NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and that means it's the time of year when busy people can become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime.
MAIL PACKAGE THEFTS
The more we shop online, the more opportunities we give thieves to steal our purchases. We see it every year in surveillance home videos starring pesky thieves walking up to porches and taking the packages delivered to doorsteps.
It happened to Hemalakshmi Kannan last year after Thanksgiving. Her package was stolen while she was at home alone with her baby. She and her husband had ordered gifts from Amazon and timed it so that they would arrive when their family visiting from India arrived. Since it's customary to give gifts in India, the lack of one presented disappointment, which later turned to fear.
"To think that someone walked right to your front door, picked up your stuff and just left when you're inside the house... it's terrifying, actually," said Kannan. "It's scary."
The incident changed the way Kannan waits for her packages. Now she tracks it all the way up to the front door. She never thought it was necessary since she lives on a dead end road in a residential neighborhood.
"It could happen anywhere," she said.
Kannan says Amazon was great and worked with her on a refund. However, that can't possibly be the ending for every case.
Here are some reminders to make sure your gift gets to you:
- Stay at home during the delivery.
- Get packages delivered to work.
- Ask a trusted neighbor or friend who is home during the day, if your package(s) can be delivered to their home.
- Use real time tracking (a small fee may apply).
- Request signature upon delivery, or ask the shipper to hold the package at their facility for you to pick up.
- Use safe sites like PO boxes or an Amazon locker (limited to select cities).
- Customize your package shipments. Many shippers, such as UPS and FED-EX, will allow you to request a specific delivery date, time or location.
- If you are purchasing items from a large retailer online or by telephone, have the packages sent to a local store for pick up.
- Provide the shipper with delivery instructions if you want your packages left in a specific spot at your home.
And if you see anyone taking packages from homes in your community, call the police department immediately!
Things to also keep in mind when you're buying online:
- Be sure you’re using a computer that has up to date security software and a firewall.
- Do not reply to requests for you to “verify” your password or credit card information unless you have initiated the contact (don’t reply to an e-mail with this information).
- Always make sure you are on a secure site before entering payment information. Look for the icon of a locked padlock or be sure the web address is “https” not just “http.”
MALL AND STORE SHOPPING TIPS
Shopping safety isn't exclusive to just ordering items online. Police are increasing patrols around many shopping centers, but here is what you can do to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
Holiday crime prevention tips while shopping:
- Stay alert to your surroundings and the people around you.
- Shop with a friend; there is safety in numbers.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
- Pay for purchases with a check, credit or debit card.
- If possible, carry only your driver’s license, personal checks, or necessary credit or debit cards.
- If you must carry a purse, do not wrap the straps around your arms or shoulders. Carry a clutch purse tightly under your arm or wear a fanny pack.
- Do not carry a wallet in a back pocket. It should be placed in a front pocket of your pants for safety.
- Be alert that crooks look for the “high dollar” shopping bags with your purchases. When possible, slip bags/purchases in a plain, nondescript bag.
- Watch purchases while eating in mall food courts; bags can easily be switched or taken.
- Educate your children about what to do if they are lost as well as “Stranger Danger”.
- Don’t overburden yourself with too many packages. Use store’s package pick-up.
- Have your car keys ready in hand before leaving the store.
- If you do return to your vehicle to unload purchases, place them in the trunk of the vehicle, not visible on a back seat.
- Try not to shop until the store closes. Remember, fewer people are present at this time
Holiday crime prevention tips for parking lots:
- Shop early and leave early to avoid evening darkness.
- Park in a high visibility area and check for lighting in case you leave during hours of darkness.
- If at all possible, try not to park next to a vehicle with dark, tinted windows.
- Prior to arriving at the shopping center, lock all your valuables in the trunk of your vehicle.
- Leave the store with others, not alone.
- Ask security to escort you to your vehicle if you feel uncomfortable.
- Walk briskly, confidently, and directly through the parking lot. Be cautious of people handing out fliers or asking questions in the parking area.
- Watch for people who may be following you. This can occur inside as well as outside. If you suspect someone following you, report it to security immediately.
Holiday crime prevention tips at home:
- Keep the outside of your home well-lit with doors locked and window curtains closed.
- Don’t display gifts beneath the Christmas tree which can be seen from windows or doors.
- After the holidays, don’t advertise gifts received by the boxes left for the garbage collection. Destroy boxes and place in a sealed, non-clear garbage bag.
- If you ever see any suspicious activity call the police immediately. Do not try to address the situation yourself.
- Program police phone numbers in your cell phones so you have the number if you need it:
- Emergency 911
- VA State Police #77
The City of Suffolk has brochures and other helpful safety information on its website: www.suffolkva.us/spd/holidaycrimesafety
KING5 in Seattle contributed to this report