Many locals are out spending money on gifts and planning trips this holiday season. These seemingly harmless activities can quickly take a turn for the worse.
Asst. Chief Jeff Hayes of the Leander Police Department said that although burglaries and thefts don’t necessarily increase this time of the year, there are more opportunities for criminals to steal.
“Take it, hide it, lock it or lose it, is a little quick phrase we like to use around this time of year,” Hayes said. “We always like to remind people that it’s your stuff. We want you to keep it.”
Vehicle safety is a particularly important precaution to take this time of the year. According to Hayes, one of the best ways to prevent vehicle burglary or theft is to take items with you when you are leaving your car in a public place.
“If you can’t take your items with you, hide them in the vehicle or place them in the trunk,” he said. “Most importantly, use and double-check the locks on you car, as around 90 percent of car burglaries occur when the car is simply left unlocked and no forced entry was used.”
Hayes advises residents who have garages to utilize them.
“If you can’t, definitely don’t store gifts in a car in your driveway,” he said.
It’s crucial to hide electronic cords or cases, as thieves will be lured into these vehicles thinking something valuable is inside.
“Don’t leave your keys in the car or the car running while you are loading or unloading packages,” Hayes added.
It isn’t just practicing vehicle safety, though. Using good sense to deter criminals from getting into your home is essential.
“Don’t let a Grinch steal your Christmas,” said Hayes. “Bad guys don’t care if they ruin your holidays as long as it is profitable to them.”
The Leander Police Department recommends watching what is said on social media, as too much information can give criminals an excellent opportunity to break into homes. Sharing information about how long an upcoming trip is going to last, or even divulging an expensive gift, can tempt burglars.
“If you have ordered gifts online, consider having them delivered to a workplace rather than having them left on your front porch,” Hayes said. “Lock up and use your house alarm, even on short trips away from the house. Keep that garage door closed.”
Hayes also recommends practicing basic crime prevention lighting around the home all year around, but especially during the holidays.
“Some folks put a tree in the front window, but don’t put presents in the window on display for all to see,” he said. “When Christmas is over, don’t put large electronic or appliance boxes out to advertise what you got for Christmas. Breakdown the boxes and bag them.”
For families who are going to be out of town for extended periods of time, asking a trusted friend, neighbor or family member to swing by to check on the house is a good idea.
The chaos of last-minute gift buying can also be dangerous.
“When out shopping or enjoying the holiday activities, your security and safety are still very important,” said Hayes. “Distraction is your worst enemy.”
Shoppers should avoid shopping alone, keep aware of their surroundings and park in well-lit and well-traveled areas.
“Remember where you parked to avoid long delays looking for your vehicle,” Hayes said. “Have your keys ready and in your hands as you walk from the store to your car. If you approach your vehicle, and you sense something suspicious or feel unsafe, go back inside and ask for security or a store employee to walk you to your car.”
Shoppers shouldn’t draw attention to themselves by wearing expensive jewelry and flashing large amount of cash. They also shouldn’t overload themselves with too many packages, as they can look like an easy target to criminals.
Driving can also be tricky during the hustle of the holidays. Traffic is always heavier during this time of the year and drivers are often more distracted and stressed.
“Practice the basics: buckle up, slow down, observe speed limits and don’t drive impaired,” Hayes said.
Drivers should pay particular attention to keeping a safe distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. They should also make stops during long journeys.
“During long trips, rotate drivers,” Hayes said. “If you’re too tired to drive, stop and get some rest. If you do stop, make sure your gifts and travel bags are secured.”
Anyone taking a long trip should do a pre-travel check of their vehicle and should carry an emergency road kit with them. Paying attention to the weather forecast this time of the year is also a good idea. Always let someone know your destination, your route and when you expect to arrive.
“You can’t enjoy the holidays if you don’t get to where you are going,” Hayes said.