Scrooge lives. Every year at this time, thieves increasingly target homes not just for the valuables inside but for the packages left on the doorstep.

That's right. Brazen package snatchers have been known to shadow FedEx, UPS, and U.S. Post Office trucks, swooping in to steal items if homeowners are away or too slow to retrieve them.

In general, if a box is left on your stoop and it gets swiped the odds of getting it back are slim. Sally Davenport, a spokeswoman for FedEx, says that once a package has been scanned, offloaded from the truck, and placed at your door, "it's out of our control."

Davenport says drivers will attempt to put the package in an inconspicuous spot, especially if they make frequently deliveries to a familiar address and the recipient has a preferential drop spot. But you can't count on that during this hectic time of the year. 

Helpful hints

To help avoid being victimized, here are some tips, courtesy of Consumer Reports' Tod Marks:

  • Choose a shipping option that requires a signature for delivery. If you waive that requirement, it might diminish your leverage if you file a claim.
  • Obviously, your best bet is to be at home when the package is scheduled to arrive. You can check on the delivery status easily enough via online tracking.
  • If you going to be out, leave a note at the door or contact the delivery service to see if the package can be left with a neighbor. Barring that, ask if the package can be deposited is a less-visible area than the front door, for example, along the side of the house or near the garage.
  • Consider an alternative to home delivery. Have the package shipped to a location where someone is more likely to be present -- your office, for instance, or a friend or relative's home.
  • Have the delivery service hold your package. The Postal Service, for example, won't leave a package at the door unless the customer requests it, says spokeswoman Sue Brennan. If the package won't fit in the mailbox and the mail carrier hasn't been given prior instructions, the customer will be left with an "attempted delivery" slip advising him or her that delivery will be attempted the next day or they can come to the post office to pick it up. Similarly, FedEx and UPS will hold your package for pickup, too.
  • If the item is valuable, purchase insurance.
  • Track your order online, and report the missing package as soon as possible to the shipper and police. UPS spokeswoman Rebecca Treacy-Lenda says the merchant may provide you with a replacement item and subsequently file a claim with UPS. If you believe your mail was stolen, report it immediately to your local postmaster or nearest postal inspector. You'll be asked to file a formal complaint using PS Form 2016. By analyzing information collected from the form, inspectors might determine whether your problem is isolated or part of a larger theft problem in your neighborhood.
  • Contact your credit card company. Here's a perk you might not be aware of. Some cards like those from American Express offer purchase protection - at no extra charge - to guard against theft (and accidental damage, too) for 90 days from the date of purchase. Coverage is limited to $1,000 per occurrence.