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Take steps to stay safe during the holiday season

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Shoppers come out of Target in University Commons shopping center on Wednesday. Greenville police are warning residebnts not to leave items in plain sight in their cars, to park in well-lit areas and, if possible, to shop in groups for safety.

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The holidays are a time of hustle and bustle, when city residents are likely to frequent shopping centers, welcome visitors into their homes and have a large number of expensive goods wrapped and ready for gift giving.

Unfortunately, this is also a time of year when many crimes occur, and the Greenville Police Department is stepping up patrols.

“We started our holiday patrols and we will have an extra presence in shopping centers and malls throughout the month,” Public Information Officer Kristen Hunter said. “A lot of detectives will wear uniforms and go out for several hours during the day and patrol those areas throughout the day.”

Hunter said the department sees an uptick in crime this time of year but are crimes of opportunity.

“We see an uptick in crime just because of the holiday season and one of the most common crimes we see is thefts from vehicles,” Hunter said. “That’s an issue we have year round but it increases more and more around the holidays. Many people store gifts they bought in their vehicle.”

Hunter recommended people check behind themselves and lock the doors and pull on their door handles to make sure their vehicles are secure. 

While keeping valuables in a vehicle is discouraged, Hunter said that if gifts are stored in vehicles, they need to be hidden out of plain sight. 

Other advice she offered includes parking in well-lit areas and parking as close as possible to your destination.

One danger Hunter said to look out for is panhandlers. 

“We see an increased in panhandlers or even solicitors approaching in parking lots,” Hunter said. “If someone approaches you in a threatening manner, call police.”

Shoppers should stay alert, she said.

“Be aware of their surroundings, shop during daylight if possible,” Hunter said. “Try to shop with a family member or friend. If you are going to shop, park as close to your destination as possible. Always walk with purpose and have your keys out before you go to your car and avoid any distractions.”

Hunter said that con artists prey on distracted shoppers and can steal their money and valuables. 

“It’s important to be aware of strangers approaching for any reason,” Hunter said. “It’s not uncommon for con artists to distract you with the intention of taking your belongings.” 

The Greenville Police Department has offered some additional tips to stay safe this season. They also can be found by visiting Grinch.greenvillenc.gov.

Shopping

■ Shop during daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member and park in an area with adequate lighting.

■ Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

■ Park as close as you can to your destination and take notice of where you parked.

■ Never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside.

■ Shopping with kids? Teach them to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated.

■ Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car. This creates a temptation for thieves. If you must leave something in the car, lock it in the trunk or put it out of sight.

■ Be sure to locate your keys before going to your car.

■ Remain aware of your surroundings at all times and move to and from your vehicle with confidence and purpose.

■ Keep a secure hold on your handbag and shopping bags. Do not put them down or on top of the car in order to open the door.

■ Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area.

■ Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. 

Online Shopping

■ Links in emails, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often how criminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, it’s best to delete it.

■ Don’t share personal or financial information over an unsecured network (a connection that doesn’t require a password for access). Using the direct web access on your phone (via 3G/4G connection) is safer than an unsecured wireless network when on your mobile device.

■ Make sure the site you are ordering from is legitimate. This includes a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https. This indicates that the purchase is encrypted or secured.

■ Use safe payment options. Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product is not delivered or is not what was ordered. Never send cash through the mail or use a money-wiring service.

■ Keep a paper trail. Save records of your online transactions. Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there are not any unauthorized charges. If there is a discrepancy, call your bank and report it immediately.

At Home

Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave the house, even for a few minutes.

■ When leaving home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.

■ Indoor and outdoor lights should be on an automatic timer.

■ Consider leaving a radio or television on so the house looks and sounds occupied.

■ Large displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through the windows and doors of your home.

■ Create an up-to-date home inventory including make, model, serial numbers, other detailed descriptions, and photographs of items of value (including jewelry). This inventory should be kept somewhere safe.

■ Contact the Greenville Police Department at 329-4315 to request extra patrols of your residence while you are out of town.

Strangers at Your Door

■ Be aware that criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts.

■ It is not uncommon for criminals to take advantage of the generosity of people during the holiday season by soliciting donations door-to-door for charitable causes although no charity is involved. Ask for their identification, and find out how the donated funds will be used. If you are not satisfied, do not donate.

After you have opened gifts

■ Avoid becoming an easy target for post-holiday burglars by not leaving boxes for new electronics and other items by the curb or other garbage pick-up locations.

■ Break down any boxes you are throwing out, put them in garbage bags and place them inside a trash can.

■ Think about keeping broken-down boxes inside until the evening before your regular garbage pick-up. Some burglars actually look inside garbage cans for evidence of holiday gifts.

Celebrate Responsibly

■ Drinking and driving is a danger to everyone on the road. Anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is in violation of NC law and may go to jail. The risk isn’t worth it. If you choose to drink alcohol at a party, don't drive. Take an Uber, use public transportation or a designated driver. Celebrate responsibly.

■ To report suspicious behavior call the Greenville Police Department 329-4300.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR

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