This time of year comes with many people embarking on trips to see family and friends in other areas of the state or country. Making plans to leave town should also include plans to protect your home and belongings while you are gone.
Meanwhile, Christmas shopping is upon us. That unfortunately means there are also thieves out there doing their own shopping – looking for the easiest targets from whom to steal items, information or identities.
But with the right precautions and awareness, people can protect themselves against criminals who would threaten to rob local residents of more than their Christmas cheer. The Roswell Police Department reminds everyone:
When you go out of town for the holidays:
> Avoid telltale signs of an unoccupied house: Stop all regular deliveries such as mail that would collect in your mailbox and newspapers that would otherwise pile up outside. If you have ordered a gift or other item online, do not have it delivered to your house while you are gone. You don’t want it sitting on your doorstep for an extended period. Leave some indoor lights on or put them on a timer. Leave a radio or TV on, or have someone check on your house daily and ask them to turn the radio or TV on and off when they come and go at different times.
> Notify trusted neighbors that you will be gone and give them your contact information. You can also contact the Roswell Police Department or your local law enforcement agency to request “close patrols” of your residence while you are gone.
Protect your home against burglars:
> Keep your property clean to eliminate hiding spots, install an alarm system and lighting (motion-sensor lights serve the purpose without having to be on constantly), keep a dog in the yard, only open your garage door when you are pulling a vehicle in or out, don’t leave valuables (that includes Christmas gifts) in plain view where they can be seen from a window, and, of course, lock your doors and windows.
> After all the gifts are unwrapped Christmas morning, take the boxes and packaging that held the expensive items to a recycling bin or the landfill rather than placing them in your nearby city trash container. Depositing them in the neighborhood container tips off burglars as to what nice, new things can be found inside nearby homes and vehicles.
When you head to and leave from stores:
> Park in an area with good lighting that is not too far from the store’s entrance and exit you plan to use. Do not leave your purchased items or valuables in plain sight in your vehicle. Do not have personal, confidential documents or information in the car unnecessarily. Be sure to lock your doors.
> Go with another person or a group, especially if shopping at night. If you can, try to schedule your shopping trips during daylight hours. Regardless of whether you are alone or with others, always watch what is going on around you and remain constantly aware of your surroundings.
> Take with you only the credit or debit cards you plan to use and carry them on you directly instead of in a purse. Leave other cards at home, not in your vehicle. Also, avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and keep any cash in your front pockets, which are more difficult than back pockets for pickpockets to reach. It’s also a good idea to avoid wearing expensive jewelry, which will attract the attention of thieves.
> Beware of strangers approaching you. Christmastime brings out con artists and other criminals who have a wide variety of methods designed to distract you so they can steal your money or other belongings. If you are threatened or assaulted by someone, your keys can be used as a weapon. You should have them out and ready to unlock your vehicle even before you exit the store so you won’t have to spend time standing outside your vehicle getting a handle on your keys – and giving time for a criminal to go on the attack.
When in a store:
> Even though you may be concentrating on picking out the right gifts for family and friends, pay attention to those around you. If someone is acting suspiciously, report it to store personnel.
> During a credit-card or debit-card transaction, keep your eye on your card if you must hand it to the store clerk. Don’t forget to get it back. Make sure someone else isn’t sneaking a peek at the keypad while you are entering your PIN during a transaction.
> Never sign a blank receipt. Make sure anything you sign accurately reflects your purchase.
When shopping or donating by phone or online:
> Do not give your account numbers or any other financial or personal information to anyone on the phone unless you initiated the call and know the company/person you are dealing with is reputable. When online, do not open emails from sources you do not recognize. Even then, be aware that email scammers and identity thieves will often send emails disguised as coming from well-recognized, reputable stores and companies, so click with caution.
> When creating online shopping accounts, make sure the site is secure (secure sites will usually begin with “https”, with the “s” being the key). Also, create strong passwords that use a good number of characters and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
> This time of year is a popular time for charities to make phone solicitations seeking donations. Make sure you trust that the caller actually does represent the entity he or she claims to represent. Consider taking an extra step of asking for a phone number to call the headquarters of the charity or have them send you official printed donation information in the mail.