As the holiday season approaches, Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre is offering safety tips for consumers to protect themselves while shopping at stores and online.
"Many people are now beginning their Christmas shopping before the turkey has left the Thanksgiving table," said Sheriff Webre. "Unfortunately, with so many of us flocking to malls, shopping centers, and online stores, thieves and scammers see this is a golden opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers."
The Friday after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, is often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season which runs through Christmas Eve. During this time period, retail outlets traditionally offer significant sales and deals luring multitudes of consumers to their stores and websites. The large crowds at physical sites and people seeking the best deals online, attract criminals as well.
The Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office Patrol Division will be conducting extra patrols in and around shopping centers and retail outlets throughout the parish during the busy holiday shopping season, but there are many ways consumers can protect themselves from becoming a victim. Sheriff Webre offers these tips:
- Be smart about parking. Always lock your vehicle and ensure all windows are closed. Avoid driving at night, but when necessary, park in well-lit areas away from dumpsters or larger vehicles that can serve as hiding places for thieves or carjackers. Never hide a second set of keys in a vehicle, and never leave a vehicle running or unattended.
- Keep purchases out of sight. Hide purchases and store bags by keeping them in a trunk, or bring blankets and garbage bags to camouflage your gifts. Change parking locations each time you store purchases in your vehicle in case thieves are watching. Try making expensive purchases last giving thieves less opportunity to steal.
- Keep a secure hold on your purse, handbag and gifts, especially outside the store.Locate your keys before arriving at your vehicle, and never put bags down or on top of a vehicle to open a door. Do not make more purchases than you are able to carry.
- Only use ATMs in well-lit locations. Only use an ATM if necessary, and only withdraw the amount of cash needed. When possible, carry cash in your front pocket instead of your wallet or purse. Protect your PIN number at ATMs and registers by shielding the keypad from bystanders. Using a drive-up ATM is generally safest, but always remember to check your surroundings.
- Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. Con artists may try various ways to distract your attention with the intention of stealing your money or belongings. Be wary of anyone approaching you needing "quick cash" or offering you a large check for a smaller amount of cash. You'll likely end up holding a bad check.
- Shop with a friend or relative, but leave children with a sitter. Criminals are more likely to target someone shopping alone than those with one or more people accompanying them. Children should be left with a sitter, though, as they could actually hinder your safety efforts by diverting your attention.
- Only make secure online transactions. When shopping online, check for a "secure" icon in the address bar when you begin the checkout process. The URL should begin with the letters "https". Always begin an online shopping session by typing the address of the official website in the address bar instead of clicking on a link from another website or email. This will help avoid "phishing" sites and emails which often look like official sites but are used to steal your financial information.
- Ensure packages are delivered to a person. When having items shipped, choose a location where someone will be present in lieu of allowing packages to be left unattended. Most delivery companies will also offer the option of picking up the package at their facility.
- Save all receipts. If something is stolen, a receipt is often the easiest way to begin tracking the stolen item because it includes the time of checkout as well as pertinent information about the purchase. When making purchases online, save all correspondence and order confirmations.
"In essence, we are asking people to use common sense and to be aware of their surroundings," said Sheriff Webre. "Following these tips will not only help protect yourself and your family, but you'll make it easier for us to catch these despicable criminals and put them behind bars to prevent them from victimizing others. When it comes to scams, always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Sheriff Webre also reminds residents to take proper precautions to secure their homes, taking care to ensure gifts and merchandise are not visible from outside the residence. Vacationers should avoid posting social media updates revealing they are "leaving" or out of town. When possible, they should ask a neighbor, friend, or relative to check on the house each day, checking for mail and picking up newspapers to avoid the appearance that no one is home. Residents should also break down large boxes for high-value items so they can be stored in the garbage and not visible.
"Criminality knows no bounds," said Sheriff Webre. "Sadly, residents have even had Christmas yard decorations stolen in recent years. You must take care to safeguard your property and report any suspicious persons or activity to the Sheriff's Office."