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.
“Unfortunately, criminals do not take time off for the holidays,” said Sheriff Webre. “We’ve had incidents of stolen gifts and even yard decorations proving criminality knows no bounds. Thieves and con artists use the distraction of the holiday season to prey on unsuspecting consumers. We ask citizens to employ any and every method to protect yourself and your family from being victimized.”
To help ensure a joyous holiday season, deputies are already conducting extra patrols in and around shopping centers and retail outlets, and those will continue throughout the holidays. Sheriff Webre encourages everyone to utilize these safety tips when shopping at a store:
- Be smart about parking. Lock your vehicles and park in well-lit, well-traveled areas away from large objects which can serve as hiding places. Never hide a second set of keys in a vehicle, and never leave a vehicle running or unattended.
- Keep purchases out of sight. Hide all purchases in your trunk or with blankets, and save the most expensive purchases for last. Change parking locations each time you return to your vehicle in case thieves are watching.
- Locate your keys before arriving at your vehicle. Do not make more purchases than you are able to carry, and never put bags down to open a door. Check the backseat before entering your vehicle. Upon entering, lock your doors immediately.
- Avoid using your phone, especially while walking to your vehicle. By using your phone, you are distracting your attention from your surroundings as well as your purchases. Thieves may use this distraction to target purchases or even the phone itself.
- 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.
- Avoid shopping alone, 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 can actually hinder your own safety efforts by diverting your attention.
- Carry a minimal amount of cash. When possible, keep cash in your front pocket instead of a wallet or purse. If you must withdraw cash from an ATM, only withdraw the amount needed and shield the keypad from bystanders when entering your pin. Be aware of your surroundings.
Many consumers opt to make purchases on the internet, but online shopping comes with its own set of risks. Be sure to always follow these safety tips when shopping online:
- Only make secure online transactions. When entering credit card or personal information, ensure the address begins with “https” or has a “secure” icon on the address bar. Always type the website address in yourself instead of clicking a link. This will help you avoid phishing websites and emails designed to look official but steal your information.
- Shop with companies you know and trust. If you find a deal you can’t pass up from an unknown company, do background research on the company online to ensure it’s legitimate.
- Avoid shopping from a mobile device. If you choose to do so, opt to use your mobile network or home Wi-Fi connection, but always avoid using public Wi-Fi. Ensure your phone operating system and any apps you are using to shop are up to date to ensure the latest security fixes are in place.
- Ensure packages are delivered to a person. When having items shipped, choose a location where a person will be present in lieu of allowing packages to be left unattended or choose to pick up the package at the delivery company facility, when possible.
All shoppers should save all receipts and order confirmations as these are key in tracking down stolen property. If your credit card is lost, stolen or misused, immediately notify your credit card issuer. If you know your card to have been stolen or if fraudulent charges appear on your account, you should also contact the Sheriff’s Office to file a complaint. If possible, consumers are encouraged to always monitor online banking records for fraudulent activity, especially during the holiday season.
Once your purchases have made it to your home, you can continue to minimize the risk of theft by following these precautions:
- Always keep your home’s doors locked, and don’t forget to secure windows as well.
- Ensure merchandise and gifts are not visible from outside the residence by keeping blinds and curtains closed.
- Break down large boxes for high-value items instead of placing them near the roadside.
- Place all trash in black or dark-colored garbage bags before placing into a trash receptacle.
- Avoid any social media posts indicating you are not home.
- When out of town for an extended period, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to check on your house daily, picking up any mail and newspapers to avoid the appearance that no one is home.
Citizens are also advised to be wary of phone scams, especially for fake charities, which tend to occur during the holiday season. Always attempt to verify a charity by researching online, and NEVER give personal or financial information over the phone to an incoming caller.
“By following these holiday safety tips, you are not only helping to protect your family, but you’re also making it easier for us to catch criminals,” said Sheriff Webre. “Always be aware of your surroundings, use commons sense, and keep your distractions to a minimum when shopping in person. As always, report any suspicious persons or activity to the Sheriff’s Office.”