Holiday Safety Series:  Don’t Be A Crime Victim

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m1By Terry Rogers

The holidays are a joyous, happy, exciting time for many people with bright, twinkling lights, decorated trees and new, innovative toys on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, during the holidays, many people forgo common safety practices that can cause injury or property damage, This series will provide tips on fire, health, financial safety as well as how to keep yourself from being a crime victim during the holidays. In part two, learn tips on avoiding becoming a crime victim during the holiday season.

Although the holidays should be a time of good cheer, there are many people who use the goodwill of others to perpetuate crime. A 2013 report by CNN found that crimes like home burglaries increase by as much as 18 percent in December throughout the country. However, there are steps you can take to avoid being the victim of a crime during the holidays, according to Milford Police Chief, Kenneth Brown.

“One of the best things you can do is to lock your car,” Chief Brown said. “Leaving your car unlocked increases your chance of becoming a victim. Always park in well-lit areas and be aware of your surroundings when you are walking to and from your car. Do not leave valuable gifts in your car, and if you must leave them there while shopping, be sure to cover them or lock them in your trunk. Never carry large amounts of cash.”

One common crime during the holiday season is stolen packages after they are delivered by the post office or other carrier. Chief Brown says that requiring a signature for all packages or asking the post office to hold any large packages is a good way to avoid theft. If the post office holds your packages, they will leave notice in your mail box and you simply drive to the post office to pick them up rather than having them left unattended on your doorstep. Other tips are to have the package delivered to your workplace or ask a neighbor to accept them for you.

“One thing that people may not be aware of is that thieves watch what you throw away,” Chief Brown said. “If you get a large screen television or a gaming system, a thief may notice that big box leaning against the trash can for the garbage truck to pick up. Instead, break the boxes up and throw them away inside a canister over several trash cycles. This is also a time when neighbors can help each other by reporting suspicious activity. If you see cars driving by slowly and looking at your neighbor’s home, contact the police.”

Chief Brown said that Milford Police Department increases patrols around shopping areas during the holiday season, so finding an officer if you have an issue is much easier. However, burglary and car theft are not the only crimes that occur at the holidays. Identity theft is also on the rise and, because people are using their debit and credit cards more often during the holiday season, there is more risk that your identity could be compromised. In addition, many charities are reaching out for assistance during the holidays, some of which will accept credit card donations. Unfortunately, not all charities are legitimate and providing your financial information could result in you becoming the victim of fraud.

According to the Delaware Attorney General, you should never give out your social security number to anyone. In addition, only provide credit card, bank account or other information to companies you know. If a charity reaches out to you for a donation, request that they send you information in the mail that you can review before making a donation.

When shopping online, only use checkouts that are secure. You can determine if it is a secure checkout by looking at the website address. It should begin with https:// which indicates that all information sent between you and the company are encrypted, making it very difficult for a thief to intercept. Do not use public wifi networks when shopping online as hackers can intercept public wifi addresses and gain access to your financial information.

Using a credit card may be safer during the holidays. A debit card is tied to your bank account and a thief could drain the account before you realize that they card has been compromised, while a credit card can only be accessed up to the limit. In other words, your bank account could be emptied, leaving you nothing until you can reach the bank to report the theft, while a compromised credit card may not be as financially disastrous.

Federal law limits your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card at $50 as long as you report the loss or theft immediately. If you report the issue within two business days, you are only responsible for $50, but if you wait more than two days, you may be liable for up to $500 in unauthorized charges. Therefore, during the holiday season, watch your bank account closely and contact the bank if anything suspicious appears on your statement. Especially watch for small transactions of $1 or $2 as the thief may be testing the card to see if it is active. Report anything suspicious to your bank immediately.

Check your credit report often, especially after the holidays.  It does not hurt your credit score if you check your own credit. Many credit card companies and banks now offer credit score monitoring so you can watch more closely. If your score changes significantly, you may be the victim of identity theft. You can find information on how to deal with identity theft on the Federal Trade Commission website. If you do discover that you have been a victim of identity theft, contact the police immediately as your bank will require a copy of a police report in order to refund any money you are entitled to receive.

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