November 24, 2020
During the holiday season, shoppers may be so busy that they fail to be aware of their surroundings. Careless or unaware shoppers are easy targets for purse snatchers and street robbers.
Police Chief Melissa Hyatt would like to remind people to be aware of their surroundings and to take extra care when it comes to the safety of themselves, loved ones and their property. "The Baltimore County Police Department has begun its holiday deployment, making sure that we have officers in the right places to ensure your safety. We need your help as well; follow the tips that we have provided below so that you may have a safe, fun and joyful holiday season," Hyatt says.
For example, when you are in a parking lot or garage, be alert to someone who appears to be standing around for no good reason. He or she might be waiting for someone—or that person could be an opportunist waiting to grab your shopping bags or your purse.
Here are some other important crime prevention tips to remember during the holiday season.
- Be discrete with your cash. Don't display large amounts of cash when checking out at a register and make sure all your cash is safely put away before walking away from the check-out.
- Leave the expensive jewelry at home; it makes a tempting target for a thief.
- Carry a purse or shoulder bag close to your body, not dangling by straps. Put a wallet in an inside pocket of your coat or front pants pocket.
- Always walk and park in well-lit areas. Park close to the entrance of the store or mall, if possible. Even outside of the mall, stick to well-lit, well-traveled streets, walkways and parking areas for walking and parking.
- Put the cell phone away before walking through parking lots or on streets. Your phone is a distraction that makes you vulnerable. Keep your full attention on your surroundings. Also, your cell phone itself can be a tempting target to thieves.
- If you are ready to leave a shopping center and feel uneasy about entering the parking lot or garage by yourself, stay inside and ask for a security escort.
- Have your car keys in your hand, ready to use, before you leave a store. Fumbling for keys at your car is a distraction that leaves you vulnerable to a thief looking to deprive you of your cash, purchases, or even your car.
- Wait until you are within door-opening distance before electronically unlocking your vehicle. This helps stop a thief from getting into the car when you least expect it.
- If you believe someone is following you, cross the street, switch directions, and walk into a store or restaurant. If you are really scared, yell or make noise to attract attention. Don't be embarrassed. Your safety is more important.
- Do not open your car door to anyone in a parking lot or garage. If you believe you are in danger, call 911 immediately.
- Always lock your car, even if you are away for only a few moments.
- Do not leave valuables—gifts, cell phones, purse or clothing—in open view in your car. Take valuables with you, lock them in your trunk, or cover them in an unobtrusive way.
- Thieves do their own form of window shopping. They look in parked cars for gifts and other merchandise, and will break through car windows to get at such valuables.
- When you return to your vehicle after your shopping trip, lock your car door as soon as you get in.
Home and Delivered Packages
- Always lock your doors and windows, even if you plan to be out for a short while.
- Leave lights turned on both inside and outside your residence after dark. Criminals don't like bright places.
- If you will be away from home for several days, make arrangements for someone to pick up your mail and newspapers. An overstuffed mailbox is a sure sign that no one is home, and burglars are tempted to check those envelopes for holiday gifts.
- When returning home after a shopping trip, have the house keys in your hand, ready to use when you reach the door.
"Package safety is paramount right now as more and more items are being delivered to homes," says Chief Hyatt. "If packages are being delivered while you are away, have them delivered to an alternative address, maybe to your neighbor or a package and shipping store, or consider having the time of delivery changed to suit your schedule."
Safe Exchange Zones for Online Transactions
As the number of online purchases and sales of goods quickly increase, so does the potential risks associated with these transactions when they involve meeting a stranger. In an effort to keep citizens safe, the Baltimore County Police Department encourages anyone who makes an online purchase that involves an in-person interaction to use our police facilities.
All transactions are encouraged to be completed during daylight hours. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, transactions are not allowed inside of the precinct lobbies. Transactions can be made in the public parking lot or street parking in front of the police facility.
Citizens are strongly encouraged to practice these safe approaches when engaging in business transactions with strangers.
- Make sure the exchange takes place in a well-lit area that is heavily traveled.
- Ask for the identification of the other party. Take a picture of their identification and vehicle they are driving.
- Do not bring cash. Require payment using a cash transfer app.
- If something doesn’t feel right or the other party is making you uncomfortable, do not continue with the transaction. Instead, go inside the police facility and report any suspicious activity.
The locations of the Safe Exchange Zones are meant to reduce your chances of being a victim of a crime. The police precincts and facilities listed below are considered Safe Exchange Zones for your transactions.
- Precinct 1 Wilkens: 901 Walker Avenue, 21228
- Precinct 2 Woodlawn: 6424 Windsor Mill Road, 21207
- Precinct 3 Franklin: 606 Nicodemus Road, 21136
- Precinct 4 Pikesville: 215 Milford Mill Road, 21208
- Precinct 6 Towson: 115 West Susquehanna Avenue, 21204
- Precinct 7 Cockeysville: 111 Wight Avenue, 21030
- Precinct 8 Parkville: 8532 Old Harford Road, 21234
- Precinct 9 White Marsh: 8220 Perry Hall Boulevard, 21236
- Precinct 11 Essex: 216 North Marlyn Avenue, 21221
- Precinct 12 Dundalk: 428 Westham Way, 21224
- Randallstown Substation: 9113 Liberty Road, 21133
- BCoPD Headquarters: Public Safety Building, 700 East Joppa Road, 21286
Beware of Purse Snatchers
Shoppers should always beware of purse snatchers. Don't be distracted; thwart a would-be thief with these simple tips:
- Keep your purse close to your body.
- If the purse has long straps, shorten them.
- If possible, avoid carrying a large purse when shopping. Carry your valuables in something more compact that makes it difficult for a thief to grab and run.
- Use check, debit or credit cards to avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Carry only the cards you intend to use and leave the others behind.
- Use Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) wisely. Have the card ready before approaching the machine, and use ATMs in high traffic areas.
Do Your Homework Before Donating to Charity
- Be wary of any organization that sends unsolicited email to ask for donations. Do not open any attachment associated with suspect messages to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Scammers even change caller ID to look like a local area code, making you think they're legitimate.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission's website for details on charity scams, how to report them, and precautions to take before donating.
- If you want to give, find out how an organization accepts donations.
- Give to organizations with a history of service and commitment to the community.
- Check the Better Business Bureau for a list of accredited charitable organizations.
Holiday Trash Says a Lot About You
The boxes that your gifts come in say a lot about what is in your home. We have to contend with descriptive packaging that advertise to the world that we have a new computer, television, video players, games and other expensive electronic equipment.
Burglars are known to canvass neighborhoods looking for items of value and they need look no farther than the curbside on trash day to see what they can steal. Don't advertise to a thief what gift you received during the holiday. Instead break down those gift boxes, then place the pieces inside out, when possible, or place in a trash receptacle.
Shredding Is Important, Too
Make life difficult for criminals: use a cross-cut shredder to shred unwanted bills containing debit and credit card numbers. Identity theft is made simple when you put your receipts in the trash. All those numbers tell a story about who you are and gives personal information regarding other forms of credit beyond the receipts in the trash.
Extend the Life of Your Holiday Gifts: Get Them Engraved
Consider having valuable gifts engraved with your driver's license number or Maryland ID number. Never use your Social Security number to engrave valuables. If the item is stolen and later recovered by police, the engraved number will allow investigators to return the property to you. Engraving also may deter thieves because the identifying information makes it more difficult for them to dispose of or sell valuables.
Easy-to-use engraving equipment and instructions are available, free of charge, to Baltimore County residents at County police precincts and through many Citizens on Patrol chapters.
- Engrave a driver's license number or Maryland ID number on your property.
- Never use your Social Security number.
- Do not limit engraving to your holiday gifts. You can engrave all of your precious possessions.
For additional information on safeguarding yourself and your possessions, be sure to check out all of our crime prevention tips on the Baltimore County Police website Safety page.