BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
DANVILLE — In a season of giving, some people are more interested right now in taking.
With the holiday season comes a greater chance residents could become crime victims if they don’t take precautions. Several areas become attractive to criminals as the holiday season continues.
Danville Police Deputy Director Doug Miller said the city usually tends to see an increase in the number of thefts and shoplifting reports this time of year. But some criminals are interested in much more than what is on store shelves or what people have purchased.
“One of the biggest things is credit card and identity thefts,” he said, adding people are out in the stores more and busy, making them potential targets.
A person’s car or truck becomes an easy target, and numbers show an increase in the number of vehicle burglaries in Danville around the Christmas season. Aside from purchases that have been made, drivers can leave items such as purses within full view.
According to Danville Director of Public Safety Larry Thomason, less is more when it comes to trying to protect your identity during the busy shopping season. He stressed limiting the number of personal items a person carries while out shopping.
“If you only need one credit or debit card, that’s all you should be taking, along with an ID,” he said.
He also pointed out that people should make sure they get receipts for all purchases and make sure they don’t leave information — such as a PIN for a debit card — open for all to see.
“When entering a PIN number, people should not be on top of you,” he said, adding that people should use their body to block people from seeing the number.
Miller said people should take the time to check their credit card statements to watch for unknown purchases. Outside of the holiday season, he also suggested people obtain a credit check once a year to ensure no one has opened a credit card in their name.
There are several other areas of crime that tend to increase during the holiday season. Miller said car burglaries have also seen a jump in Danville and shoplifting and counterfeit money are expected to see an increase as well.
To avoid the possibility of car burglary, Thomason said people should keep any valuable items and purchases out of sight of anyone passing next to the vehicle. The trunk is the obvious first option.
Shoplifting — while not receiving the most attention — amounts to a large loss for businesses across the nation each holiday season. Figures from the Global Retail Theft Barometer — which is a survey of retailers worldwide — indicated that as much as $1.8 billion in merchandise was shoplifted in the United States during last year’s holiday season.
Miller noted the city doesn’t see a large increase in crime during November and December, simply a slight upswing.
One improvement for this year is the number of robberies and armed robberies. Miller said police usually encounter an increase in both, but this year the robbery and armed robbery increases haven’t materialized.
“It used to be noticeably more in past years,” he said.
For people shopping during the holiday season, common sense is often the biggest factor in determining who becomes a victim.
“We tend to get in too much of a hurry,” Thomason said. “It’s a season where we all feel good about things and each other and forget about people that prey on us if they get the opportunity.”
While shopping, there are several tips people should follow to keep themselves and the items they purchase safe:
--Avoid badly lighted areas.
--Women should keep their purses close to their body, preferably in front, and covered with a hand or forearm.
--Try not to carry too many packages at one time.
--Large sums of cash should not be carried.
--If shoppers are in the habit of using an ATM, approach the machine with caution. Go directly to the machine, make the transaction and get back into the vehicle. Watch for anything suspicious.
In the home
A store or parking lot isn’t the only place people can become the victims. Thomason said residents can take several steps to make sure their home doesn’t become a crime scene.
Just like with vehicles, Thomason recommended people “hold back from temptation,” keep expensive gifts hidden and not under the tree until close to Christmas. That makes sure they are out of sight from people who may pass near the home or look in the windows and don’t act as an enticement for a burglary.
“It’s no different from putting them in a car,” he said.
In addition, police suggest people watch for scams such as con artists calling in the middle of the night posing as family members. Thomason said questions they ask may give out more personal information than many people realize.
“If you did not solicit or call them, make sure you know who you are talking to on the phone,” he said.