Monday, 14 December 2009 12:21

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips and Crime Prevention from Sheriff Jim Coats

Written by  Sheriff Jim Coats
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From the Desk of Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats

Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats‘Tis the season for family, friends and holiday gatherings. But ‘tis also the season to keep in mind various crime prevention tips that will help to keep you, your family and your belongings safe throughout the holidays and the New Year.

As many of you make shopping a part of the holiday tradition and head off to the stores, be aware of strangers who may approach you for any reason.  If approached, deputies from the Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit recommend that you create as much distance as possible between yourself and the stranger. One option is to place an object, such as a shopping cart or your vehicle between yourself and the subject. Call attention to yourself. Having people made aware of the situation should help to discourage the actions of any would-be suspect.

Park your vehicle as close as possible to your destination and never leave it running while unattended or with children inside. If shopping at night, park in a well lighted area. Better still, shop with a friend.

Ask store security to escort you to your vehicle if, for any reason, you feel it is unsafe to head out on your own. Keep your car keys to hand. Crime Prevention deputies even suggest keeping your cell phone in your hand and dialed to 911 just in case you need to get help quickly.

Keep wallets, purses and parcels close and secure. Load gifts into the trunk. Never leave them in plain view on the seats of your vehicle, as this will attract the attention of thieves and make you an easy target of vehicle burglary and theft.

Most important, always lock your vehicle doors. The vast majority of vehicle burglaries occur when vehicle doors are left unlocked. Thieves will often select an area, be it a parking lot or residential neighborhood, and check car doors until they find the unlocked ones.

Also, always secure your home. Lock windows and doors, even if you are just stepping out for a brief period of time. If traveling out of town for the holidays, ask a friend or neighbor to check your home regularly during your absence and to call law enforcement to report any unusual or suspicious activity.

While at home, be wary of strangers who may knock on your front door. “Con artists” may try to take advantage of the season to ask for donations for charitable causes that do not exist. They will often try to distract a home owner with the intention of taking money or belongings and attempt to find a way to gain entry into someone’s home. To avoid becoming a victim, deputies suggest that you don’t open your door to unexpected visitors or solicitors. If you are expecting a repairman or any other service provider, ask for identification, look for a vehicle with a logo that matches that of your provider, or simply make a call to the company to confirm that the person at your door is, in fact, legitimate.

Protecting your identity while shopping online is important too. Shop only with known and reputable retailers. Read their protection information. Don’t even open e-mails from companies you don’t know. Just as your front door opens your home, don’t open your computer to identity thieves by not securing your personal and credit information.

Always give yourself an opportunity to check your surroundings and assess the situation before exposing yourself to danger. May your days be “merry and bright” and safe.

For more articles from Sheriff Jim Coats, go here

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