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Police beef up patrols for shopping season

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The holiday shopping season has begun, and the Salisbury Police Department wants to make sure it’s a safe time for everyone with the implementation of Operation Santa Patrol.

The second-year initiative is designed to provide directed patrols in shopping centers and residential areas as well.

Directed patrols will be scheduled seven days a week by officers in uniform as well as in plain clothes and unmarked cars. The patrols also will incorporate the use of drones and bait vehicles.

“We’re hoping to not only deter criminal activity but also be a visual reminder to people to be aware of their surroundings and to be safety-conscious during this holiday season,” said police Lt. Greg Beam.

The initiative will supplement patrols with officers who are off-duty, Beam said.

In a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the department identified crime trends during the months of October through December, when more residents are the victims of property crimes.

He said during the holidays, many people have shopping on their minds and are in a hurry. They may forget to lock their doors or leave packages in plain view. He advised shoppers to place packages in the trunks of their vehicles or keep them well-hidden.

He suggested being mindful of your surroundings when carrying a large number of packages to avoid the likelihood of becoming a target.

Beam said officers will monitor all major shopping centers and downtown businesses. Residents also will see the mobile command unit in different areas of the city where patrol officers will have briefings and meetings before their shifts. The department will deploy a drone to hover over shopping center parking lots to observe areas officers may not otherwise be able to see.

Anyone who sees suspicious activity, people or vehicles in a neighborhood or other area should contact the Police Department anonymously at 911 for emergencies or at the nonemergency number, 704-638-5333.

Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten agreed that shoppers often neglect their safety during the holidays.

“This time of year attracts more shopping-related criminal activity because of the larger crowds and the extended store hours,” Auten said. “These factors and the usual distraction of shopping, creates a more favorable environment for petty thieves and other offenders.”

Shopping safety tips

Auten offers the following safety tips:

• A single shopper is the best target for theft. Always shop with a friend or relative.

• When shopping, tell someone where you are going and what time to expect you to return. Also, make sure someone knows what you are wearing, as well as the type of vehicle you are driving.

• Shop during daylight hours. If you shop at night, park your vehicle in a well-lit area.

• Dress casually and comfortably and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. If carrying cash, keep it in a front pocket rather than in a purse or wallet. This makes it more difficult for a pickpocket to remove the cash. Also, store car keys in a pants or jacket pocket. If your purse is stolen, you will still be able to drive home.

• Pay careful attention to your surroundings and avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps.

• When returning to your vehicle, check around it and in the back seat. Be aware of strangers approaching you for any reason. Have your car keys in your hand to avoid spending unnecessary time unprotected from the security of your vehicle.

• If you feel uneasy returning to your vehicle alone, find a security guard and ask him to walk you to your car.

“During this time of year, busy holiday shoppers become careless and vulnerable to other crimes as well,” Auten said. “Credit card fraud and gift card fraud are on the rise. However, taking a few preventive measures can help.”

Credit card fraud tips

• Keep a close watch on your credit card every time you use it and make sure you get it back from the clerk as quickly as possible.

• Never write your PIN number on your credit card.

• Never leave credit cards or receipts lying around.

• Shield your credit card number so that others around you can’t copy it or capture it on a mobile telephone or other camera.

• Carry only the credit cards that you absolutely need.

• Shred anything with your credit card number written on it.

• If you’re planning to purchase online, make sure the web page where you enter your credit card information is secure through SSL (Secure Socket Layer). You can tell if the web page is secure by looking for the gold lock or key icon at the bottom corner of your browser window.

• If you’re not comfortable submitting your information through the internet, call the seller and give him your information over the telephone. Never send your credit card information by email.

• Only do business with companies that provide a physical address and telephone number.

• Keep good records. Always print out a copy of any online products or services you purchase.

Gift card fraud tips

• Never buy gift cards from online auction sites. This is a large source of fraud. Many of the gift cards are stolen, counterfeit or used.

• Buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer’s website.

• Don’t buy gift cards off public racks in retail stores. Purchase them only at the sales terminal from the cashier.

• Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you see a PIN number, ask for a different card. If the card looks like it has been tampered with, put it back.

• Always ask the cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid that it reflects the balance you are charged with.

• Always keep a receipt as proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card.

• If possible, register your gift card at the store’s website.

• Never give your Social Security number, date of birth or other unneeded private information when purchasing a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this information.

In light of these problems, Sheriff Auten warns shoppers to be careful so they don’t become the victim of criminal activity.

“Unfortunately, when shopping, people have a tendency to let their guard down,” Auten said. “However, paying attention and taking precautions can help eliminate their chances of being victimized.”

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