Take steps to prevent holiday theft

Published 8:50 am Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The holiday shopping season is in high gear, and locally, the number of shoplifting theft cases has increased. The most wonderful time of the year can change in the twinkling of an eye if you become a victim of crime.
The unfortunate reality that’s less likely to be on everyone’s mind is how criminals are able to capitalize on this season of festivities when many are away from home and/or tend to overlook good security measures amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
It’s no surprise that theft — including home break-ins and items taken from vehicles — tops the list of most-frequent holiday season crimes, according to national law enforcement statistics. Stealing credit information runs a close second, followed by email and telephone scams that prey on individuals who think they’re getting a “great deal” on hard-to-find gift items or helping a charity in this time of giving back to others.
Typically, the best way to thwart a criminal is to put yourself in his or her shoes. Consider what a thief sees when “shopping” for things to steal. Is an unlit home with a week of letters sitting in the mailbox a clear indication of the occupants being away on vacation? Would the gift-filled plastic bags from a major electronics store left on the backseat of a vehicle grab your attention? If you wanted to scare someone into giving up their account information, what tricks would you use, realizing that many people forget that banks or credit card companies won’t request those sorts of details over the phone?
With prior planning and common sense prevention measures, individuals can make themselves a less likely target for thieves, scammers and the like. Here are a few more tips from the Elizabethton Police Department to discourage the scrooges from “bah-humbugging” your holiday breaks:
• Always lock doors and windows even if you’re leaving the house for only a few minutes.
• Keep vehicles parked outside locked; never leave valuables in plain sight on dashboards or seats.
• While gift shopping, be strategic about parking, avoiding areas where a criminal could easily hide. Watch for suspicious individuals while walking to your vehicle and place purchased items out of sight in the trunk.
• Hide your cash and credit card information. Keep your purse close to your body and your wallet inside a front coat or trouser pocket. Wait until the store clerk asks for payment before presenting cash, check or a card since an enterprising thief can peek over your shoulder and steal your account information. When using an ATM keypad, shield your PIN number from anyone who is standing near you.
• Avoid having large displays of gifts visible from windows or doors; consider keeping high-dollar presents stashed away until Christmas Eve.
• Don’t give clues to the gifts you received — break down and invert boxes and packaging when placing empties out for trash collection.
• Place lights on timers so your home appears occupied while you are away.
• For extended holiday travel, ask a trusted neighbor or friend to watch your home and collect mail and newspapers. A temporary stop-delivery request also can be submitted via the U.S. Postal Service website for absences of three days or more.
• Sign up for signature delivery from your designated package shipping companies. Deliveries left unattended on the front porch invite thievery.
Other police suggestions are to shop with a buddy or in a group and to shop during daylight hours or, if shopping at night, park in a well-lit part of the parking lot.
In order to have a happy holiday, it must be a safe holiday.

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