Tips to Keep Your Days Merry and Safe
Christmas is upon us—silver bells, tinsel, nutcrackers and wreaths. A joyous time when carols fill the air, giving fills our hearts, and stores overflow with people making purchases they most likely would not even consider any other time of the year. To find the best deals, shopping has become a sport with people who are willing to rise early and stay out late. Happy with their bounty, they head home with a sense of satisfaction and shopping bags filled with goodies. The problem is they are not the only ones who have been planning to pick up a few things for the holidays. This is the most wonderful—and easiest—time of the year for criminals to help themselves to your hard-earned purchases.
However, with a little effort and forethought, However, with a little effort and forethought, you can make this a safer season:
Always be conscious of your surroundings. Not just going to and from your vehicle, while in stores and crowds, what may seem like safety is also cover for criminals to watch and wait for an opportunity to walk away with your purse or even snap a picture of your credit card while paying. A person who is alert and takes notice of those around is less likely to become a target.
Avoid carrying cash or a bulky purse. Take only what you need and carry it in your front pocket (this includes wallets). This is a big deterrent for a pickpocket. If you insist on carrying a purse, keep it closed and close to you at all times. If you leave it in the shopping cart, make sure you secure it with the child safety belt, or a strap. Then, if someone tries to snatch and run…well, they’ll have to drag your cart.
Shop with family or a friend. This will give you another set of eyes and someone to travel with you to and from your vehicle, which should always be parked in a well-lit area. Your shopping buddy can also help you carry the load. Arms loaded with gifts while making way to the car is an invitation for trouble.
Don’t pile up presents in your car for all passersby to see. Smash-n-grabs happen year-round and finding the “bad guy” is difficult at best. Secure valuables in the trunk. If you will be picking up multiple or larger gifts, have someone meet you to take these home.
If you must shop alone, ask security/store employee to accompany you to your vehicle. If there are people near your vehicle you feel uncomfortable about, never put yourself in potential harm. Wait a little longer to see if they move on. If not, notify the store of your concerns and ask for an escort. If this is not possible, ask someone you feel comfortable with to please accompany you to your car. Most will gladly help.
Always approach your vehicle with your keys in your hand. Look inside before entering. Have your finger on your panic button. I know people who have activated their panic button from a distance just to call attention and encourage others to move on.
Many homeowners strive to be the envy of the neighborhood. Although you may wish others to see your indoor Christmas tree from the road, leaving your curtains open, showcasing your possessions, is unwise. Remember, criminals window shop too.
If you will be away for the holidays, keep some lights on. Use a timer, have family or friends take care of mail and stop by from time to time to show activity around your home.
Take pictures of all serial numbers on your presents. You might also affix your own identification numbers/initials to your new treasures. Use a Dremel or sharp object to etch in an inconspicuous place. If stolen, this is good information for law enforcement to help identify your belongings.
Don’t believe thieves have stopped working just because Christmas has come and gone. Criminals will often watch your garbage. Either break down boxes and put them in trash bags, or wait a week or two before throwing them out.
Beware of scams. Scams flourish in the “giving season.” Do not let people into your home you did not contact! Ask for identification before allowing entry. Keep a close eye on your financial transactions, and report any errors immediately.
It is sad we must be so careful to avoid criminal activity, especially during the holiday season, but this should not keep us from enjoying all it has to offer. With a little effort, we can ensure both a happy and safe holiday for our families.
Rev. Shane Phillips is a retired Captain of the West Columbia Police Department in South Carolina. He presently serves as the Pastor of Golden Isles Baptist Church in Brunswick Georgia.