The holidays are a season of giving and receiving gifts.

Unfortunately, it's also a season in which thieves look to receive by taking.

"Criminals are always looking for opportunities, and that's especially true during the holidays," said Tom Durflinger, supervisor of the Grove City Division of Police's community services bureau.

"The main issue we have during this season, and really all year round, is people not thinking about keeping valuable items out of plain sight," Durflinger said.

"Before you head from one store to another, you need to make sure to place all the gifts you've just bought and your valuables in the trunk of your car."

Items left on the seat or floor of a car can provide temptation and opportunity for thieves, said Doug Fraley, a retired officer who serves as the division's crime prevention coordinator.

Holiday shoppers should take precautions while they are in a store as well, Fraley said.

"You don't want to hold a big wad of cash while you're waiting to make your purchases," he said. "It's better to use a credit card or debit card to pay for things. Another problem is that people will leave their purse or wallet in their shopping cart while they take a moment to look at some merchandise.

"It can only take a few seconds of opportunity for a theft to occur," whether it's from a car or a cart, Fraley said. "You should always be aware of your surroundings."

As more people buy items online and more packages are delivered to residences, the frequency of packages being stolen is increasing, Durflinger said.

"There are criminals who ride in cars following a UPS or FedEx truck as it makes deliveries," he said.

"They'll hang back and watch to see if anyone comes out to get the package after it's delivered," Durflinger said. "If someone isn't home to take the package, they'll run up and grab it."

If a package is likely to be delivered while they are away from home, residents should consider arranging to have the item delivered to or picked up by a retired neighbor or someone else they trust who will be at home, Fraley said.

Suspicious activity often happens out in the open and could be easily noticed by an observant resident, he said.

"If you see strangers hovering around your neighborhood in their car, give us a call," Fraley said. "We'd rather come out on a call that turns out to be nothing than not to be called. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Once, after a residence was broken into, Fraley said, he spoke with the letter carrier assigned to the neighborhood.

"He told me, 'Well, I saw these two guys running from the back of the house.' I asked him why he didn't call us, and he said he didn't think about it," he said. "It's frustrating when you hear something like that. We need people's help to be our eyes and ears -- we can't be everywhere."

Modern technology is allowing residents to be vigilant even when they are away from home, Fraley said. Doorbell cameras can be linked to a smartphone, allowing residents to view their front door or porch anytime someone approaches it. The resident can communicate verbally with the suspicious person to warn them off their property, he said.

The department takes a display of a doorbell-camera system to the crime prevention presentations it makes around the community, Fraley said.

Residents who are going to be away for the holidays can fill out a home-security check request form available at grovecityohio.gov or at the police department, Durflinger said.

"We'll have officers check your home at least once a day while you're away," he said. "We'll have one shift check one day and officers working on another shift check it the next, so your home's being checked at different times of the day."

It's a good idea to leave some lights on or put lights on a timer to make it appear someone is at home during an extended time away, Fraley said.

Once the holidays are over, it doesn't mean the time for diligence is finished, Durflinger said.

"You want to be careful about advertising the big gifts you've received or bought for yourself," he said. "You don't want to put out the box your new 80-inch TV or computer came in with the trash without first cutting it up."

During the holiday season, Grove City police increase their patrols of major shopping areas, Durflinger said.

"We'll have officers who take on extra duty and spend additional time monitoring our shopping centers," he said.

Residents who have gone through the citizens-training academy can sign up to serve as part of a volunteer holiday patrol group, Fraley said.

"They go through some additional training and help us patrol around the shopping centers," he said.

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