Holiday safety: Tips to keep thieves at bay

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Shoppers pack the North Shopping Center in Cullman Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – When gifts and presents abound, so do burglars and thieves looking for easy targets. As people make last-minute shopping trips in the next few days and receive presents through the weekend, many may be concerned about how to keep themselves and their belongings safe. To get some advice on the matter, The Tribune talked to Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper and Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry.

Shopping in person

Culpepper: “When doing last-minute shopping, don’t leave your packages in plain view – put them in the trunk and keep your vehicle locked. Be aware of your surroundings and where you’re parked if you go shopping at a physical store.”

Gentry: “Over the holidays, you always have to be vigilant. The main thing I’d have people watch out for is that, as you’re going shopping, make sure to lock your car doors and don’t leave any valuables out in plain sight. With more people shopping and more people going to stores, criminals know this, and they’re gonna be looking for easy things to steal. Just pay attention to your surroundings when you’re out shopping and enjoying time with your family, so that you don’t fall victim to a theft or a breaking and entering of a motor vehicle or other crimes like that since we do see a rise in those around the holidays.”

Shopping online

Culpepper: “On the online aspect, be wary of cyber criminals and people trying to scam you. Since it’s so close to Christmas, I expect that’s tapered off since people might not order things that won’t have time to be delivered. Also, if you have to meet somebody in person to pick up a purchase, we have our Safe Drop-off Zone here at the police department. We’ve got designated parking places under video surveillance, so you can be safe if you’re gonna meet an unknown party to sell or purchase or anything like that.”

Gentry: “When you’re dealing with the internet, you have to be really careful – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. There’s a lot of scams on the internet, especially at this time of the year. If you’re going to purchase something from someone and you have to pick it up yourself, meet them in a highly populated area. You can always meet them at the sheriff’s office or your local police department – that’s one true way to know if someone’s trying to run a scam, just invite them to meet at the sheriff’s office. We welcome people that will do online transactions there. Of course, we have cameras set up in our parking lots and so does the police department, but that way our citizens can feel safe and utilize our office for those transactions.”

Porch pirates

Culpepper: “Since there are a lot of packages being delivered right now, we do depend on the neighbors and if they think something is suspicious. If I’m driving down the road and I see someone pick up a package off a porch, I don’t know necessarily who lives there and whether that person belongs there or not, but a neighbor might. If you see something suspicious – you think somebody’s following a delivery truck, or you see somebody picking up a package and you realize they don’t look like they belong at that residence – call us so we can check it out.”

Gentry: “Track your packages as they’re delivered. We’re an internet society now, so we have so much that’s delivered, but criminals know that, too, so really be vigilant about watching your packages and when they’re delivered so that nobody comes up and steals a package off your doorstep.”

Additional comments

Culpepper: “The big issue’s the COVID this year rather than the crime, so people should be practicing safe social distancing and health measures. Another big issue around this time of year is people drinking, especially around New Year’s, so be careful about drinking and driving. We just want everyone to be safe on all holidays and make it a joyful time.”

Gentry: “We don’t deal with this a whole lot out in the county because we’re typically rural, but if you live in a highly populated area and you have a lot of people walking up and down and looking in trash cans – if you’re concerned that people are gonna see the boxes for any expensive gifts you received and that it will make you a target, then I’d be vigilant about hiding those boxes or taking off markings so people won’t know what the box was for. From the sheriff’s office, we’d like to ask everyone to have a safe, blessed and merry Christmas!”

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Heather Mann

heather@cullmantribune.com