Beware your holiday spirit being stolen

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Cars, homes, Internet all targets for criminals

By Lisa King

Everyone is shopping for the holidays right now, and unfortunately, that includes those who prefer a five-finger discount, police say.

“We usually see crimes such as burglaries and stealing from cars go up this time of year because criminals know people have extra goodies around during the holidays,” Shelbyville Police Maj. D. Goodwin said.

Is there a way to avoid becoming a victim of holiday crime?

Goodwin said there are several ways to greatly reduce your chances of being robbed.

“The main thing is, when people go Christmas shopping, they run around from store to store, and leave items in their car that they’ve bought,” he said. “When they do that, they need to either put them in the trunk, or if they don’t have a trunk, put them where they’re not visible, or cover them with something. And please, please, lock your car.”

Cars parked at home are subject to these same cautions, he said.

“If people would just lock their cars, when thieves go rummaging around for something to steal, a locked car is very inconvenient for them,” he said. “At three o’clock in the morning, they don’t want to break out a window and make a lot of noise.”

Goodwin said some people think since they have no valuables in their car, they can leave it unlocked.

“Then you’re leaving yourself open to get your stereo ripped out,” he said. “So remember, don’t leave valuables in your car, and lock it up.”


Neighborhood watches

Officials of both Shelbyville PD and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office stress the importance of neighborhood watch programs, especially during the holidays.

Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Gene Witt, who helps coordinate neighborhood watch programs for the sheriff’s office, said many people are away visiting families during the holidays, and such programs are invaluable.

“If you’re going to be gone, get a neighbor to park in your driveway and leave a light on,” he said.

The concept of people keeping an eye out in their neighborhoods is a good one, during the holidays and all through the year, Witt said.

“Just watching out for things like unfamiliar vehicles and suspicious activity can really make a difference,” he said.

He recalled one time several years ago, he worked a burglary on Pounds Lane when a man was taking his grandson home, and, as he neared the house, he saw a car backing out of the driveway. He didn’t’ pay much attention to it, thinking the driver was turning around, Witt said. But when the resident got in the house, he found it had been burglarized.

But his 10-year old grandson saved the day, in that case, he said, because the boy had scrutinized the car as it was leaving and had gotten the license number.

“Jason [Rice] and I worked that case, and with that plate number, we were able to locate him [the perpetrator] in the next county,” Witt said. “We found the vehicle in the driveway with the stuff still in it.”

Witt said it’s also a good idea to take photos of your valuables and write down the serial and model numbers of expensive items.

“Big ticket items such as firearms, stereos, computers, TVs, jewelry, all that stuff,” he said. “So if you do get broken into, this will help us solve the case. 

An outside light activated by a motion detector is also a good idea, something Goodwin advocates.

“They are a great idea, because if it comes on when they are trying to break into your car, they are not sure if they activated it, or if you heard them and your approach caused it to come on.”

Witt said alarm systems are also great deterrents to would-be thieves.

“We work very few burglaries where people had an alarm system activated,” he said. “Burglars don’t like alarms. I remember one time when someone tried to break in through a basement window and just when he tried to put his foot through the window, the alarm went off, and he took off.”


Internet and credit-card crime

Sheriff Mike Armstrong said one thing that people can never be too careful about, especially during the holidays, is safeguarding their personal identification when shopping with credit cards or on the Internet.

“I’m not that high-tech, and a lot of people aren’t, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use good common sense,” he said.

Armstrong advises when making purchases with a credit card, don’t let it out of your sight, and only buy from reputable businesses. The latter is especially true when dealing with the Internet, he said.

“You have to be really careful to make sure you’re on a legitimate Web site,” he said. “Some of them may look legitimate, but they’re only trying to steal your information.”

Something new that identity thieves are doing now is just trying credit card numbers at random, hoping it will go through.

“They’ll try a small charge first, so it won’t be noticed, and if it goes through, they’ll burn you.”

Armstrong said there are too many types of scams to warn about, such as one the other day in Shelby County involving gift cards.

“A good rule to remember is this,” he said. “Nobody is going to just give you money, and if they say they are, you better not fall for it.”

Goodwin had similar advice, following Armstrong’s lead of using common sense.

“Just watch what you’re doing and don’t leave purses in shopping carts, or wallets lying on the console in your car,” he said. “And one simple thing can really be invaluable, just remember, head up, eyes up. Just pay attention to what is going on around you, especially in parking lots. Notice if there is someone watching you or if something unusual is going on. That’s number one.”