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Consumers frustrated by opportunistic criminals dubbed "porch pirates" looking to ride a holiday wave of online shopping now have a handful of options available to throw a wrench in their plans.

Thieves have taken notice of the exponential growth in online shopping and the number of packages being left unattended on front porches, scooping them up before homeowners get back to collect them. As shoppers turn increasingly to the internet for a majority of their holiday purchases, the number of thieves has grown.

United Parcel Service projects that, when all is said and done, the company will have delivered about 750 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, nearly double its normal daily volume. The forecasted volume is a record high, about 5 percent more than 2016's holiday volume of more than 712 million packages.

Chattanooga police working to combat package theft nabbed two suspects Wednesday afternoon in the North Shore area.

A victim who had a security camera installed at his home on Snow Street said he received an alert around noon that packages were left on his porch. Several hours later, he got another alert notifying him that someone was on his porch. He pulled up the camera on his phone and saw a man and a woman take the packages.

A short investigation by police determined Melvin Ray, 49, and Cathy Bryson, 43, were suspects. Both have been charged with theft of property under $1,000.

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This time of year the number of thefts from porches increases because of the popularity of online shopping during the holidays, Chattanooga police spokesman Rob Simmons said.

"The [department] does recommend several ways you can lower your risk of being the victim of package theft," he said. "Track your shipment online. Choose a shipping option that requires a signature upon delivery. Make sure the typical drop-off location at your home is well lit."

He said consumers also can ask delivery services to hold packages for pickup at local facilities or simply arrange to have them shipped to friends or family members who will be home at the time of delivery.

The police department also unveiled a new "safe exchange zone" in front of the police service center on Amnicola Highway for residents to make trades. Security cameras have been installed to watch over the two designated parking spots and record real-life meetings of people conducting transactions.

But for home deliveries, Matt O'Connor, UPS spokesman, said the company has rolled out services to give customers a greater degree of control over what alerts they receive and even where packages are left on their property.

"Our drivers want to leave them outside so they're not in plain view, but they want you to see it when you come home too," he said. "If you've got a couple of big bushes around your porch, you can ask the driver to drop it behind one out of view — they just need to have that direction."

For customers who still worry about the security of their holiday goods, a small market has erupted to address the issue of package theft. Even Amazon, the single largest package delivery service in America, rolled out Amazon Key earlier this year, allowing drivers to drop off packages inside customers' homes instead.

Once purchased and installed, Amazon Key allows homeowners to remotely grant access to their home and watch the delivery being made live on a camera installed inside. Users also can open the door for friends or home cleaning services.

At least one inventor and entrepreneur, Jaireme Barrow of Tacoma, Wash., has created an alternative security measure — the Blank Box. For $60, customers can purchase a fake package that fires a blank shotgun blast when picked up. A slightly more expensive version of the box that "shoots" two rounds is also available. Barrow advertises the product on Youtube with videos of would-be thieves fleeing in panic from his home after hearing the shot.

"I'd watch my cameras only to see someone running off with my packages. I needed a way to stop them from stealing my packages and to make them think twice about stepping on my porch. This is where TheBlankBox was born!" Barrow wrote online.

"If you put this device out the day you are scheduled to get a delivery and someone decides to help themselves to your package, you better believe they will drop everything and run."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

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