COVINGTON -- The folks in law enforcement know crime is going to increase for the holidays, but they're hoping by offering some proactive suggestions to residents who'll take their advice, they won't become a statistic.
"If we can get the information out to the folks before they become a victim, that's what we want to do," said Public Information Officer Lt. Keith Crum of the Newton County Sheriff's Office. "Mixed in with all the holiday shoppers are going to be a few people with malicious intent to steal from you and your family. These suspects are going to select people whom they believe are the easiest targets, but by taking a few extra precautions, you can avoid being a victim."
From his experience in seeing holiday expectations marred by crime, Crum has developed a list of do's and don'ts.
"Does it appear someone is trailing you in a store? Oftentimes thieves work in a team that includes a female accomplice," Crum warns. "If anyone gets so close that they enter your personal space, take that as a warning. Guard your wallet and add distance between you and the intruder. If it happens more than once, don't hesitate to notify a store employee."
He also suggests keeping purses and wallets near at hand. Never leave a purse unattended in a shopping cart or lay a wallet down on a counter.
"It's easy for thieves to distract you and then suddenly snatch your wallet and disappear," he said.
Crum also advised against carrying large amounts of cash.
"Other people will see the money when you make a purchase and you may become a target," he warned.
Crum said one of the best things people can do to stay safe is to be aware of their surroundings. Look around and see if someone is watching you or following you.
"Bad actors who know they have been spotted and are being watched are much less likely to proceed with a crime," Crum said.
And, as shoppers leave stores and go into parking lots, they should always have their keys in their hand.
"It will save you time entering your car and if you have a key fob with a panic alarm, know how it works," he said.
When going from store to store, don't leave purchases in plain view in your vehicle while continuing to shop.
"A rock and two seconds and your window could be smashed and all your packages gone," he warned. A better option is locking purchases in your trunk.
Also, in addition to guarding financial information, be wary of revealing too much personal information on the Internet.
"Be careful about posting your travel plans on Internet sites," Crum said. "This would let everyone, including your shady second cousin once removed who is said to be back on drugs, know when you will be out of town."
And even though it may be more convenient to let someone borrow your credit card for a specific purchase, Crum says don't do it.
"A high percentage of identity theft is committed by a friend or relative of the victim. Think twice about letting someone use your credit card even once," he said. "If you do, be forewarned, they now have your credit card information and there is nothing to keep them from running up thousands of dollars in charges later."
Crum says by all means residents should record model and serial numbers of items, even if your plan is to give the item as a gift.
"If the present is later stolen, law enforcement has a much better chance of recovery with that information," he said.
"Newton County deputies will have an increased presence in and around commercial centers this holiday season," he said. "This does not indicate anything is wrong or that an area is dangerous. We have simply shifted personnel to add extra patrols through commercial areas, parking lots and have deputies walk through stores during high volume times."
Crum urges residents to pick up the phone and call 911 if they see anything suspicious.
"Aware citizens calling in suspicious activity has resulted in numerous arrests for burglary and thefts," he said. "(Law enforcement) and your neighbors will appreciate you for making the call."