'Tis the season to be wary.
The Columbus Division of Police has released its annual list of tips to help residents safeguard themselves against thieves during the busy shopping season.
Amanda Ford, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said they are common-sense recommendations people should follow, especially when they're in a rush and distracted.
"It's the holidays and people get way too comfortable," Ford said.
"They think anything like that wouldn't happen to them when the reality is, it can and probably will happen if they don't take these tips under consideration."
A few things to remember:
* Shop in pairs or with a group.
* Don't leave cell phones, purses, CD cases or other items of value in your vehicle where they can be seen. Always conceal items of value.
* Try to avoid carrying a purse or wallet. If you must carry a wallet, place it in your front pocket. If you are carrying a purse, carry it securely across your body.
* Lock purchased merchandise in the trunk of your vehicle.
* Park in a well-lighted area and lock your vehicle. If you valet park, only leave the ignition key. Take your other keys with you.
* Report thefts immediately, no matter how insignificant.
Homeowners also can protect themselves by keeping their outdoor lights on at night, shredding financial documents, breaking down boxes that might indicate expensive gifts and keeping drapes shut, specifically in the room where the Christmas tree is located, Ford said.
"Make sure you lock your windows or doors," she said. "You'd be surprised how many people leave the house, not locking windows or doors."
Sgt. Dennis Kline, with the division's fraud and forgery unit, said the holiday season presents a golden opportunity for cyber thieves.
People looking for a quick loan online could fall prey to any number of schemes, he said, particularly those that require a processing fee or down payment.
"The takeaway there is you really have to do some homework on the company you're responding to," he said.
Consumers can help themselves by checking with the Better Business Bureau or doing a quick search online because many victims will post information on deceptive practices, Kline said.
Also, be cautious of phone calls from people soliciting personal information, he said.
"No financial institution is going to call you and ask you for your Social Security number," he said.
One of the biggest cyber crimes being reported is cloned credit cards; these are much harder to detect because the transactions are often processed out of sight of the consumer, Kline said.
A red flag should be raised when a clerk appears to double-swipe a card, he said.
One easy remedy is to pay cash, he said.
People can also visit snopes.com to keep up on the latest scams, Kline said.