Hiding the 70-inch television in the garage until Christmas Eve might fool children, but it probably won’t fool criminals who target holiday shoppers in November and December.
It turns out the season of giving is also the season of taking as crime rates tend to increase during the holidays, with theft showing one of the largest increases, according to Chula Vista Police.
“Because they do all of these terrible things, we don’t like to think of criminals as human,” said Angela Gaines with Chula Vista Police community relations. “But they are. They want all the same things we want. They want to put gifts under Christmas tree and have a nice big meal for the holiday. The difference is they have no problem stealing them from honest people who work hard and don’t break the law.”
The best thing families can do to protect themselves is become extra vigilant during the season, Gaines said. Doing all of the things we should do every day around the house but sometimes forget can often prevent crime. That means locking doors and windows, including back doors and the garage door, when we leave the house and setting the alarm if you have one.
“When people are out there shopping they have to be aware of their surroundings and the people around them,” said Gaines. “Always stay alert and watch out for people who are loitering or look suspicious.”
It is not uncommon for thieves to keep watch for large purchases at stores, follow the customer home, get their address, then come back later to break in when nobody is home.
Criminals are opportunists and they usually go for the easy target, said Marco Garza, a local licensed private investigator of GRI Consulting Group.
The typical burglar’s favorite targets are people who leave the mall overloaded with purchases and high value items like televisions and jewelry.
“The main key is just more awareness and using common sense,” said Garza, who spent 15 years in law enforcement. “In my experience most crimes could have been prevented with just a little more awareness.”
In general, he says it’s important to be discreet with your purchases and store them in secure places immediately. Awareness is important while out shopping and at home, Garaza said. Get to know the vehicles and people in your neighborhood so you will recognize a stranger or a strange car if you see one.
“During Christmas you have thousands of dollars worth of gifts, so that’s something that presents a good target for criminals,” Garza said. Burglars tend to strike on weekday mornings when most people are out, he added. “In Eastlake between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. the neighborhoods are ghost towns.”
But you can take a few steps to protect yourself. Here are five tips from Marco Garza and Angela Gaines for holiday safety.
• Be discrete with post-season trash. A huge TV box leaning against the trash can at the curb is like a bullseye to a burglar.
• Keep your money close. Purses with long straps present a theft risk compared to those with shorter straps. And wallets should always go in the front or inside jacket pocket, not the back pants pocket.
• Improvise some security. When out of town use automatic timers on lights and appliances to simulate human activity.
• Your car is not secure. After a large purchase take your goodies home or to a secure location immediately. Buying the iPad at one store and leaving it in the car while shopping in another is asking for trouble.
• Watch those cards and ATMs. Keep a close watch on bank and credit card activity for identity crime. Don’t use the ATM at night, don’t count cash at the ATM, and leave as many credit cards at home as possible so if you do become a victim of theft, you don’t lose all of your purchasing power.