Not everyone is in the giving spirit when it comes to the holidays. Some are in the mood for taking as Christmas approaches.
“We generally see more cases of thefts, shoplifting, and car burglaries around the holiday season,” said McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton. “It seems like thieves get more active around this time of year, possibly because they know there’s more merchandise to steal and more crowds in which they can conceal their crimes.”
Much of the crime happens in public places such as shopping areas, Denton said, where there are high concentrations of people and it is easy for a thief to disappear. The larger crowds make it easier for a thief to blend in and also provides more targets of opportunity.
One area of concern is thefts of purses and wallets. In years past, there have been several reports of purses being taken from shopping carts. The thefts eventually led to identity thefts where the victim’s credit cards and checks were fraudulently used.
“Women who carry purses should keep them on them at all times, preferably around their arm,” Denton said, noting he sees women placing purses in shopping carts all the time. “All it takes is turning your back for a second and a thief can remove it from a shopping cart and be gone.”
Not only are credit cards and checks from stolen purses often used by the thief, but there can also be a secondary identity theft where the thief uses information contained in the purse to obtain credit cards, checks and sometimes even to get loans in the victim’s name. Such crimes can take years to correct and often permanently damage the victim’s credit rating.
While not as frequent, cases of pick-pocketing wallets have also been reported, leading to similar incidents of identity theft. Police recommend placing your wallet in a front pocket to make it harder for a pick-pocket.
Along with being cautious inside shopping areas, police note much holiday crime occurs in parking lots where thieves search for easy prey.
“Always lock your car door,” Denton said. “It sounds obvious, but most auto burglaries are committed in cases where car doors were left unlocked. Thieves will usually look for the easiest target and there’s no easier target than an unlocked car door.”
Police say the best policy is to keep your purchases with you while shopping, taking them all to your vehicle when you are through shopping. Any valuables or merchandise should be locked in your vehicle’s trunk away from the view of a would-be thief since burglaries are much more likely in cases where the thief can see his or her target. Shoppers should also beware of their surroundings and who may be watching them store their merchandise since even locked cars and car trunks can be broken into by a determined thief.
Police also recommend shopping during daylight hours when possible, especially in cases where much merchandise will be purchased. Car burglaries skyrocket during the evening hours since it is easier for a thief to go undetected under the cover of darkness. Motorists should always try to park in a well-lit area at shopping centers.
Denton said anyone who becomes a victim of such crimes should report the theft immediately. The quicker the report is taken by police, the better chance there is of catching the thief.
Home security is another prime concern for law enforcement over the holidays as the Christmas season generally means more residential break-ins.
“Criminals love the holidays as much as everyone else, chiefly because it’s a perfect opportunity to commit a crime,” Denton said, noting temptations of easy profits motivate thieves during Christmas.
One major reason for the upsurge in holiday crime is the fact many people travel. Homes which are left unattended are perfect targets. For this reason, authorities suggest those traveling make it look like the house is occupied.
Among the suggestions to give this illusion to burglars is to set an automatic timer to turn your lights on and off, or even leave an item such as a TV on inside the house. People should also ask a trusted neighbor to collect newspapers and mail because accumulations of such items send a red flag to burglars that a house is unattended. Also asking a neighbor to keep an eye on your residence and perhaps park a vehicle in your driveway from time to time, can serve as a deterrent.
Police say it is also important to remove temptation from a would-be burglar. One way is to make sure no presents are visible from windows while you are gone for an extended period. It is also a good idea not to place boxes which contained big-ticket items near your trash can for extended periods. An observant burglar can be tipped off there is, for an example, a new flat-screen TV inside a home by seeing the box by the trash.
Police also say simple things can deter burglars.
“If you’re leaving, even for a little while, make sure your windows and doors are locked,” Denton said. “Burglars generally want easy targets so sometimes just a locked home can deter them.”
Lawmen suggest residents do not leave messages on their answering machines saying they are not at home, or leave notes on their doors to inform people they will not be back until a specific date. It’s also not wise to post messages or pictures on social media declaring your family is out of town for the holidays.
Police say having a well-lit exterior can also discourage burglars since they cannot as easily hide in the shadows. It is also a good idea to put away things like tools and ladders which can be used as burglary tools by thieves.
While taking precautions can reduce the chances of being burglarized, police say a determined burglar can still penetrate most defenses. For this reason, police suggest residents keep an inventory and photographs of their belongings for both investigatory and insurance purposes. It is also a good idea to record serial numbers of electronic devices and firearms. In this way, if the burglar is caught, then the items can be identified and returned.