Thinking proactively key to preventing theft this holiday season

Published 12:23 am Saturday, December 23, 2017

The holidays have arrived and so have those who would take advantage of the gift-giving spirit.

Few things ruin Christmas like being the victim of crime, but there are ways to be a bit more proactive when it comes to theft.

“The big thing about the holiday season is — especially when homeowners buy expensive gifts like computers, stereo systems, televisions — once you’re done with the boxes, break them down (when put out on the street for trash pick-up) or wait until the day of trash pick-up,” said Washington Police and Fire Services Director Stacy Drakeford. According to Drakeford, to burglars, boxes can act as advertisement for items that can be found inside a home; keeping them off the street is a preventative measure.

Writing down the serial numbers and taking a quick photo of any pricey gifts can also be helpful, he said: if a home is broken into and those items are stolen, then investigators have a jump-start on identifying stolen goods.

“Do not leave valuables in your car and lock your car, because what we’ve found is people are going around testing doors to see if doors are locked,” Drakeford said. “With merchandise: put it in your trunk or take it inside. That way you are not giving a thief an opportunity to steal from you.”

For those going out of town to visit friends and family, Lt. Jim Vanlandingham, head of criminal investigations for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, said there are simple precautions that can be taken to make sure the homes of those traveling aren’t a target for would-be thieves. Most obvious would be to have a neighbor pick up mail or newspapers so it appears that someone is in the residence, but asking a friend or neighbor to move a vehicle in the driveway from day to day or turn on various lights within the home make the appearance of occupation a lot more believable.

According to the Better Business Bureau serving eastern North Carolina, residents are not only at risk for break-ins, but a variety of scams that prey on the unsuspecting. The following is a list of the “12 Scams of Christmas,” or current scams to look out for, from BBB:

  • Secret Sister Exchange: A social media scam that claims if you buy a $10 gift and send it to a “secret sister,” you will receive anywhere from six to 36 gifts in return. Gift exchanges are popular this time of year, but according to the U.S. Postal Service, this type of gift chain is illegal. It falls into the “chain letter” category. They don’t work because the promise that all participants in a chain letter will be winners is mathematically impossible. So if you’re looking for a fun gift exchange activity, this one isn’t the way to do it. This has been spotted on a number of social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • Help Scams: Scammers are making calls, claiming to be a grandchild, niece, nephew or friend, and say that they are traveling and need emergency financial help to cover medical or legal expenses. Never wire money and always verify that person in need is actually someone you know.
  • Seasonal Travel Scams: The holidays are a big time for travel. And for the most part, booking online is the most convenient way for many to go but remember, scammers could be on the other end of the computer. Before booking, make sure you are using a reputable, verified website. If the price for airfare, rental car or hotel sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of unrealistic prices and deals.
  • Puppy Scams: Be careful when buying pets online, especially during the holidays. You can end up with an unhealthy puppy from a puppy mill, or no pet at all because the dog never existed and it was all a scam. Always research where you are buying the dog from and never wire any money. Be sure to pick up the puppy in person instead of paying someone to ship it.
  • Phony charities: ‘Tis the season to donate, but be wary of fake charities. Do your research and double check the site URL. Also be sure to research charities through the BBB Wise Giving Alliance at
  • Online ads for hot toys and gadgets: When stores sell out, you may find the items online on different websites than the official retailer’s- but for a much steeper price. Some sellers will take your money and run, leaving you without the gift or money to buy it elsewhere. It’s easy to mimic a real website, with logos and terminology. Be sure to look out for red flags including, http (not the more secure https), no contact information or requests to pay by wire or money card.
  • Fake Shipping Notifications: Think twice before clicking links in shipping notification emails. Always verify the shipping company before giving out your personal information.
  • Santa Scammers: What better than a letter from Santa to light up your child’s face? Many trusted companies offer charming and personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents. Always check the website’s privacy policies before entering any information to know how it will be used, if you don’t see a policy then leave that website. Keep your computer secure by using firewalls, anti-spyware and antivirus software.
  • Public Wi-Fi: While Wi-Fi is convenient, it does have risks. Never turn off your firewall, and make sure your antivirus is up to date whenever you are connected to public Wi-Fi. Scammers are after your money and identity. Exercise caution when using public Wi-Fi while surfing social media sites, and especially when you use online banking.
  • Fake Apps: Today, smartphones act not only as a phone but also a credit card, house key, camera and more. Malware can access your device via apps. Do your research and stick to official app stores when downloading.
  • Malware E-Cards: E-Cards are a fun way to send holiday greetings, but be careful as senders like to attach viruses along with them. Don’t click on emails from someone you don’t know or from a name you don’t recognize. When in doubt, delete the email. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Counterfeit Goods: Luxury goods at low prices are almost always cheap counterfeits. Handbags, jewelry, watches, wallets and electronic devices are among the top of the list of items counterfeited. Always buy from reputable sellers and check the web for signs of counterfeit goods.