What is theft in the package

Received an empty package: fraud, theft, what now?

It has already happened to the Paketda editorial team: A Christmas parcel arrived on time at the recipient, but part of the content (chocolate) was missing. A tape from the parcel center even indicated that the parcel had been opened and repackaged. You'd think the evidence was clear and that a postal worker must have stolen the chocolate. But in reality the situation is more difficult. Eventually the packaging box could have been damaged causing the chocolate to fall out. Or the friendly neighbor who accepted the package for the recipient gave in to the sweet temptation.

Because parcels are stolen or their contents are lost again and again, we have put together a few tips on how to prevent parcel theft and how to prove it.

The tips are not a substitute for legal advice and are published by the Paketda editorial team without any guarantee.


Table of Contents

  1. Received an empty package or the package contained the wrong goods
  2. Report the theft quickly to the parcel service
  3. Preventive tips against package thieves
    1. Better to use a package instead of a small package
    2. Use inconspicuous packaging
    3. Weigh packages before shipping

Received an empty package or the package contained the wrong goods

If a recipient receives an empty package, the package was either fraudulently sent empty by the sender. Or the contents of the package were stolen en route.

It is also possible that the goods fell out of the package during transport. This can be recognized by the damaged and re-glued packaging. If the sender is a commercial company and the recipient is a private person, the sender is liable for this. Otherwise you as a customer have to complain directly to the parcel service. The parcel service is liable if the packaging was sufficiently stable. If the sender has used packaging that is too unstable, the parcel service is not liable. More information in the guide to package damage.

Typical response from Deutsche Post DHL to an empty parcel:
"We are very sorry that some of the contents of your package were lost. Of course, we took care of it immediately and determined that we were not responsible for the loss of the parts. Therefore we cannot compensate you for the damage you suffered. We ask for this For your understanding. "

► If there are no indications that the packaging was damaged or opened by a postal worker during transport, then the sender is suspected of fraud. Did he send off an empty package or just put a pound of flour in it? In this case, a fraudster was presumably acting under a false identity. If, as a victim of fraud, you try to contact the fraudster (sender), it is very likely that he will no longer be available. The sender address on the parcel label is also likely to be forged.

If the sender has used an online parcel label (i.e. not a handwritten one), one could try this way to get the buyer data or his payment data via the parcel service. However, this can only be initiated by the police by filing a complaint.

► If the seller denies guilt for the empty package, you as the injured party must prove that the package contents were stolen from the parcel service on the way. This proof is very difficult even with obviously cut packages, because package services first try to reject the responsibility. It is important not to throw anything away and to keep the cardboard packaging as evidence.

Parcels are usually weighed automatically when they first arrive at the parcel center. Often there are even photos of the passage through the sorting system. This may help determine whether the package was opened on the way. More information on video surveillance at DPD.

As a customer, ask the parcel service to hand over the weight of the parcel and any photos. Experience has shown that customers do not receive this data voluntarily. Then report it to the police and ask the police to request this information from the parcel service.

The head of the DHL delivery base in Germering confirmed in an interview with the Merkur newspaper that parcels are being photographed. Quote: The photography is done "for any complaints, if something should be damaged."

► In the case of a sales transaction between two private individuals, the recipient bears the transport risk in accordance with Section 447 of the German Civil Code. However, it is very difficult for the recipient to prove to the sender that he has sent an empty package or a package with worthless content.

It is just as difficult to prove a theft in transit. According to Paragraph 435 of the German Commercial Code (HGB), all liability limits of the parcel service would no longer apply, provided that a parcel service employee can be shown to have acted "willfully or carelessly" (e.g. theft). In practice, we do not know of any customers who have already succeeded in doing something like this. Depending on the evidence, you can be satisfied when a parcel service reimburses part of the damage as a gesture of goodwill.

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Report the theft quickly to the parcel service

The reporting period for so-called hidden transport damage is 7 days from receipt of the package in accordance with Section 438 (2) HGB. Hidden transport damage is that which the recipient could not immediately recognize when accepting the parcel, but only when unpacking. Missing package contents is usually a hidden transport damage.

If you, as the recipient, notice any damage to the shipping box at the time the parcel is being delivered, report this to the deliverer immediately. Or refuse to accept the package. If you accept an obviously damaged package without reservation, there may be problems with the claim processing afterwards. The parcel service could claim that the recipient has confirmed with his signature that he has received a perfect package.

Alternative: Open the parcel in the presence of the deliverer (if he is willing to do so). If damage can be determined, have the damage recorded by the deliverer and give you a damage form. It is best to also take photos with your mobile phone (in the presence of the delivery person) so that you have evidence later in case of doubt.

► Important to know: If you have ordered from a commercial European company (e.g. online shop) as a private customer, then the seller bears the full transport risk. The seller cannot shift the blame for transport damage or stolen content on to the parcel service. Consumer law protects private customers very strongly. The seller is also liable if you as a customer accept a damaged package or do not report the damage directly to the parcel service. As a private customer, you do not need to deal directly with the parcel service. Your contact person is always the commercial seller (online shop).

► In the case of sales transactions between two private customers (e.g. via eBay), however, consumer protection does not apply.

Usually it is the recipient of a package who notices a theft and is damaged as a result. However, the recipient has no contractual relationship with the parcel service - this lies with the sender. This is why parcel services sometimes refuse to claim damages from the recipient. However, this contradicts the legal situation according to Section 421 Paragraph 1 HGB. Accordingly, the recipient can also claim damages if the sender does not. Employees at the parcel service's telephone hotlines are often unaware of this legal situation. In order to invoke Paragraph 421 of the German Commercial Code, it is best to send a registered letter to the parcel service.

Incidentally, a parcel sender can be liable to pay compensation to the recipient if the sender's behavior contributes to forfeiting claims for damages against the parcel service. For example, by not commissioning an investigation into a missing package or by missing a claim reporting period. More on this topic here in the legal guide.

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Preventive tips against package thieves


1) Better to use a package instead of a small package

In order to have a chance of compensation in the event of a loss, it is best to choose parcel shipping with insurance. Because DHL parcels are not insured. Hermes parcels that are insured up to 50 euros are an exception.

If a DHL parcel is lost or something is stolen from it, DHL accepts no liability or compensation. As a saving straw, you can commission an investigation into the missing parcel, but experience has shown that the chances of success are low due to a lack of tracking.

► Important to know: Do not exceed the maximum sum insured. If you send products with a value of 510 euros in a package that is insured up to 500 euros, the entire insurance cover usually expires. The parcel service pays zero instead of 500 euros.

You can read more information about shipping valuable goods and correct insurance in our guide to Sending Money and Valuables.

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2) Use inconspicuous packaging

When the chocolate was stolen from the Paketda Christmas package, we made a terrible mistake: namely, the package was wrapped in a colorful Christmas package. This attracts potential thieves, because grandparents often send packets of snacks to their grandchildren and maybe even put an envelope with money in the parcel. Such packages can be recognized by handwritten addresses and decorative stickers. Forego colorful packaging, choose a neutral box and print out the package label on your PC.

If you want to be particularly tricky, create an inconspicuous additional sticker with the note: "Runtime check. Do not open the GPS unit." Put the little notice in one corner of the package. Potential thieves may be deterred by mistaking the package for a test shipment from their employer.

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3) Weigh packages before shipping

The portal derwesten.de reports on the theft of a cell phone from a package. DHL initially refused to settle the damage because the recipient allegedly had a storage contract. According to this, the deliverer placed the parcel in the recipient's garden without a signature - so the shipment was deemed to have been delivered. The theft of the cell phone could theoretically have taken place after the package was dropped, and DHL would have been released from liability. (Provided that there really was a storage contract, which the recipient denied to derwesten.de.)

In any case, the sender of the package was able to use the shipping weight to prove that the packaging box contained a cell phone. The sender (a commercial trader) apparently used a professional franking machine that weighs and stores the weight of each shipment. This proved that the sender had actually put the cell phone in the box and that it must have been lost on the way. After much back and forth, DHL finally replaced the damage.

As a private sender, it is advisable to create a kind of log book or an Excel spreadsheet with all the parcels that you are sending. Make a note of the following: parcel number, parcel service, recipient address, shipping weight, shipping item and shipping date. Also take photos of the packaging of the item (open box) and the closed and addressed box.

Tip: With the GLS parcel service, parcels are automatically weighed in the first parcel center. If you have used GLS online franking, you can download the delivery receipt with the recipient's signature and the package weight.

At Hermes, too, parcels are automatically weighed as they pass through a logistics center. You can see that in an NDR report (here at 2:49 p.m.). The following screenshot is from the report. The weight of the currently scanned package is shown on the display. This data cannot be called up in Hermes shipment tracking, but Hermes customer service is likely to have it.

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