As we put the final touches on the tree, write cards by the fire, and wonder if we'll ever get everything shopped-for, cooked and wrapped in time for Christmas, thoughts about crime and security may be far from our minds.
Yet, the season of goodwill is, unfortunately, also the time of year when the crime rate soars. As the Home Office reports, criminals are quick to take advantage of shoppers in crowded stores, preying on the likelihood that we'll be tired and distracted as we rush around. They also know that our present-filled homes offer rich pickings.
Help to make sure that no-one spoils your fun this Christmas by following these sensible tips.
Don't fall victim to pick pockets: wading through the shops and struggling to find the perfect gift for each of your loved ones can be stressful enough. Imagine how crushing it would be if your purse, wallet, or goody-filled bags were stolen.
The Home Office has issued the following advice:
- Stay alert and be extra careful with your wallet or purse, and keep them close to your body.
- Don't carry too much cash and keep your cheque book and cheque card separate.
- If you have too many bags, you may be too busy trying to hold on to them to be aware of someone stealing from you. So make smaller shopping trips rather than doing it all at once.
The same rules apply when travelling on crowded buses or trains.
Each year around Christmas time, the number of thefts from parked cars and other vehicles increases - and newly-bought presents are a key target for thieves. To reduce your chance of becoming a victim:
- Leave your car in a well-lit car park or parking space.
- Lock all doors and windows, and don't leave presents in view.
- Try not to return to your car to leave purchases in the boot before continuing with your shopping trip - some thieves watch car parks for just such an opportunity.
- Arrange to collect heavy items from stores when you have finished all of your shopping.
Online shopping is now big business, for everything from books and CDs to designer goods and homewares. It's fast, efficient, and promises delivery of Christmas gifts direct to our doors.
While most transactions go through free of problems, police crime prevention officers advise shoppers to take precautions to avoid fraud.
- Only use secure websites: when you're using one, you'll see a padlock icon at the bottom of your computer screen or next to the address box at the top of your browser. Shop with online retailers you know - such as reputable high street retailer - or sites that are recommended to you by someone you trust.
- Make sure that the retailer has a postal address and a landline telephone number, not just a mobile. Don't assume the retailer is based in the UK just because the web address has 'UK' in it or ends with '.co.uk'.
- If you are buying an item for more than £100, use a credit card; this gives you protection under the Consumer Credit Act. Before completing your purchase, check arrangements for payment and delivery, and your right to cancel.
- Keep records of all paperwork and print off any emails you might receive.
- Some sites will ask you to register and give them a user name and password. Do not use the same password on every site; pick three or four and vary them.
Security at home
Having saved up for and bought your lovely presents, don't tempt thieves by having them all on display. Make a special effort to ensure that all entrances and windows are secure. If you 'hide' or store larger presents such as new bikes for the kids in the shed or garage, make sure they are locked. To keep your home and belongings safe and secure, follow the Home Office Crime Prevention Advice.
- If you go out for the evening, make it look like someone is at home by turning on lights and the radio. But as a fire precaution, don't leave Christmas lights on while you are out.
- Don't leave curtains open for people to see your decorations - potential thieves can see in too.
- Be extra careful about locking doors and windows. If you go away for the holiday period, use an automatic timer for lights and ask a trusted neighbour to watch your home.
- Don't forget to cancel newspapers and milk if you have them delivered, and either redirect your mail through the Post Office or have your neighbour take mail into the house - unopened Christmas cards and mail signal that a house is empty.
- Remember, empty boxes left outside advertise that you have new goods inside - dispose of packaging carefully.
This is also the time to update your home contents insurance policy to ensure you are covered for all the new goods in your home. Make a list of any new valuables such as DVD players, TVs, sports and camera equipment, and expensive watches and jewellery, and then contact your home contents insurance provider to discuss the best new policy deal. For added security, take the frame numbers of new cycles and the serial numbers of new electrical equipment for future reference, in the event of you having to make a claim.
Don't get caught out by con men. Fraudsters love Christmas; they know that we're much more inclined to dip into our pockets for good causes at this time of year. So be prepared for bogus collectors and bad Santas roaming shopping centres and pubs - or worse, knocking at your door.
Always ask to see their ID. Collectors working for a registered charity will carry a badge or card with the registered charity's number and letter of permission, which they will gladly present if all is above board.
People who are vague about the good cause they're representing should ring alarm bells. For example, be wary if they say they're collecting for 'sick children' rather than specifying Great Ormond Street Hospital or Save the Children, or another established organisation.
If you're in any doubt, say no. It's far better to decide in advance which charities are closest to your heart and, if you want to make a Christmas donation, contact them direct to make your payment.
More advice on any aspect of Christmas shopping security can be obtained from the Crime Prevention Officer at your local police station.