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Local police say scammers, thieves take advantage of unwary during holidays

December 5th, 2013 8:38 am by Rain Smith

Local police say scammers, thieves take advantage of unwary during holidays

Black Friday shoppers waiting to check out at a Wal-Mart in Columbus, OH., Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nykki O'Bryan, MGN Online graphics.

’Tis the season for tinsel, gifts and good will toward men.

And unfortunately — for those with less than savory holiday scruples — a time of ample opportunity to commit property crimes.

From parking lots to shopping aisles, home deliveries to curbside trash, local police said people need to be more cognizant of their actions and surroundings over the holiday season, lest they become a victim.

Last December, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office received more reports of auto burglary than any other month of the year, while Kingsport police said it becomes the most prevalent crime in the Model City.

“With auto burglary being so common, what people need to focus on is locking their car doors and keeping their valuables out of plain view,” said Kingsport Police Department Public Information Officer Tom Patton.

Also, be aware of who may be watching you while you are placing packages in your vehicle.”

SCSO Public Information Officer Leslie Earhart reported most theft from vehicle incidents in the county are attributable to the victims simply not locking their doors.

“It is also important to keep in mind that more people than you may think are watching what you do when you get out of your car,” Earhart said. “If you put your purse in the trunk, someone likely saw you do that. If that someone is a criminal, then your vehicle may become a target.”

Police said precautions should still be taken once inside stores: keep purses securely attached with a strap and placed to either the front or side of the body, and make sure they stay closed. Never leave a purse or wallet sitting inside a buggy or shopping basket.

“If possible, don’t bring a purse with you at all,” said Earhart. “Instead, carry a credit card, your ID and a small amount of cash in a pocket.”

Patton said people should never “flaunt” large sums of cash while checking out, and don’t take your eyes off credit and debit cards when handed over to a clerk.

“Memorize your PIN number,” Patton said. “Do not have it written down inside your wallet or purse, or even worse, on the card itself. Be careful to shield the keypad when entering your PIN number in a public place.”

Earhart said home burglaries also see a spike this time of year, as thieves know more valuables are likely present in the form of gifts. For that reason, don’t inadvertently advertise what’s inside your home.

“Believe it or not, thieves take note of what you leave on the curb for trash pickup,” Earhart said. “Specifically, they are looking for any sign that you purchased expensive electronics. Because of that, it is a good idea to take cardboard boxes straight to the recycle bin.”

Earhart also warned of having deliveries sent to your home if you won’t be there when they arrive, as some thieves actually drive through neighborhoods looking for packages. When possible, have orders delivered to the residence of a neighbor who will be home, your workplace or the shipping company’s local office for personal pickup.

Even holiday travel presents another crime of opportunity for thieves and burglars. To keep from becoming an easy mark while you’re out of town, police advise setting lights and TVs or radios on timers to periodically turn on and off.

They also suggest having a trusted friend or neighbor stop by once a day to collect mail, while also surveying the perimeter for any signs of suspicious activity.

And, for the love of St. Nick, don’t post travel plans on social media.

“Our detectives recently worked a residential burglary that occurred after the homeowner posted on Facebook that he was going camping for the weekend,” said Patton. “This is a major no-no. Don’t put anything on social media about your travel plans that you wouldn’t tell your closest family or friends face to face. This is true even if your site is set to private, as there are ways around privacy settings.”

Some scammers have been known to prey upon the Christmas season, fleecing charitable spirits of cash. Earhart said most legitimate organizations don’t have volunteers walking door to door soliciting donations or wandering through parking lots.

“If someone claims to be part of a charitable organization and you have doubts about whether they are legitimate, they should have no problem giving you a number to contact to verify their claim,” said Earhart.

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