BERLIN – With hundreds of local residents joining the throngs of holiday shoppers this weekend, local law enforcement officials this week took the opportunity to remind them of a few common sense practices to ensure they, and their packages, return home safely.
Thousands of holiday shoppers are flocking to area shopping centers, stores and outlet centers this weekend to take advantage of big Black Friday specials, but, unfortunately, there will be an in-kind criminal element ready to take advantage of even the smallest opportunity. It happens every year and local law enforcement agencies step up patrols and increase their visibility.
“Unfortunately, holiday shoppers tend to let their guard down sometimes during the holidays because they’re distracted or hurrying from one place to the other, which can make them vulnerable to the criminal element that tends to hang around shopping areas this time of year,” Colonel Doug Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office said this week. “Fortunately, we don’t have a ton of issues in this area, but there are some out there and they’re waiting for an opportunity.”
Dods urged shoppers to adhere to the same safety practices they follow the rest of the year. Being hurried or distracted is no reason to abandon the most basic precautions, he said.
“So much of this is just common sense,” he said. “Try not to shop alone if you can, and if you can’t, try to shop during daylight hours, or when the crowds are largest. Now there are those who prefer to shop during non-peak times to avoid the crowds, but there is strength in numbers, so shoppers should try not to get into situations when they are alone, such as isolated parking lots.”
Dods said individuals carrying a lot of bags and packages across dark parking lots can make easy targets for would-be criminals and suggested a few basic safety tips for holiday shoppers. For example, it’s a good idea to know exactly where one is parked to avoid walking around aimlessly in parking lots searching for a vehicle. In addition, shoppers should have their keys ready and in their hand before they start looking for their car.
“Have your keys in your hand and get in as quickly as possible,” he said. “Again, so much of this is just common sense. You have to be aware of what’s going on around you, and if you find your car quickly and get in and get it locked, you can avoid being an easy target.”
By the same token, Dods said it’s always a good idea to give one’s vehicle a quick once-over before getting in.
“Don’t automatically just hop in, especially if the vehicle was opened,” he said. “We don’t see this too often, but there have been cases of would-be criminals getting into cars when they are unlocked from far away. That can create a whole different set of problems.”
Ocean City Police public information officer Mike Levy said most people have their best protection from criminal activity on shopping center parking lots right in their hands and forget to utilize it.
“Just about every vehicle these days has remote keys that include a panic button or other alarm device,” he said. “People sometimes forget about it, but if they keep their finger on the button as they walk across a dark parking lot toward their cars, they can quickly sound an alarm that will attract the attention of other shoppers and scare off any would-be criminals.”
Levy also suggested keeping one’s cell phone where it can easily be reached at the first sign of trouble.
“That’s another big thing,” he said. “Keep your cell phone handy in an easily accessible pocket or somewhere else on your person. Try not to have to stand out there digging around in your purse for your phone if something happens or someone suspicious is following you.”
Of course, it goes without saying one should always keep their vehicle locked and, when possible, packages should be stored in the trunk or somehow out of sight.
“These are crimes of opportunity and criminal types take the path of least resistance,” said Dods. “Keep your car locked and keep your packages out of sight as much as you can. A car full of packages is an open invitation to theft. Also, take your packages in when you get home and keep your vehicle locked. The possibility of theft doesn’t end on the mall parking lot.”
Even after the holiday presents have been delivered and opened, the possibility of theft and burglary continue to be a danger.
“Try not to put a lot of boxes outside for the trash or recycling that say ‘look what we just got’,” said Dods. “That can be an invitation for crime. Also, be aware of what shipping companies you’re expecting and when they are supposed to arrive so they don’t leave packages sitting on your porch.”
Of course, it goes without saying one should keep an eye on their money and their credit cards as some would-be thieves are working behind the counters of stores and not out in the parking lots.
“Unfortunately, when you use credit and debit cards so often during the holidays, your numbers get out there and there are those who would take advantage of that,” said Dods. “Check your card activity and balances often. Sometimes, charges can turn up on there that you don’t notice because they are hidden in a bunch of other charges.”