5 most common types of holiday theft.

Byline: Rosalie L. Donlon, Patricia Harman

The holiday season involves occasions for shopping, meals with
family and friends, and partying.

For some people, it can also offer an opportunity to steal –
gifts, cars, your identity, even Christmas decorations.

According to Nationwide claims data through 2014, there were nearly
15,000 home thefts during the holidays and travel months of November,
December and January.

Many of these are crimes of opportunity, and they can be prevented
with some simple steps.

Related: Credit card theft tops list of crimes Americans face,
Gallup finds

Here are five types of theft home and business owners should guard
against during the holiday season:

(Photo: iStock)

1. Home safety

Online shopping has made it a lot easier to find the perfect gift
without having to brave the local mall, but it also creates easy
opportunities for thieves to steal packages from a front or side porch.

Thieves often follow delivery trucks waiting for an opportunity to
strike. Most online retailers send emails and text messages so
purchasers know almost immediately when a package has been delivered. If
no one is home during the day, consider having packages delivered to an
office address or the home of a trusted friend or neighbor.

Be aware that would-be thieves may also pose as couriers delivering
packages or try to solicit donations for charitable causes. Ask for
identification and how the funds will be used. If the answer isn’t
satisfactory, don’t contribute. It’s a better idea to only
donate to well-known organizations that you can check out on Charity
Navigator or a similar site.

Christmas trees placed near windows and doors provide would-be
thieves with the opportunity to see the gifts that have been placed
under the tree. Once all of the packages are wrapped, consider keeping
them out of sight until closer to the big day.

Putting inside and outside lights on timers can make it look like
someone is home. Always lock doors and windows when leaving the house.
Owners who leave a “hidden” key somewhere around the house
should consider changing the location or removing it altogether during
the holidays.

Fires are also more prevalent around the holidays. Don’t leave
candles in a room unattended or near anything flammable, such as
curtains or wrapping paper. Ensure that the Christmas tree has plenty of
water so it doesn’t dry out. Use the proper lights for inside and
outside, and be careful not to overload extension cords or electrical

When cooking, don’t leave pots unattended on the stove and
monitor ovens for flare ups. Keep fire extinguishers close by in case of
cooking or other fires.

Related: 12 home theft prevention tips for traveling homeowners

(Photo: iStock)

2. Vehicle safety

Holiday shoppers are often distracted, more focused on their lists
and juggling packages than paying attention to their surroundings. They
also may be talking to shopping companions, or on the phone, texting or
searching the internet.

It’s precisely this kind of scenario that attracts carjackers.

Recently, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command issued a
warning about a carjacking scam that targets unsuspecting shoppers.

“What we’ve heard is criminals will place a $100 bill,
usually on an individual’s windshield under the wiper blade, and
while the victim is distracted and gets out to retrieve the cash, the
criminals use the element of surprise to approach the vehicle and rob
the victim of their belongings and car,” said Special Agent Mark
Kerr of the Army Criminal Investigation Command.

If you discover money, immediately get into your car, lock your
doors and drive to a safe location before removing it. You should also
notify law enforcement or security personnel in the area.

Smart shoppers approach their cars with their keys in hand, are
aware of who is around them, park in well-lit areas, and shop with a
friend or other family member. They should also not be distracted by
texting or talking on their cellphones so they’re not aware of who
may be around them.

Packages left in cars also attract the attention of would-be
thieves, so put them in the trunk or place them out of sight in the
vehicle. Purses or other valuables should never be left in vehicles.

Related: Top 10 metro areas for auto thefts with keys

(Photo: iStock)

3. Business safety

Store owners hire a lot of extra help during the holidays, but
it’s still important to conduct proper screening and background
checks of any prospective employees.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’s
2016 “Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse,”
organizations lose an estimated 5 percent of their total revenues to
fraud each year. The association recommends criminal checks, complete
reference checks and even brief ethics checks for all employees.
Companies that don’t take proper precautions run the risk of hiring
serial fraudsters in the rush to bring on new help. All employees should
be trained to watch for fraud or suspicious activity from shoppers and
other employees.

Shoplifting also increases during the holidays, and more retailers
are installing security devices to combat theft — door alarms that can
be triggered by security tags on clothing and other items, tethers for
high-value articles and surveillance cameras. Both employees and
shoppers should be aware of shoplifters and report any suspicious

Related: Is trouble brewing in the workplace?

(Photo: iStock)

4. In-store safety

Shoppers need to take extra precautions, starting with being aware
of their surroundings and who is near them at all times.

Don’t carry a lot of cash, and be sure to wait until asked to
produce a credit card so a nearby thief can’t “shoulder
surf” to get account information. Also consider storing credit
cards in an radio-frequency identification-blocking wallet or sleeve to
protect thieves from cloning any credit cards.

Female shoppers should keep a close eye on their purses and carry
them close to their bodies to make it harder for purse snatchers. Also,
consider the kind of purse you’re carrying. Is it open so a
would-be thief can easily reach in and grab your wallet? Is it a
backpack style that allows anyone standing behind you to reach in
without your knowledge?

Social media has made it easier for everyone to share aspects of
their lives they wouldn’t have dreamed of sharing a few years ago.
Don’t advertise shopping trips, travel plans, holiday parties or
some of the great “deals” you got while shopping online. Turn
off the geolocation services on cellphones when not using the mapping
feature to make it harder for thieves to track your movements through
social media posts or the phone itself.

Related: The changing face of fraud

(Photo: iStock)

5. Online safety

When shopping online, use one credit card for purchases and then
track the charges either online or on the statement when it arrives.

Make sure to use secure websites and log off when completing any
purchases. Shoppers should look for an “s” in website URLs. An
address that begins with “https://” means the information is
encrypted, making it harder for identity thieves looking to steal credit
card numbers, passwords or other online identification. Travelers
advises online shoppers to choose a specific delivery time if the
retailer provides the option, and make sure someone is home to accept
delivery. If purchasing from a larger retailer, consider having your
package delivered to a local store for picking up. Take advantage of
delivery alerts so you can be notified when a package arrives at your
home. If you’re not available to accept delivery, ask a trusted
neighbor to take your package inside for safekeeping.

When possible, ask the delivery company to hold your package at
their closest pick-up facility until you can retreive it. You also can
ask the shipper to require a signature confirmation of delivery in order
to prevent packages being left when no one is home to sign for them.
It’s also helpful to provide delivery instructions so packages can
be left out of sight from your yard or the road.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi when shopping online because unsecured
hotspots can allow hackers to access sensitive information on devices.
Also beware of wondering eyes spying on phone screens and trying to
steal passwords. Video makes it easy for a thief to replay keystrokes
for passwords until finding the right combination of characters.

The holidays provide a lot of distractions and enterprising thieves
use those opportunities for their gain. Staying alert and taking some
basic precautions can help to keep holiday Grinches at bay.

Related: 4 ways to avoid giving your data to cyber thieves this
holiday season

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