By Senior Officer Larry Jacobs

The holiday season is upon us, but for criminals, the festive season can be an opportunity to burglarize unoccupied homes and apartments, steal from distracted shoppers and run a charity scam.

The crime rate usually increases during the holiday season. The reason is simple: with shoppers out and about at high numbers, criminals are looking for an easy score. A distracted shopper might not be thinking about a criminal opportunist who has been watching him and is following him to his car.

I’ve provided a number of crime tips that will help keep you safe this holiday season. Keepin you and your loved ones safe should never take a holiday.

While shopping:

• Stay alert and be aware of everything around you. Take a minute to observe who may be watching you.

• Park in a highly visible well-lighted space. It may be daylight when you arrive at the Mall, but when you come out at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. – it will be dark.

• Lock your vehicle both when driving and parked.

• Carry your purse close to you body, not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in a front pant’s pocket.

• Have your car keys in your hand and be ready to open the car door immediately.

• Place all shopping bags, packages and gifts out of sight (trunk, under seat).

• Always know where you have parked your car, so you do not spend unnecessary time walking around the parking lot.

• Look inside and under your car before entering.

• Avoid carrying large amounts of cash – use a debit card, credit card or check.

• Do not overburden yourself with packages. This will help deter pickpockets or purse snatchers.

• Do not park next to a van or truck where people can hide.

• If you take children shopping, teach them to go to a police officer or a store security officer if they get separated or lost. Ensure children know their parents would never send a person they did not know to take them home or take them to find their parents.

Out for the evening:

• Turn on lights, television or radio so that it appears that someone is home.

• Holiday gifts should not be displayed where they can be seen from the outside.

Holiday traveling:

• Ask a neighbor to watch your house or apartment. Ask them to park in your driveway or space from time to time.

• Use automatic timers for your lights.

• Stop your mail and newspaper deliveries.

While driving:

• Be alert at intersections and stoplights. They can be favorite spots for persons with a criminal intent.

• If followed – do not drive home. Go to a police station, fire house, gas station or other public place.

• If car breaks down, stay with the car and don’t accept rides. If someone stops to help, ask them to call the police. Use a cell phone if available.

• When partaking of “holiday cheer,” good judgment is always in order.

At home:

• Keep all doors and windows locked, even if you step out for a moment.

• Inspect all holiday lights for frayed wiring before you hang them.

• Place your holiday tree and decorations away from heating vents or fireplaces and keep fresh cut holiday greenery watered.

Larry Jacobs is a senior officer with the Crime Prevention Division of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at larry.jacobs@sandyspringsga.org.