Law enforcement: Be aware of thefts, scams during holiday season

Friday, December 2, 2011 - 11:03am

We all get distracted this time of year while searching for the perfect gift or fetching those last minute groceries. But the truth is, criminals aren’t distracted. They are on full-alert while doing their “shopping.” Here are some tips to make sure your Christmas purchases don’t end up filling the pockets of a felon.

Ladies have a tendency to leave their purses unattended in the store, sometimes only for a second. But that’s all that a purse or wallet snatcher needs. Typically, a lady might set her purse in the cart and pull the cart to one side of the aisle, while looking at something on a shelf on the opposite side of the aisle, In doing so, this leaves the cart unattended, making it quite easy for a would-be criminal to snatch the purse or the wallet therein without the victim knowing. And if the lady left her purse open, the criminal could take her wallet, and she may not realize it is missing until she gets to the check-out counter. This is why it is important for ladies to be aware of their purse and wallet at all times. Keep your purse close to your body. Just as quickly as you intend to grab that item on the other side of the aisle, your pocketbook or purse could be gone.

There are obviously criminals who seize the opportunity to burglarize a vehicle while the driver is in a store. That is why it is important for shoppers not to leave anything in plain sight in the vehicle while they are out. “Smash and grabs” are crimes of opportunity. Locking your vehicle and hiding your items out of sight, could keep your vehicle and its contents safe. Utilize your trunk and other concealed compartments. But don’t just hide presents in the car. Criminals will take anything of slight value. Be sure not to leave GPS, laptops, cell phones or other electronics in plain view. Hide those as well. Criminals will take anything and everything they can find.

Also there have been national reports of criminals who sit in parking lots of major retailers, watching for someone with a full cart or expensive items to exit the store. After locating their victim, they follow them home. Once the shopper pulls into the driveway and exits the vehicle, the thief will surprise them and steal their recently acquired wares. In this case, be mindful of strange vehicles that seem to be following you or people who seem to be watching you closely. Never take a chance. Call your local law enforcement agency or security personnel at the store and notify them of what you’ve seen. It is always better to be safe, than sorry.

Shopping online can also offer opportunities for criminals, and this time of year there is an extreme rise in scams of all kinds. Be sure that you shop from a reputable online retailer and get a receipt for all purchases. Track your online purchases and review your bank account often to ensure that your credit card number hasn’t been compromised. Be mindful of phishing scams. These often appear in the form of an email, seemingly from a real business or bank. To be sure that the email you receive is legitimate, hover over the email with your mouse to see the URL from which it was delivered. It if matches that of the real business, then you might be safe. If not, get rid of the email immediately. Also remember that your bank will never ask you for your account number via an email. And if you ever have a question about whether an offer or email is legitimate, call the business and ask. That five minute phone call could save you hours worth of hard work to reclaim your financial security.

Remember to keep your wallet, credit cards and checks close to you at all times. If a criminal gets one of those items, report it to your local authorities and bank as soon as possible. Often times, banks and credit unions can put a stop on all transactions involving the stolen card or checkbook. This can keep the criminal from taking everything you have in an instant.

Most crimes during the holidays are crimes of opportunity. If you remain alert and limit the opportunities for criminals to victimize you, then your holiday can be safe and crime free.


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