Holidays not the time for less vigilance

By Sheriff Leon Lott

We are in the midst of the holiday season when most of us more-deeply embrace that which we all want: “Peace on earth; good will toward men.” Unfortunately, those among us with more selfish, self-serving aims will capitalize on the fact that so many of us seem to let-down our guard in our rush to get everything done and our haste to believe that all have the same sense of “good will” that we do.

They don’t. It’s an unfortunate reality that the level of crime and criminal activity ticks up this time of year. And this is largely a result of two dynamics. The first being that the ordinary citizen is so-focused on parties, shopping, decorating, cooking, additional responsibilities and events at church, volunteering to help others, dealing with heavy traffic, getting ready for family visits, and a limited time to get everything done – all-the-while working a double-shift at work to pay for it all – that they tend to lose their normal sense of situational awareness. Their caution drops.

The second dynamic is that the bad guys know this.

Add to the mix a dramatic increase in retail and online purchases, quick monetary transactions, drop-offs and deliveries, and you have the potential for real problems.

First of all, the telephone scam artists are in full swing. They know everyone is in a frenzied, always hurried quest for the best deal, and they will take advantage of that.

Then there are the overt, out-in-the-open thieves, looking to prey on the most vulnerable, the most unaware, often the most trusting.

Gone are the days when you could safely position your Christmas tree with all the gifts and presents around it in the middle of the picture window of your home. Today, that is simply telling the bad guys that you have newly purchased valuables, and there they are for all to see.

Thieves in the modern era literally drive through high-end neighborhoods looking for such. And they do-so while scanning the front porches and other outside delivery areas for large packages which might have been recently delivered, though not yet brought into the home.

A new criminal dynamic are the thieves which find and follow fast-moving delivery trucks through high-end neighborhoods. More consumers today are shopping online and having items, which are often expensive, delivered to their homes by UPS, FEDEX, the U.S. Postal Service, and others.

The truck pulls up. The packages are dropped off. The bad guys following the truck see this. The truck driver is often totally oblivious to their being followed. The packages are quickly grabbed – often in a matter of seconds – and those inside the home (perhaps no one is at home since it is in the middle of the day) never see or hear what was delivered and snatched.

How do we counter this? It’s not always easy. Be observant. If you’re at home, you will likely hear the truck. Check your porch regularly if you are expecting a delivery. Watch out for your neighbors’ deliveries as well.

Most companies will tell you when the delivery will be made. And with a tracking number, and email updates associated with that number, you will know when the delivery has been made.

Don’t leave packages on the porch all day. If you are not home, have a neighbor collect the packages for you.

If you are out shopping at malls or other retail outlets and shops, don’t leave packages or any valuables for that matter in the open for thieves to see. Secure everything in the trunk. To do otherwise risks a damaged car, stolen valuables, and all the emotional stress that comes with it.

Also when shopping, don’t shop alone if you can help it – there’s always safety in numbers – don’t park in dark places or remote areas of parking lots. Protect yourself. Always.

The same caution you exercise at the mall, you should do at home. Don’t leave packages in your vehicle overnight unless the vehicle is inside of a locked, secured garage. And don’t be lulled into thinking that your car and packages are safer if pulled up toward the house in the driveway as opposed to being parked on the street. Granted, parking on the street makes it a little easier for the bad guys. But remember thieves are brazen and have no qualms about walking up close to your house to see what’s unsecured or otherwise available.

That’s not all.

The day after Christmas, don’t leave large boxes on the street for trash pickup that tell the entire world you’ve just purchased or received a big 70-inch LED TV. That’s telling the bad guys what you have in the house. And they’ll wait until you leave to help themselves to it.

In short, don’t throw common sense out the window simply because it’s the holiday season.

– Leon Lott is Sheriff of Richland County.