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Tips for Avoiding Holiday Thievery

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping season is winding down, but authorities are urging the public not to become complacent about crime prevention.

They say thieves can fulfill their own wish lists by watching vehicles and monitoring trash left by the curb.

"It's an advertisement to let people know you have a new television or a new computer in your home. And for anybody that's looking for a prime target, that would be a target," said Debbie Tanna, a spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. "Break your boxes down. Don't leave your boxes out on the curb."

While thefts and break-ins can happen any time of year, they seem to be more prevalent during the holidays because burglars know people are buying expensive items they can steal brand-new. Most times, it's because shoppers and others caught up in the season aren't taking the safety precautions they normally would, Tanna said.

Every year, lawmen see a spate of thefts at shopping centers in which thieves steal new purchases and other high-dollar items from vehicles that haven't been locked. Often, victims think they'll be gone only briefly and thieves won't have time to get inside.

"It only takes an experienced thief a few seconds to take your personal items," Tanna said. "More experienced burglars are watching. They don't want to waste their time searching for it and risking the chance of getting caught. So they are really watching what's going on."

The safest bet is to lock the doors, roll the windows up and take packages and valuables with you.

Watch the windows

Another problem during the holidays is that many people like to place their Christmas trees in front of a window so they will be visible from outside, Tanna said. But that also means that any presents under the trees are visible, as well.

Authorities suggest putting presents under the tree on Christmas Eve and removing opened gifts as soon as possible.

"Any new things like flat-screen TVs, we definitely don't want them to locate them in front of any windows," said Michele Lindo, a crime prevention specialist at the Fayetteville Police Department. "If they have to actually put it on a wall that is in front of a window, we ask that they certainly have the proper blinds and curtains."

Authorities urge people to lock their doors and use alarm systems to help reduce the risk of break-ins. They also should keep close tabs on debit and credit card transactions to prevent fraud and record the serial numbers of products they've bought.

Fayetteville police have engravers the public can use to etch their driver's license numbers onto valuables, Lindo said.

The department on Wednesday also rolled out a new tool called DataDots -- tiny dots that can be glued on valuables. The dots in each kit contain the same microscopic serial number, so residents can paint all their valuables with the same number, which DataDots keeps on file in the event the property is stolen.

"We just want folks to be mindful of the fact that other people out there may actually be looking for an opportunity," Lindo said. "We don't want them to present themselves as an opportunity."

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