November 28, 2012

Holiday Safety Tips

The Holiday season is here and we are all busy decorating, preparing for parties, having friends and family over and buying gifts. These activities bring with them their own special risks and we should take a minute during this time to think about how to stay safe. 

Holiday Decorating Tips

Having a live Christmas tree is one of the nicest things about the holiday season. The smell of pine has become a symbol of Christmas. A live tree can be a hazard, however, if not cared for properly.

Buy a tree stand with a good sized water reservoir and keep plenty of water in the stand. In addition, use an additive for the water to keep the tree green and in good condition. A dry tree can be a fire hazard.

Also remember to turn off the Christmas tree lights when not in the room, especially at night when sleeping, or when the house is unoccupied. There have been instances of tree lights getting too hot, or shorting out and catching the tree on fire.

If candles are a part of your home’s decorations, follow the same rules. Put out the candle flames when no one is in the room, and make sure the candle is sitting on a non-flammable surface, such as a large plate.

Christmas presents are a integral part of the holiday, and unfortunately they are also a temptation to burglars. Don’t keep presents underneath the tree where they might be visible from a window to someone passing outside. Hide them out of sight until Christmas morning, so you don’t wake up and find them gone before you have a chance to open them.

Vacation Safety Tips

If you plan to travel during the holidays, make sure your home is safe. Burglars know many people leave their homes vacant around the holidays and they are just looking for an easy target. Don’t give them one.

·         Make sure the doors and windows at your home are all locked up tight when you leave. Turn on the alarm if you have one.
·         Don’t leave lights on 24 hours a day. Put automatic timers on several lights and even on a radio. Set them so they will turn on and off at random times in different rooms—especially the bathroom.
·         Have newspaper and mail delivery stopped while you are gone or have a friend pick your mail and papers up every day.
·         Leave information on where you can be contacted in an emergency with a trusted neighbor; ask them to watch your home and to park in the driveway occasionally.
·         Don’t publicize or talk about vacations ahead of time. Burglars are always listening.
·         Notify the Sheriff’s Office of your plans, and fill out a “premises-check” form, available at the nearest Sheriff’s Office Substation. Deputies will keep an eye on your house when they are in the neighborhood.
·         Arrange to have the lawn mowed.
·         Give your house a lived in appearance. A residence that presents a lived in appearance is a deterrent to burglars.
·         Have a neighbor occasionally use your garbage cans.
·         Leave drapes in a normal position to maintain a lived in appearance.

Shopping safety

Revelers enjoy the holiday season. So do criminals because there are plenty of valuables to steal and many people who may not be paying close attention because of all the distractions.

·         When you are out shopping, stay alert and aware of what is going on around you. The holiday season can be distracting, with lots of glittering lights, holiday decorations and crowds of people. Make sure you pay attention to what is happening at all times.
·         Park in a well lighted area and be sure to lock your car doors. Put shopping bags and gifts in the trunk so they aren’t visible to those passing by your car.
·         Avoid carrying cash if at all possible. Use credit cards for holiday purchases. This makes you less vulnerable to thieves, and many cards offer increased warranties, and other protections for your purchases. Make sure you check your credit card purchases on line, though, to make sure no one has stolen your card number, or is using your identity. Remember: while some banks offer protections for debit card purchases, only credit cards have guaranteed protection against fraud.
·         Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Don’t put your purse in a shopping cart and then walk away while shopping. Purses and wallets get snatched from carts frequently and it can happen so fast you won’t even see it. Carry your purse close to your body, not dangling by the straps. Put your wallet in an inside pocket or in a front pants pocket. This will deter pickpockets and purse snatchers.
·         If you are shopping with your children, talk to them ahead of time about what to do if they get lost in the crowd. Teach them to go immediately to a store clerk or a security guard and ask for help. If they are old enough, make sure they know your home phone number, your cell phone number and that your name is not just “Mommy” or “Daddy”.

Fraud during the holidays

There are many opportunities for criminals to steal your money during the holidays and rest assured there are many out there who are planning their next scheme as we speak. Here are just a few possibilities.

Criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts and it isn’t unusual for people to go door to door looking for “charitable” donations when, in fact, they are there to line their own pockets. Ask for identification and ask for specifics about how the money will be used. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers, don’t give. Help a charity you know and like – and are sure of – instead.

Remember: we always say if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This applies to internet purchases as well, including purchases on Craigslist and eBay.

If you are shopping on line, make sure the web site you are shopping on is a legitimate one. When in doubt, shop elsewhere.

Email is a wonderful tool for all of us, especially criminals. Cybercriminals often send fake invoices and delivery notices that look like they are from a legitimate business like FedEx , UPS or the Post Office. Banking and credit card scams are also rampant. Criminals try to trick you into divulging your bank account numbers, passwords, social security numbers and other information which will allow them to steal your identity. To confirm authenticity of any of these emails, get a phone number for the company from their official web site and call them for confirmation.

Holiday e-cards are fun, but beware of clicking on one that comes from someone you don’t know. It could contain malware, spyware or other hidden nastiness.

Many of us use our credit cards for holiday purchases. Make sure you keep close track of your purchases and check your statements frequently to make sure there are no fraudulent purchases made by someone who has stolen your credit card information.

Play it safe—and have a happy holiday.

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