ve seen it work. You really, REALLY don’t want to be anywhere near the victim. They tend to be angry. And, in my experience, a bit prone to stab things.

    2. Instead of glitter, perhaps of could spray a liquid that contains the chemical that female dogs emit while in heat. Imagine every male dog within smell range harassing them until they removed the smell

    1. I thought of that. Or paint. But on second thought I would not want to make the thief too angry. They know where you live.

    2. How about toner powder mixed in the glitter with the addition of a few explosive green dye packs? And as well as the fart spray, a liquid version of the chemical that gives feces it’s smell. Dripping out the bottom.

      Going that far would probably be a bad idea since they would know where you live and destroying the inside of their car with dye packs and feces smelling liquid would likely get them more than a little angry.

      I would like to see a wider spread of glitter so it covers every square inch of the vehicle or room. Perhaps with a CO2 cylinder.

      1. Perhaps with a CO2 cylinder.

        And then you discover why those things are refused by the postal services. Too explosive.

    3. I think even glitter is problematic, anything else is asking to be sued by someone for triggering an allergy 🙂

      I realise that this is something that should be left alone, however, there is always the possibility of someone’s little pride and joy toddling up and picking the thing up to take back to their parent. That wouldn’t go down too well… yikes!

      1. So, like diving boards at private pools, I gather that the law now considers packages delivered to ones doorstep “attractive nuisances”? Sounds like irresponsible parenting to me.

    4. indelible black ink

      Fluoroscein powder. (Which is used in medical formulations, but probably with sterilising treatments not applied to the “technical” grade.)
      Comes out as a greenish-yellow powder. Annoying enough.
      Wash, and it comes back.
      Wash, and it comes back, plus you’re now glowing all-over green at the night club.
      Wash and it comes back. Plus your friends are complaining about all their clothes turning fluorescent yellow-green.
      That stuff is detectable to the naked eye down to about 1 part in 40 million.

      Yeah, you’d better have steel shutters over your house’s doors & windows.

  4. Inconveniencing thieves is meh. I’d much rather see the cops using tech to actually catch and prosecute thieves. Probably pretty easy to do when the thief brings it back to their home; GPS + reverse geocoding = address. For that sort of job, you probably want to use an *actual* desired sale item with a simple tracker on it, rather than a glitter bomb, since you want them to take it back to their home with it, not throw it out the window.

    So, the ‘tough nut to crack’ is to somehow get information on a vehicle or driver in order to catch the thieves who don’t take it home. Not sure how that could be done legally, though I’m sure there’s illegal tech out there which could look for a phone within 2-3 feet of the package and start taking data off of it.

    1. My neighborhood suffered a series of package thefts last year by a group of repeat offenders. They were caught because enough people now have cameras that police were able to identify patterns and eventually identify the vehicle they used. (One of their techniques was to follow delivery trucks by a block or so, stopping to “liberate” packages if nobody came out after the truck left.)

      I’m a great fan of cameras.

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