Sheriff warns families to be careful during holidays

DAVID B. SHOARWe are coming up on one of the most festive times of the year for families with the celebration of several holidays. However, joy and fun can quickly turn to disappointment and sorrow when someone becomes a victim of a scam, burglary or online fraudulent holiday shopping scheme.

At a time of year when most people are filled with goodwill, there are criminals who relish taking advantage of it. Crime statistics always rise during the holiday season and I wish to pass along a few tips to help you avoid becoming a victim.

Business experts tell us that again this year the number of people who shop online for gifts will increase dramatically and therefore so do the opportunities for those who use new technology to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. The cyber-crimes that become more popular during the holiday shopping season include fraudulent auction sites, resale of stolen or counterfeit gift cards and reshipping merchandise purchased with stolen credit cards.

One of the most common internet scams involves using an auction site or classified pages to advertise an item at a bargain price. If you place an order, the crook will charge your legitimate credit card for the order then use a separate stolen credit card to purchase the product and have it shipped. This could make you liable for receiving stolen goods. I recommend if you wish to purchase a gift through an auction or classified site insist on paying with PayPal or some other reputable third party payment service. That way your credit card number and personal information is not shared with the seller.

Most of you already know the safety tips for traditional retail shopping:
– take your purchases to your vehicle frequently and lock them in the trunk or out-of-site; carry purses with the strap going over one shoulder and the purse against your body on the opposite side;
– carry billfolds in a side pants pocket;
– pay by credit card or check if at all possible: and if you must use an ATM always shield the keypad when entering your PIN and put cash away promptly in your purse or wallet.

Home burglaries are more common during the holidays and sadly, the thieves target the gifts under the tree. If you are going to be away from home, leave some lights on and a radio or television to make it appear and sound as if someone is home.

After the celebration do not put the boxes of expensive gifts out for street garbage pickup without first breaking them down and folding them so only plain cardboard shows so they don’t become an unintended billboard for what you have in your home.

Holiday parties can be wonderful fun but please remember to celebrate safely and if alcoholic beverages are served, moderation is the best practice. The concept of “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” becomes even more significant. We will have impaired driver patrols out in full force to help keep your family safe during the holidays.

Whether you will be celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or a holiday of another faith on behalf of all of us at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s office I wish you a merry, happy, joyous and safe celebration and best wishes for the New Year. For any issue regarding law enforcement or public safety you can always contact me by email at dshoar@sjso.org.

David B. Shoar
Sheriff
St. Johns County Florida

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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