Wednesday, December 09, 2009

GUEST COLUMN: "Keeping the Grinch Out of Christmas"

By Rachel Hutzel

As the holidays approach, busy shoppers head to the mall looking for good deals. Meanwhile, thieves are looking for the opportunity to steal your wallet or purse. The most obvious example is the pickpocket who smoothly slips your wallet from your back pocket while you’re busy picking out a gift, and then blends back into the crowd.

Less slick, but very common, is the thief who cruises the parking lot waiting for you to leave your purse in your shopping cart while you load your Christmas gifts into your car. Many of them don’t even leave their cars – they pull up beside your shopping cart, grab your purse, and make a swift getaway. Secure your purse in your car before you unload your purchases. Lock your purchases in your car trunk while you’re in the mall, too. Always exercise caution in entering a dark parking lot or parking garage.

Many busy shoppers opt for making their purchases on-line instead of dealing with a crowded mall. But thieves are on-line, too. Make sure that you use a secure website before you hand over your credit information, and use a credit card with a good fraud policy. Secure websites will clearly advertise their security measures on their web page. Be sure you check out those measures fully.

It’s always a good idea to save receipts in case you have to return purchases after the holidays. Those receipts also help you check your credit card bill for accuracy when it arrives in the financial aftermath of the holidays. Identity thieves are quite adept at getting their hands on your credit information, and using it before you get wise to them. Check your credit card bill carefully this January. After you get over the shock of the bottom line, make sure those are all your purchases. And report any discrepancies to your credit card company and law enforcement immediately.

There are also scam artists out there who intend to take advantage of your generosity over the holidays. Don’t stop being generous, but make sure you become familiar with a charity before you sign that check. Never write a check to a person collecting for a charity – write the check to the charity itself. Some scam artists will claim to represent a legitimate charity but will divert your contribution to themselves if you make the check out to them. Never give the person soliciting for charity personal information such as your credit card number until you have checked them out. Don’t be afraid to ask for their credentials.

With a little caution, this holiday season can be a happy celebration for you and your family. Happy Holidays from your Warren County Prosecutor.