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Thieves prey on holiday shoppers

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GREENFIELD — The holiday season is well under way and local law enforcement officers are reminding those in the Christmas spirit to practice safe shopping.

Every year around the holidays, police see an increased number of petty thefts of purses from carts and packages from cars. Cars left, unlocked, in driveways are also a favorite target.

The Stansbury Addition in McCordsville was hit five times last weekend by someone police believe waited and watched families drive into the neighborhood, park their cars in the driveway and go inside, leaving items in the back seat.

Many of the crimes that happen locally are crimes of opportunity, said Detective Lt. Jeff Rasche, head of the investigations unit at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

“People will routinely make themselves a victim by leaving things in their car in plain sight,” Rasche said. “It even goes as far as people leaving their keys in their car. You need to be a little more proactive, and try to prevent that. It’s really easy if you know what you’re doing to just pop a window out. Two seconds, and they’re gone.”

Thieves have made off with everything from pocket change to GPS units.

And with Christmas approaching, some people are desperate.

Seasonal workers are laid off in the winter, and living expenses increase as the temperature drops, said Rasche. Add those circumstances to the usual selection of petty thieves, and an increased number of people will be targeted.

“They have to switch a way to get their money,” Rasche said. “They’re gonna break into homes.”

Showing that you’re aware of your surroundings can go a long way toward deterring a would-be thief, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester added.

Distracted shoppers are easy targets, especially when they leave their personal items unattended. Don’t leave a purse or a wallet in the cart while you step away, even if it’s just a few feet, Jester said.

“(By the) time you turn around, you don’t know it’s gone, maybe, until you get up to the cash register,” he said.

And those who prefer to do their shopping online aren’t out of danger, either. Cyber shoppers also need to be cautious when putting out their personal information online, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security warns.

In a press release issued in conjunction with Cyber Monday, one of the biggest online sales shopping days of the year, IDHS Executive Director Joe Wainscott pointed out that online shopping, while convenient, is also inherently risky.

During the holiday season, email ads and spam traffic tend to increase. That adds to the possibility a bogus web offer will make its way to your inbox along with legitimate sale alerts.

“If the subject of the email from a known or unknown sender seems suspicious, delete the email without opening,” Wainscott wrote.

Even well-known retailers have had their websites duplicated and used to scam shoppers, however.

Police suggest visiting a site directly, instead of linking to the site from an email, to avoid falling victim to a copycat.

Look in your browser bar to see if a website is secure, Rasche suggested. A secure website will show a lock symbol to the left of the Web address.

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