by Jackson Sveen

With the holiday season upon us, homes and cars full of presents make tempting targets for criminals.

Local police departments urge citizens to pay extra attention to surroundings to keep from becoming a victim of increased crime that occurs during the holiday season.

Cornelius Police Sgt. George Brinzey said he sees an increase particularly in property crimes, such as vehicle and home break-ins and other forms of theft.

“Being terrified and not leaving your house won’t keep you safe from crime,” Brinzey said. “What will make you safer is getting into a mind set and thinking about situational awareness and home targeting.”

As a lot of people travel to visit loved ones and friends during the season, it’s essential to make your home appear occupied and have an alarm sign out front as visual deterrents from criminal activity.

Opening blinds to show off trees and other decorations will also allow criminals to see gifts inside the house.

Police advise simple things like closing your blinds and having bushes properly cut are also deterrents.

“The visual part of it really gets into (a criminal’s) head,” Brinzey said. “Why break-in here, when you can go five houses down where none of that’s in place. It’s just an unoccupied house with stuff in plain view.”

Pay attention while shopping

A lot of people will spend time and money holiday shopping in Huntersville at places like Birkdale Village and the Rosedale Shopping Center.

“Busy shoppers can be targeted for purse snatching and other forms of street robbery,” said Huntersville Police Sgt. Tom Seifert. “The malls are full of folks with money to spend. As we speed along, focused on getting through our treasure hunt, a criminal can size up a potential victim.”

Internet scams

Davidson Police Chief Jeanne Miller warns citizens of a common Internet scam used during the holiday season when a lot of people travel.

Computer hackers can gain access to a contact list and send a mass email that says the person is traveling abroad and has been robbed. The email asks friends to send money via Western Union or some other electronic money gram.

Miller warns the public to not respond to these or any email scams, especially if you are suspicious of their authenticity and origin.

Law enforcement officials offer these tips for homes safe and secure during the holidays:

Tips for the home

• Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave your home, even for a few minutes.

• Don’t openly display your Christmas tree and gifts in the front window.

• Don’t advertise. Burglars look for occupancy cues like outdoor lights burning 24 hours a day, piled up newspapers, mail, or advertising flyers hanging on the door knob.

• Use an inexpensive light timer when you are away and ask a neighbor to pick up your newspapers and mail.

• When you are away from your home, make your home appear occupied.

• After Christmas, don’t advertise gift boxes outside of your house for trash removal. This gives potential criminals an idea of what’s inside your home.

Tips for shopping

• Outside of the mall, stick to well-lit, well-traveled streets, walkways and parking areas - for both walking and parking.

• Stay off the cell phone as you walk through parking lots and streets. It is a distraction that makes you vulnerable to robbers, and your cell phone itself is a tempting target.

• Don’t flash large amounts of cash or offer tempting targets for theft such as expensive jewelry or clothing.

• Carry a purse or shoulder bag close to your body, not dangling by straps. Put a wallet in an inside pocket of your coat or front pants pocket.

• Don’t fumble for house or car keys. Have them in your hand, ready to use when you reach the door.