With the arrival of holiday shopping and parties, local law enforcement agencies say residents should take precautions against thefts, scams and porch pirates while making arrangements to have a sober driver if consuming alcohol away from home.
“Always have a designated driver when you drink alcohol,” said Decatur police spokesperson Irene Cardenas-Martinez. “Also, consider adding an emergency contact to your driver’s license in case of an emergency on the road.”
Lawrence County sheriff's spokesperson Tim Sandlin said property crimes and thefts are usually among the most commonly reported crimes in his area during the holiday season.
“Theft and property crimes are always a concern this time of year,” Sandlin said. “When shopping, be sure to lock things up. Keep your cars locked, put away gifts, and don’t leave things in plain sight.”
Sandlin said that he has heard about package thefts that have occurred at homes in urban areas throughout the state, but that hasn't been an issue in Lawrence County.
“(Package thefts) don’t really happen here,” Sandlin said. “Last year, there were no reports of package theft. It’s kind of hard for thieves to blend in and pull those crimes off here in these rural areas.”
Limestone County sheriff's spokesperson Michelle Williamson said package thefts from porches are more common in Athens and other cities.
Package thefts have occurred in Decatur, and Cardenas-Martinez referred to culprits who commit these crimes as "porch pirates."
“You need to schedule packages to be delivered when you’re home,” Cardenas-Martinez said. “Track them online and consider installing a security camera.”
Williamson said that people need to be cautious when shopping out in public and even in their own neighborhoods.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” Williamson said. “Make sure you always lock your car, even at night when you are at your house, make sure your car is locked.”
She said it was not a good idea to leave Christmas gifts inside vehicles.
“It doesn’t matter if the gifts are visible or not visible, we all know that people that break into cars can get crafty and try to get in the trunk,” Williamson said.
Even though scams occur throughout the year, Sandlin and Williamson said that they are prevalent during the holiday season.
“Scams are always a problem. They tend to increase during this time of year,” Sandlin said. “You have to be very cautious in dealing with things online and on social media. We always warn people about those types of things.”
Sandlin said that scams can usually be identified by how the scammer proposes them.
“Well, generally, if there’s high pressure or if there’s time restraints, I would say question it,” Sandlin said. “(Have) a good healthy dose of skepticism if it seems too good to be true. You need to question it and you need to check with your local law enforcement to confirm if it’s legitimate or not.”
Williamson said a common scam involves scammers pretending to be relatives of the victims they call, requesting money to bail them out of jail.
“A lot of times, (scammers) call our senior citizens,” Williamson said. “Scams happen all year, but they jump out more during the holidays because of the giving spirit.”
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office reported a new scam this week when a deputy received a call that informed him he was a "Publisher’s Clearing House winner." The scammer then asked the deputy to buy a $300 prepaid gift card to verify himself.
The Sheriff’s Office reported the incident on Facebook on Monday and encouraged people to not give out credit card numbers, bank accounts numbers or routing numbers and that a request for gift cards is a strong indicator of a scam.
Williamson said to be mindful when people call to solicit money.
“If someone calls you and asks for money, don’t give it to them,” Williamson said. “Get information from them and call your local law enforcement. Nine times out of 10, they (scammers) are not going to have any information to give you.”