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Don't let gifts, valuables be lures to potential car or house burglars

It's that time of year when holiday shopping commands our attention.

When presents sit wrapped and under the tree.

And when burglars and muggers start lurking, waiting to steal some seasonal cheer.

"People are out more this time of year and so is the criminal element," said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter. "People need to be aware."

To put a wrench in the plans of Mr. Grinch, the Sheriff's Office has released a list of safety tips for shopping during the holidays.

• Don't leave items in your car.

• Don't carry large amounts of cash.

• Do lock your car doors and keep your valuables close.

It may seem like common sense, but it is easy to get sidetracked while searching for the perfect gift, Carter said.

Little changes to an average shopping routine can make all the difference. Having car keys out and ready is a simple way to deter theft. Wardrobe changes, like not wearing a lot of jewelry, also help decrease the odds of getting targeted.

"Women should carry smaller purses and keep them close," Carter said. "Men should keep their wallets in their front pockets."

This year, the Sheriff's Office has additional units patrolling all the major malls, including Westfield Brandon. Look for them in patrol cars, on bicycles and on horses. The Tampa Police Department also has extra officers on duty.

Shoppers remain on the lookout.

"I definitely think about safety more when I go out to the mall this time of year," said Brandon shopper Jared Monroe Shirley. "I look around in the parking lots. I haven't seen anything happen yet, or been affected personally, but I'm staying alert."

The Better Business Bureau reminds shoppers identity theft is on the rise.

Consumers should cover the key pad when entering PIN numbers and never leave credit cards in public view, said Karen Nalven, president of BBB West Florida.

Break-ins and home invasions also pose a problem around gift-giving time.

"It's important not to leave gifts near windows, where people can see in and to keep your home well lit," Carter said.

As the new year approaches, holiday crime remains an unfortunate reminder that for some, the season of giving transforms into the season of taking.

Visit hcso.tampa.fl.us to learn more about how to stay safe.

Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@sptimes.com.

Don't let gifts, valuables be lures to potential car or house burglars 12/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 9, 2010 12:10pm]
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