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Don't Let A Grinch Steal Your Holiday Joy: Safety Tips For The Holidays

It’s fall and tis the season for family, feast, festivities, gatherings amongst old friends, gifts, joy and thankfulness. However, with this season also comes the season for Grinch's that wish to steal the peace of mind and joy from those who are unassuming and ill prepared.

Growing up I can remember where I lived in Orangeburg to be relatively safe. I lived in a community where all the adults on the street knew each other and kids would play outside together until the street lights came on. We lived in a bubble of safety or so we thought. When I was in highschool I played varsity football for Orangeburg Wilkinson High and on this particular fall friday night our team was set to drive to Walterboro, SC to play a team. My parents were coming along for the trip with the team to support but had to leave my college age sister behind due to another obligation she had that night. It was a great night and we even managed to win the game. That night, after the game my parents got a call from our cousin, who lived down the street from us. He began to inform my parents that someone had attempted to break into our house with my sister home but she was safe and at their house. We raced back and found my sister unharmed but very emotionally distraught from the incident.

As she detailed, she was in her room at the front of the house, when she heard a crash like a glass had fallen in the kitchen. She then went to investigate, but when rounding the corner to enter the kitchen, she saw broken glass and when glaring up from the floor to the back door of the kitchen, she saw the face of a man trying to break into our home! She said she immediately panicked and her first instinct was to get very far away and she bolted out the front door of our house and down the street to our cousins house where the police were called. The police arrived 7mins after the call and the criminal got away in the night. For a long time after that incident our peace of mind and sense of security in our home and neighborhood was disturbed. We learned a valuable lesson that night, “Don’t assume bad things won’t happen in otherwise good places, crime occurrence is all about opportunity.”

In the remainder of this blog post I hope to enlighten you on a few tips and pointers for around your home and while navigating day to day life that I hope will help you and those you care for to remain safe and reduce the opportunities a grinch will have to victimize you. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all the possible risks and dangers to be aware of but some of the top concerns in my opinion for general safety.

Holiday Shopping Out In Public

As stated earlier criminals are well aware that this time of year people are out and about completing holiday shopping, and while many Americans these days avoid the hassle of dealing with crowds and traffic by shopping online there is still a subset of people who are either old fashioned or procrastinators that will choose to shop in person. When making plans to get shopping done especially after dark the following are some points to consider.

  1. Don’t shop alone, and if you have no other option at least make sure a trusted friend or family member is in the loop of your shopping plans for the day and periodically checks up on you.

  2. Be mindful of becoming situationally unaware when in transitional spaces(i.e spaces where there are unknown elements/subjects and spaces which aren’t intimately familiar to you.) That means don’t become too engrossed in distractors like your cell phone, or very involved conversations.

  3. If you must use your cellphone in public for prolonged periods of time find a wall and put your back up to it. This ensures that all possible threats must face you head on and are not afforded the opportunity to catch you off guard from a blind spot.

  4. Keep your cell phone charged and on your person. If you will be out for prolonged shopping and there is a chance your phone battery could die before you return back home be sure to carry a portable usb phone charger.

  5. If exiting a store and something doesn’t feel right or you get the feeling you are being followed, turn around go back in the store and ask for security to escort you to your car. Wanting to insure your safety is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

  6. When you return to your vehicle from shopping, quickly put your items/small humans in the vehicle, get in the driver's seat, lock the doors, and leave. Don’t dilly dally around checking text messages,emails, shopping lists, etc. These distractors can paint you as a target of opportunity for a watchful criminal.

  7. Don’t carry around large sums of cash to make purchases. You can bet every time you pull out a large wad of cash to pay for something someone is watching you. Instead opt to utilize credit, debit cards, or checks for purchases.

Going Out of Town for the Holidays and General Home Security

Leaving your humble abode for the holidays can be great to catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen in forever and form beautiful memories to last a lifetime. Here are a few tips to help ensure your travel preparation helps you avoid any unfortunate surprises upon your return.

  1. When packing your vehicle for your road trip try to do so from the concealment of a closed garage or a backyard carport in a fenced yard. If these are not options for you, load up your vehicle either in the early morning hours before people are generally out and about in the neighborhood or later in the evening once it has gotten dark. Nothing screams easy target for burglary that seeing someone looking like they are packing for an extended trip away.

  2. Leave some external home lighting on when away. There are many smart lighting options or timers that can be set to come on once it is dark. A totally dark home for extended periods screams” no one is home”. Darkness on the exterior of a home also provides concealment for a would-be crook.

  3. Make sure your yard is well kept before leaving. Shrubs that have overgrown, tall grass, and trees with drooping limbs/leaves all provide hiding places for a potential crook, and can obscure the view of neighbors to detect said crook.

  4. Get a security system if it's in your budget and make sure it is set before leaving. At bare minimum the system should have window shock sensors, motion detection, and door sensors for every entry point on the ground floor of your home.

  5. If a security system is not yet in your budget, consider buying a decoy system which includes a security system yard sign or beware of dog sign, and decoy exterior cameras. Sometimes painting the illusion of heightened security is all that's required to make a criminal think twice about breaking into your home.

  6. Become friends with your neighbors and develop a sense of community. Once you have a sense of trust give them a heads up when you will be away and ask them to pick up your mail/newspapers daily so they don’t collect. When they are away from home be sure to return the favor.

  7. Consider beefing up your home locks and adding longer set screws for strike plates in your door frame. If you contact a local locksmith like Florence Lock & Key, many are more than happy to do a walk around of your home and give you their professional opinion on how you can increase your security with whatever budget you may have.

  8. After Christmas don’t leave a bunch of amazon boxes or boxes of goods with high value (tv’s, game systems, audio systems) outside your home waiting for trash day. This signals to a would-be criminal that you likely have items inside that are worth the risk of trying to steal. Instead break the boxes down and leave them in the garage until trash day or take them to the city/county dump yourself.

  9. Don’t announce travel plans in earshot of others you don’t know well.

Technological security

Social media and other forms of telecommunications are a huge part of our world today. We use them to keep up with friends/family, post memories, learn about fun events and new products, and even snoop on ex’ Here are a few tips to help make sure what you post and transmit electronically isn’t used for nefarious purposes.

  1. Remove your date of birth and location where you live from your social media profile. These tidbits of information can be pieces of a puzzle to help a cyber crook steal your identity.

  2. Don’t click on links in emails that look suspicious, not even if they say you have won some type of fantastic prize and you must click the link to claim. If you don’t remember entering a contest where you provided your email, chances are it is a phishing scam to steal your personal data in order to steal your identity. If you are unsure if an email is legitimate check the sender's email address server. Large professional businesses generally do not use yahoo, hotmail, gmail,or AOL to send business communications. Some small-start up businesses will use email servers such as gmail but only click on links if you recognize the business and have a relationship with them.

  3. Turn off the location notification for your social media post and don’t post your vacation photos to social media while on vacation. Doing so broadcast to everyone that you aren’t in town and your home is likely vacant.

  4. Don’t post pictures to social media that depict your house number and enough of a street view that someone local could view and figure out where you live. Same is true for not posting pictures that depict the license plates of vehicles you and family drive.

  5. Don’t fall prey to telephone scams. Don’t provide personal identifying information like social security numbers, financial information, or account username/passwords over the phone to anyone that calls you. A legitimate company that you do business with will have the needed data and will typically only require verification of your identity via a unique security phrase you previously established. You may also ask the caller to state your data they have and you can verify if it is correct, but don’t volunteer any assistance.

Parking Lot and Vehicle Security

  1. Holiday parking gets pretty tight and space gets limited. Don’t be tempted to park on side streets/side lots that aren’t frequently occupied with other patrons or security.

  2. Whenever you are in your vehicle at a stand still or exit your vehicle for any length of time, make sure your vehicle doors are locked.

  3. Never park in an area that is not well lit or in areas where street lights are broken.

  4. Keep valuable items in the vehicle hidden from view. This includes taking down items like radar detectors out of the front windshield and hiding them under the seat when parking and leaving the vehicle for prolonged periods of time.

As stated earlier, this by no means is an exhaustive list of risks but some of the top ones that come to my mind. Use these tips as a starting point to help improve the personal safety of you, your family, and friends this holiday season and into the new year. Until the next time peace, blessings, and good fortune to you all.

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