The holiday season is upon us. Every year between mid-November until after the first of the year. Our society with our many religions, customs and cultures celebrate for many reasons and for some reason this leads to SHOPPING, SHOPPING & SHOPPING. While most are out and about looking for those items that will please their loved ones and friends and acquaintances, there are those that are out for other nefarious reasons that have nothing to do with our enjoyment over the holiday season.
It only takes one negative incident to ruin our attitude towards giving and happiness. Many of those incidents can be prevented. Hopefully the suggestions that follow will assist you and your families protect your property from theft of opportunity.
With a little planning and thought you can prevent becoming a victim during this season and not just this season but all seasons year round. Take little time to preview what you wish to do and where and how you will do it.
Where do you shop?
Malls are popular and due to the number of people (crowds) can be relatively safe from predatory thieves. However, the parking lots designed for convenience of the customers can also be interpreted by the bad guys as a convenience for them for their shopping.
Let’s divide the two. When you shop, sooner or later you are going to have to pay for your acquired treasures. Think, when handling a transaction in a store where am I in the weakest position? Is your purse secure or do you place in on the counter next to you and then remove your wallet? Keep your purse secure to your body with the appropriate straps. Remove only a stripped-down version of your wallet. What do you really need in your wallet? Driver’s License, a second picture I.D. a single credit card, maybe two, an envelope to place your receipts that must be saved for possible/maybe returns. When dealing with the cashier remove (1) credit card, let them swipe it or do it yourself return it to your wallet immediately. Finish the transaction, pick up your goodies and step back. Check for your purse, wallet in your purse, receipts in the envelope in your purse and goodies in hand. This only takes seconds but this habit will help you recall what happened later. Now what could possibly happen with something so simple?
Remember the lady that was standing next to you when you were talking to the cashier with the many packages that for convenience she just placed on the counter next to you? One of those packages had a false bottom. Had you laid your wallet on the counter after replacing your credit card she could place one of her false bottomed packages over your wallet and suddenly comment “Darn I forgot such and such” pick up her packages and leave. Being cautious upon completion of your transaction you check the counter for your goodies and naturally no wallet on the counter so you must have placed in in your purse and you leave. Your wallet is gone!
Is this a fairy story? Nope, happens all the time. It is a booster bag or box. Just like the pocket in that nice ladies coat that does not have a bottom. She can fill it up and everything settles down to the hem and when one side is full she switches to the other side pocket.
It has been estimated by commercial businesses that if theft was completely stopped they could reduce their prices by somewhere between ten and thirty percent. Your carelessness while not intended contributes to those figures.
Say nothing happens during your transaction and you leave the store and are walking to your next sale of the year location. Being very aware of everything around you, you notice a group of teens maybe five or six running toward you but still five or six stores away. Suddenly one of them not paying any attention bumps into an elderly lady knocking her down, the group gathers around and profusely apologizes to the lady and promise to slow down and walk then help her up and leave. A few minutes later she realizes her purse or packages are gone. Yes, this happens from time to time and if you were the victim you would remember it forever, if your mother was the victim you would remember it and she would help you do so!
Let’s say you make it out to the parking lot, when you approach your car you notice the side door open. How could that be? I thought I locked the car. Where are all the packages all gift wrapped in the back seat? Someone else has been shopping in your back seat. Cover the items with a blanket. Put them in the trunk and cover them. When getting to your car that you know has packages in the trunk, don’t just throw your new package in the back seat and leave. Put it in the trunk with the rest. This is the time you can determine if anything has been stolen while you were shopping AND if you are lucky the mall might have a security camera taping the actions of people in the parking lot.
When you lock your car, before walking away take a moment to visually check the position of the lock buttons on the doors and try the door handle to be sure. Make sure your windows are rolled up (all the way).
To this point in time we have parked our car in the parking lot, entered the mall, made a purchase and returned to the car AND noted a number of ways you could have been ripped off (become a victim of theft).
The object of this paper is not to discourage anyone from shopping or enjoying the season, it is just a reminder that our world in not 100% perfect and ugly things happen BUT we can with a little thought lessen the chance of becoming the victim. These things happen in the real world, very frequently. Those items that were stolen? They are resold by the crooks for pennies on the dollar. That $500.00 watch you bought for your husband, it could bring $25.00 on the thieves’ market, still in the original box and with the receipt just in case the new owner wishes to return it for the full value.
OK, it happened, you are a victim of theft. What do you do now?
- Do not move your car.
- Call Law Enforcement
- Do not touch the car.
- Have your driver’s license available for the officer so that he/she can start the report.
- Insist that a report be taken Most insurance companies will not pay if you don’t have a police report. Statistically, if a report was not made it did not happen.
- The reason you kept your receipts separate from the bag with the gifts? You have accurate proof of purchase and value for the police report.
- Why not enter the vehicle? Finger prints are found on a great many crime scenes which is what this is.
- When the officer asks if you will prosecute the answer is YES! Did the crook do this to be forgiven? Not really! If you won’t prosecute does that mean you don’t want the property back if the crook is found?
NEXT – INTERNET PURCHASES
Now, from the convenience of your own home, you can find the item on the computer, identify the best price and availability and the method of shipping.
You can order the item, pay for it with a credit card and have it shipped to your home and get a complete record of the purchase that you can print out.
Now you can await delivery from the U.S. Postal Service, Fed Ex or UPS. All competent and efficient methods of delivery.
What could possibly go wrong? Where is the weakest link? DELIVERY, not because the companies making the delivery are not honest but because the crooks take advantage of the system. Some crooks have been known to go to the extreme of following a delivery truck and noting addresses, (casing). They look for quiet streets, homes with shrubbery around the front door making it less visible from the street, no dogs barking, no neighbors out and about and no lights on.
The easiest way to commit the theft of a package is just walk up to the door and take it. It takes only seconds and the crook is gone.
Now, if the crook is more refined, they might go so far as to prepare a booster box (plain brown box with shipping label etc.) walk up to the front door and place the booster box over the package just previously delivered and now that the stolen package is safely hidden inside the booster box via the false bottom they pick it up and walk off.
Prevention, is difficult since this is a crime of opportunity and seldom repeated at the same location. A few hints:
- Leave a radio on!
- Leave a light on!
- Install a security camera especially if you get a number of packages delivered
- Advise your neighbors you may be receiving a package on such and such a day. Reciprocate for them.
- Install a false security camera just out of reach with a sign. Can’t hurt!
- Trim bushes making the entry area easier to see from the street or to neighbors
- Think about a Neighborhood Watch Program. Talk to your local police!
- As with any theft, report it and insist on a report being taken.
- Let your neighbors know what happened
- Advise the delivery company
In this very short message we have covered just a few of the many methods used by crooks to separate you from your treasures during the holiday season. The object is to show that all of us can become aware of our weaknesses and prevent crimes of opportunity from occurring. Will we stop theft, not hardly? Can we reduce the opportunities for crooks to take advantage of us? Yes, we can! You may never know if adopting few little safe guards helps but it sure won’t hurt. If you pass these tidbits of information on to your friends and relatives it will over time make it safer for all of us.
This message has been brought to you by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Foundation. Please visit us on our website: http://www.jeffersoncountysheriffsfoundation.org you will find a comprehensive menu that provides information regarding different types of crime and other services that are provided for the safety of our community.
Retired Detective Sergeant, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
San Diego Police Department
Sycuan Police Department