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. Thanksgiving week is often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and retail outlets traditionally advertise significant price cuts and other deals in order to lure multitudes of consumers. Unfortunately, these deals, in conjunction with the increased number of shoppers, tend to attract criminals as well.
“Thieves and scammers see this bustling holiday shopping season as a target-rich environment filled with unsuspecting consumers,” said Sheriff Webre. “For those shopping the early deals before Thanksgiving, remember that these criminals aren’t bound by the holiday. We ask that you employ any and every method to protect yourself while shopping at any time, but especially during this time of year.”
The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division are already conducting extra patrols in and around shopping centers and retail outlets which will continue throughout the busy holiday shopping season. 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 if possible. 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.
“Following these tips will not only help protect yourself and your family, but you’ll also make it easier to help us catch the criminals,” said Sheriff Webre. “Always be aware of your surroundings, use common sense, and always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.”
In addition to employing safety techniques while shopping during the holidays, residents are encouraged to take proper precautions to secure their homes.
- Ensure gifts and merchandise are not visible from outside the residence.
- Break down large boxes for high-value items and place inside trash bag and/or receptacle.
- Avoid posting social media updates indicating you are not at home.
- If out of town, ask a neighbor or friend to check on your house daily, picking up mail and newspapers to avoid the appearance that no one is home.
“Criminality knows no bounds,” said Sheriff Webre. “Criminals will steal wrapped gifts, unwrapped gifts, and even yard decorations. You must safeguard yourself and your property and report any suspicious persons or activity to the Sheriff’s Office.”