Homes full of expensive gifts. Stores and streets teeming with unsuspecting shoppers. People rushing around, stressed out and careless, looking for last-minute gifts, trying to get everything done. It’s another holiday season – and it's enough to make a crook giddy with holiday joy.
This season, don't get lulled into giving burglars, thieves, and scammers a better chance to do their dirty work. Crooks love the holiday as much as everyone else because it's an opportune time for crime. By observing some simple, common sense tips you can do your part to make the holidays a safe and happy time for everybody - except criminals.
- Get an automatic timer for your lights.
- Ask a neighbor to watch your home, shovel snow, and park in the driveway from time to time.
- Don't forget to have mail and newspaper delivery stopped. If it piles up, it's a sure sign you're gone.
- Think about who you tell your travel plans to. It may be hard to believe, but, many burglaries are committed by someone known to the homeowner.
Running holiday errands?
- Turn on lights and a radio or TV so it looks like someone's home.
- Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave, even if it's just for a few minutes.
- If you have an alarm, use it, especially during the daytime.
- Don't display gifts where they can be seen from outside.
- Want to leave a gift for your mail carrier? Don’t leave cash in the mailbox with the flag up. Garbage collection? Don’t leave cash on the trash cans. It may go to someone you didn’t intend it for.
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Out for a day (or night) of shopping)?
- Stay alert and be aware of what's going on around you. Don’t spend all your time glued to your cell phone or iPod!
- Park in a well-lighted space, and be sure to lock the car, close the windows, and hide shopping bags, gifts, purses and personal electronics in the trunk.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a check or credit card whenever possible.
- Deter pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Don't overburden yourself with packages. Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry a purse close to your body, not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket.
- Don’t overload yourself with shopping bags – it just makes you an easier target for a thief.
- Shopping with the kids? Teach them to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated.
A Stranger at the Door?
Criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts. And, sad to say, it's not uncommon for people to try to take advantage of others generosity at this time of year by going door-to-door for charitable donations when there's no charity involved.
- Ask for identification, and find out how the funds will be used.
- If you aren't satisfied, don't give.
- Help a charitable organization you know and like instead.
Take a Holiday Inventory
The holidays are a good time to create or update your home inventory. If your home is burglarized, having a detailed inventory can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file.
- Take photos or make videos of items, and list descriptions and serial numbers.
- Make sure things like TVs, VCRs, stereo equipment, cameras, camcorders, sports equipment, jewelry, silver, computers, home office equipment, and power tools are on the list.
Remember to check it twice!
Oh, and those empty boxes that pile up after the holidays? Cut them up, recycle them, or dispose of them...but don’t leave them out where curious eyes can see them. Don’t make it easy for a burglar to know about your new big-screen TV or laptop.
Some parting thoughts...
- Don’t drink and drive - ever. Remember, a designated driver doesn’t drink less alcohol than everyone else – they don’t drink at all.
- Your thumbs belong on the steering wheel, not your phone. Don’t text and drive.
- Don’t let the “other driver” get under your skin. A lost parking space or inattentive driver really isn’t worth losing your temper over. An angry driver is a distracted driver!
Finally, don't let holiday stress get the best of your holiday spirit. This is a good time to start a neighborhood tradition. Look in on your neighbors this holiday season. Make time to get together with family and friends. And think about reaching out in the spirit of the season and helping someone who's less fortunate or lonely.
For our quick top-ten safety tip “shopping list” for the holiday season and other crime prevention ideas, visit the Westport Police Department at www.westportctpd.org.