The holidays are in full force. Decorative candy canes adorn the street lights, the radio stations are churning out Christmas music and packaged presents await in mailboxes and on doorsteps.
But those doorsteps and mailboxes are exactly where packages might tempt thieves. Package theft and a gamut of other crimes increase during the holidays, meaning citizens need to practice preventative measures, said local law enforcement agencies.
"Don't leave anything lying outside. Those are crimes of opportunity," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Devola and Triple H Storage owner Pat Huck checks on the premises periodically throughout the day, as he did Monday. Huck also had cameras installed to deter would-be thieves from breaking into his customers’ units.
More than ever, people are turning to the Internet to tick off their holiday shopping lists, meaning more opportunity than ever for thieves to target mailed packages. Some larger cities have even reported thieves following the route of mail carriers and stealing what they leave behind.
That is just what happened to Fifth Street resident Marcella Swaney Friday. Swaney had ordered some gifts online and did not get home until after dark.
"My neighbor found the empty box and packing slip in her yard," she said.
Crime prevention tips
Do not leave purses, wallets, carts or other valuables unattended.
Do not leave valuables in highly visible, tempting locations, such as in the back seat of a vehicle.
Do not have packages sent to your residence if you will not be home.
Do have neighbors or family pick up your packages upon arrival.
Do not make your vacation dates widely known.
Do put your lights on timers and ask law enforcement to check your home periodically if you will be out of town.
Do not store personal information, such as credit card numbers, online.
Do choose a storage facility with good security measures in place.
After tracking it online, she realized that not one, but two packages had been stolen. Luckily, both companies offered to replace the items that Swaney had purchased. However, she plans on taking extra precautions in the future.
"I'm telling all the people in Marietta to be more aware. I think it's important the people in our town be more vigilant about their products," she said.
She also said she signed up on the UPS website for all of her future mailings to be "sign only" and that she will begin having packages mailed to her work location.
Captain Jeff Waite of the Marietta Police Department said mailing the package elsewhere is a good idea. For customers that do not have that option, there are several other ways to ensure the safety of your packages.
"Either arrange for you to go pick it up or just have a neighbor grab it," he said.
Additionally, said FedEx spokesman Scott Fiedler, FedEx customers can arrange to have the package held at FedEx headquarters. Drivers are also given authority to bring packages back to the main office if they feel they would be leaving it in a vulnerable place, said Fiedler.
"Customers have a lot of power to keep their packages safe and these decisions need to be made before they click ship. Knowing the services available will help keep packages safe," he said.
Being vigilant about packages is just one half of the equation when it comes to shopping online. Using a credit or debit card online also makes you vulnerable to identity theft.
To safely purchase online, the FBI recommends never opting to save your password or other data. Online shoppers should only share their data with reputable, trustworthy sites. And lastly, Internet users should never click links inside emails from an unknown sender.
The same rules apply to unsolicited phone calls, said Waite.
"We have had a lot of phone scams going on. They might call an elderly person and say 'Your grandson is in jail in Canada and you need to send $3,500,'" he said.
Never give out financial or personal information over the phone, said Waite.
Traditional shoppers also need to be on guard throughout the holidays.
The biggest problem comes from shoppers who leave their cart or purse unattended.
"I see it every day and it's just too easy to go by and snatch it," said Waite.
Never leave packages visible, whether in your car or in your home, added Mincks.
"Don't put your high dollar items out where people can see them. Keep them in another room...when you are shopping, bring your gifts out and put them in the trunk," he said.
Waite pointed out that a car's GPS unit poses another potential threat. If owners have programmed a "home" address into the unit, thieves can easily guide themselves to your home, he said.
Additionally, copper theft does not stop in the winter, and thieves have been known to break into homes and cut out the pipes. Thieves especially seek homes where the residents are on vacation, said Mincks.
The easiest preventative measure is to lock your doors and windows, he said.
"Try to have your lights on timers, have a neighbor get mail and get a hold of your local police department and we'll make sure it's secure," added Waite.
Additionally, it is important not to broadcast across social media that you are going to be traveling.
Storage units are another popular target. Mincks said it is best to choose a location that is well illuminated and where the facility owners use extra security precautions.
Pat Huck, the owner of Devola and Triple H storage units, recently did just that. Huck had cameras installed on his property to deter would-be thieves.
Though Huck also thinks harsher penalties for thieves would be the best deterrent, he said he thinks the cameras will have their intended effect.
"We want our customers' stuff to be safe," he said.