News Column

Tips on Staying Safe During Black Friday, Holiday Hoopla

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Nov. 18--Gradually, Thanksgiving is being swallowed by the holiday shopping craziness of Black Friday that pretty much doesn't end until late December, for some early January.

For the next several weeks of this holiday season, many people go into overdrive of festivity planning, shopping and other events or activities. The risk to theft and injury are increased during this time of year.

About 43.6 million people will be traveling this Thanksgiving holiday with 90 percent of travelers choosing to go by automobile, according to AAA. This is a projected increase and will mark the fourth consecutive year of growing holiday travelers since 2008.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office discussed the holiday season and the risks for this very busy time of year.

"It is a time when we find ourselves shopping and decorating and even planning a joyful holiday gathering for friends and family," said Nienhuis. "Criminals, unfortunately, know this all too well and are preparing just the same."

The men and women at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office work diligently, every day of the year, in an effort to provide a safe environment for the citizens of Hernando County, he added.

An estimated 51 percent of holiday shoppers in the southern states, including Florida have already begun buying gifts this year, compared to 46 percent in 2012, according to AAA's Consumer Pulse survey. Additionally, 43 percent plan on buying more gifts on sale and 36 percent plan on conducting more research to find the best price.

"Many times criminal acts can be prevented if we all do our part, and just follow a few of these common sense safety tips and precautions," said Nienhuis. "The entire Hernando County Sheriff's Office family and I want you and your family to enjoy this holiday season."

Denise Moloney, public information officer for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, mentioned the risk of theft when purchases can be seen in a locked vehicle. "Leaving items in plain view (inside a vehicle) can be tempting for a would-be criminal."

She described how shoppers should lock items in the trunk before arriving at their destination or place them out of sight if possible.

"After Christmas is another time when criminals are on high alert," she added, "When you are placing boxes at the curb for the garbage collectors, be sure to cut up the boxes and place them inside-out, so passers-by are unable to see what was originally in them. You really don't want to advertise that your family has a new 55-inch Sanyo TV and a new Sony computer and a new Wii, etc. Cut the boxes up or take them to the dump."

The following tips have been provided by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office for holiday health and safety to help the community have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. Do not drink and drive and do not allow someone else to drink and drive.

Wear a seat belt every time you operate or ride in a motor vehicle. Always buckle children in a child safety seat, a booster seat or a seat belt according to their height, weight and age.

Know where you are going and how to get there and back. Obtain or download a map. Carry a GPS. Check for construction detours. For longer trips, obtain a weather forecast.

Inform a family member or friend where you will be and when you expect to return. Give them your route of travel if you know it. Travel and conduct business during daylight hours, if possible.

If you have a cellphone, carry or take it with you. Do not use it while driving; this is unlawful in some states.

Keep doors locked while driving. Maintain at least 1/2 tank of fuel and keep the vehicle in good repair.

The single most essential safety tip: Devote your full attention to driving. Shop with friends or relatives -- there is safety in numbers.

Remain alert in crowded places. Always supervise children, especially when going to the restroom.

Small children should know their first and last name so they can tell a person of authority if they become lost.

If a child becomes separated from you, have a predetermined plan where you will meet or what you will do (i.e., have them seek out a store clerk or a security guard). The child should never go outside to look for you or wait by the car.

If older children go to the mall (or other activities) without you, you should know where they are at all times. They should check in with you by phone frequently -- they should not go alone.

Using a debit or credit card is much safer than carrying a lot of cash. If possible, do not leave items (i.e., valuables) in plain view in your vehicle.

If you must leave items in your vehicle, place them out of sight before you arrive at your destination.

Lock the GPS, iPod, etc. in the glove compartment. Lock up the docking stations and the connector cables, too.

Some of the most commonly stolen items in vehicle burglaries include loose change, briefcases, backpacks, gym bags, lap-top computers, cellphones and day planners.

Park in well-lighted busy areas. Lock all doors every time you exit the vehicle. Set the alarm or the anti-theft device.

Keep your keys in your hand and remain alert to your surroundings -- criminals do not like eye contact. Check the trunk (to be sure it is locked), the back seat and under the vehicle before you get in it.

Do not clip or hang any identification tag to the rearview mirror -- these can be targeted items for identity theft. Do not hide your key on your vehicle while you are shopping -- take it with you.

Never leave your engine running for any reason while you are away from the vehicle.

Avoid placing your home address in your GPS in case it gets stolen -- this allows the suspect to go to your home while you are still shopping. If there is anyone suspicious at or near the ATM, select another ATM.

Use the "fisheye" mirror (if one is provided) to see what is going on behind you.

If followed, call 911.

Use the drive-up instead of going into the bank branch. Protect your PIN number -- do not carry it with you.

Photocopy the front/back of your credit and debit cards. Keep that information in a safe place. If they are lost or stolen, you will have easy access to the information.

Review bank and credit card statements promptly and report discrepancies. Keep the doors and windows locked at home. Set the alarm when not at home. Do not use voices and names of children on the answering machine -- this lets predators know that children live in your home.

If you are a female living alone, leave the generic outgoing message on the machine.

Watch for the mail. Thieves tend to look in mailboxes for checks and cash in Christmas cards.

Mail outgoing mail at the post office to avoid having it stolen -- never put outgoing mail in your mailbox overnight. Consider opening a post office box during the holiday season.


(c)2012 the Hernando Today (Brooksville, Fla.)

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