'Tis the season for gift-giving, as well as stealing.

'Tis the season for gift-giving, as well as stealing.

Columbus police say Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, not only marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season, it also means the beginning of holiday thefts from cars and front porches.

People shouldn't underestimate a criminal's intentions, said Amanda Ford, deputy director for public safety.

"Criminals are always on the lookout for an easy target," she said. "It can happen anywhere. No area's considered safe from getting your car broken into."

Lt. Bob Meader said residents can also call the division of police and ask for "house check" forms, whereby police can periodically visit the residences of people who are away.

Meader said that police have a relatively new unit at their disposal - the Community Response Team, a group of officers who can be redeployed to problem areas.

Keep outside lights turned on during evening hours and keep drapes closed, especially in rooms where Christmas trees are located, police said. People are urged to keep Christmas presents out of view from the street level.

"Realistically, you don't want them to be on display for people to see because it might be an incentive for people to break into your home," Ford said.

In the event of a theft, people should always file a police report, but also take down serial numbers of expensive items often left in cars - such as GPS devices, laptops and stereos - and inside the home.

"That's the biggest help," Ford said. "The more information you can provide officers the more likely the case will be investigated and you'll have your property recovered."

Other shopping tips from police:

Carry no more cash than absolutely necessary. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry. Try to avoid carrying a purse or wallet. If you must carry a wallet, place it in your front pocket. Always carry your driver's license or identification card with you. Shop in pairs or with a group.

A portion of this story appeared in the Nov. 25 edition of ThisWeek German Village.