With Christmas quickly approaching, many in Columbia County are busy marking off their shopping lists, but others see holiday season as a time for criminal activity.
A major problem citizens face during the holiday season is identity theft, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.
"That's obviously one thing that citizens don't need is dealing with identity theft during the holidays," he said. "Having access to credit suspended or compromised during this time of year could put a damper on anyone's good cheer."
The most important tip for people about identity theft is to keep a watchful eye on their debit or credit cards. Store clerks or restaurant servers can write down the card's information or transfer the classified material to another machine, Morris said.
Credit card statements should be reviewed as soon as they are received in the mail or regularly checked through an online banking account, he said.
"Keep up with all receipts," said Morris, adding that additional tips and charges can easily be added. "Not only will you need them to make returns easily, but crooks are very interested in stealing the information they contain.
"Thieves would much rather have your receipt than any gift you've purchased."
When it comes to shopping for Christmas presents, Morris said there is always safety in numbers.
"I would say shop with friends or relatives, if possible," he said. "While out, present an alert appearance and be keenly aware of your surroundings."
Morris said that shoppers should always scan the area, glance underneath their vehicle and carry their car keys in hand, ready to unlock the door. Police also recommend using debit or credit cards instead of carrying around large sums of cash.
It's also more safe for shoppers to park their vehicles in busy and well-lit areas.
In 2007, 65 cases of entering autos were reported from October through the start of December, Morris said. This year, 76 cases have been reported through the same time period.
"Do not leave valuables or presents in plain view," he said, adding that large bags or presents should periodically be taken and stored in the trunk.
Also, shoplifting incidents seem to increase once the holiday season nears.
"With the economy like it is, you're going to see a lot more (shoplifting), but around the holidays especially, you're going to see a lot more of it just because of the time of year it is," said Brandon Mercer, a loss prevention officer at the Target in the Mullins Crossing shopping center.
Though he wouldn't say how many shoplifting incidents have occurred in the store during this holiday season, Mercer said shoplifters don't seem to target a specific item, but take whatever it is they think they need.
To prevent an increase in these types of crimes, Mercer said the Evans store tends to beef up security by "getting in touch with the local police and getting them to do a little increased patrol."
While many residents worry about burglars this time of year, Morris said during recent years there hasn't been a dramatic increase in burglaries.
"That may be because more people are aware and taking more (preventative) actions this time of year," he said.
From October to the beginning of December, there have been 65 burglaries compared to 78 last year during the same time period.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office offers a free House Watch Program for those who will be away from home.
If residents are going on vacation, Morris said they should leave a light on inside their homes and notify their neighbors.
For those who would like to place their home on the Vacation House Watch Program, contact the Columbia County Sheriff's Office at (706) 541-2800 at least 24 hours before departure.
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