‘Tis the season to be safe and protected! The holidays are a joyous time for families and friends to gather and share in the festivities of the season. It can also be a time when we let down our guard and forget that criminals are on the prowl for crimes of opportunity. We can more easily fall into a false sense of security during the holidays — don’t do it.
With the holiday season comes shopping for gift-giving. We often get caught up in the holiday music, beautiful lights, and late-night extended shopping hours. It is then, more than ever, that we should enhance our awareness and safety protocols. Consider using online shopping options to avoid the crowds and criminals who may be lying in wait. Remember, online shopping can lead to identity theft and credit card fraud to name a few. Do not use public computers, open, or shared networks to input your personal and financial data when shopping online. Review your credit card statements for any irregularities or fraudulent activity and report them immediately.
Avoid shopping alone, if possible, and carry your self-defense tools and situational awareness with you. Identifying your escape routes, cover, and concealment options upon arrival to your destination takes the guesswork out of your getaway plan. Wear clothing that is comfortable and allows for ease of movement. If you need to use an ATM (automatic teller machine), use one that is in a well-lit area or that has a drive-up option, where possible. Be aware of anyone who may be watching you and be prepared to exit quickly, if needed. Be careful to protect your pin number when entering it on the keypad. When shopping, keep your cash in your front pocket. Consider carrying a decoy wallet with small bills and expired gift cards in case of a robbery attempt. You should maintain a copy of your debit and credit card(s) in a safe place in case you discover that your card(s) have been lost or compromised.
You also have the option to ask mall or store security to escort you to your vehicle if you are feeling unsafe. As always, practice your plan of action should an unplanned attack ensue. Have your keys ready to unlock your doors as you approach your vehicle. Program your doors to only open your driver side door with your key fob, if possible. Carry a small flashlight on your keychain to check in and around your vehicle before entering. If you need to unload your packages while shopping, lock them in your trunk and move your vehicle to a new parking space. Be aware of strangers entering your personal space or “protective bubble”. They may be attempting to distract you or worse.
According to the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department, there are several safety considerations to help reduce your chances of being victimized during the holiday season:
- Use an automatic timer for your indoor and outdoor lights, especially when traveling
- Have your mail and newspaper deliveries stopped while away
- Employ someone to shovel your walkway for appearance that you are at home
- Don’t display gifts where they can be easily seen from doors or windows
- When shopping, park in a well-lighted parking space, lock your car doors and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk
- Use credit cards instead of carrying large amounts of cash when shopping
- Carry a crossbody purse or place your wallet in a front pocket
- Use an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) blocking wallet to avoid your credit card information from being scanned
- Research organizations asking for charitable donations, especially during the holidays
- Never leave your vehicle running while you are inside of your home or a store
- Be cautious when opening your door to accept packages
- Prepare a home inventory by taking photos and videos of items in your home, include descriptions and serial numbers for your insurance company in case your home is burglarized
Regarding home safety, the holiday season is a great time to check your carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers, as well as replace expiring items in your first aid kit. Reviewing your home escape plan with all occupants, assigning or redefining roles, and confirming code words are important reminders for emergency preparedness drills. If you have visiting guests (family, sitters, etc.), review the safety plan with them during their stay. When decorating your tree and home, verify that lights and cords are in good working condition to avoid shock and fires. Use indoor lights indoors and outdoor lights outdoors. Never leave candles unattended. When decorating and installing lights, be careful about increased fall risks and electrical incidents. Ensure that your ladder is stable and never place it on an uneven surface. It is also helpful to have someone hold the ladder for you, if available. Turn off all holiday lights before leaving your home or going to bed.
The holiday season is a great time to verify that fire extinguishers are functional and easily accessible. For live Christmas trees, be sure to maintain the proper water levels to reduce the potential for fire hazards by watering it every day. Pine needles should be pliable and should not easily fall off. Regarding artificial Christmas trees, look for the fire-resistant label before making your purchase. Keep all trees away from heat sources such as radiators, space heaters, and fireplaces. Additionally, have your chimney inspected and cleaned to avoid devastating fires. Never leave your fireplace burning while you are away. As a resource, the American Red Cross can assist with educating you and your family about home fire safety and smoke detectors through their Home Fire Campaign. Visit www.redcross.org for additional information.
When purchasing gifts for children, be mindful of the safety tips offered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. For children under the age of three, avoid toys with small parts that may cause choking. Dispose of plastic wrappings and packaging immediately after gifts are open to avoid associated dangers that may lead to choking or suffocation. Do not allow children under eight years old to play with deflated balloons, as they may cause aspiration or suffocation. For young children under the age of eight, avoid toys with sharp edges and electric toys with parts that heat up. When purchasing riding toys, be sure to also purchase the appropriate safety gear, including helmets, for the child’s safety.
Prepare all vehicles for winter weather and travel. Perform all vehicle scheduled maintenance, check tires and fluids, and review your emergency roadside kit for necessary items in case unexpected emergencies arise. Store items in your vehicle such as a warm blanket, extra clothing, comfortable shoes, first aid kit, flashlight, reflective hazard signs, seatbelt cutter, window breaker, water, non-perishable snacks, cash, hat, gloves, ice scraper, jumper cables, sand or cat litter, small shovel, and road flares with waterproof matches, to name a few. As a reminder, wear your seatbelt, do not drive distracted, and do not drive impaired. Increase your stopping distance and speed during inclement weather conditions that include rainy, snowy, and icy conditions.
Be aware of post-holiday burglars when throwing out gift boxes. Breakdown the boxes and place them in garbage bags to avoid advertising new gifts you have received that may entice criminals. “Porch Pirates” will be tempted to intercept your deliveries. Sometimes they follow the delivery trucks and steal your package the moment it’s delivered. Consider tracking your packages and asking a neighbor, who is typically at home, to retrieve the package for you when it’s delivered or ask if you can have it delivered to their home. Check with your local post office to see if packages can be held for pick up or check for alternative delivery locations. When meeting to exchange money for goods from online shoppers, choose a safe location, such as a police department parking lot or other high traffic area. Contact your local police department for the safest places to make the exchange.
It is important to always practice safety measures, but especially during the holidays. Safety planning and awareness are the keys to an enjoyable and incident-free holiday season!