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Common sense critical to protecting property



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December 08, 2010 - 'Tis the season for presents piled high under the tree and carrying lots of gifts out of the store.

Both attract unwanted attention from thieves looking for something quick to sell or pass on as a gift during the holidays.

"Come the holidays calls to us increase - either it be larceny from vehicles or larceny from homes," said Sergeant Darren Ofiara from Independence Township Sheriff's Substation.

Ofiara offers a few tips for the holiday season.

Protecting the house:

When homeowners and their families go out of town for an extended time, from a few days to a few weeks, they can become a target.

He said thefts increase a week before Thanksgiving and start dwindling off a few weeks into January, when it's colder.

"They are going to start driving around," Ofiara explained about what generally happens. "They like to stop by during the daytime. They will knock on the front, if no one answers they might linger, look around and check inside to see if there is any movement. If they don't see any, they might go through the front of back door whatever is hidden from the road."

He added there are different routes a homeowner can go to protect the house if they don't already have an alarm.

One way is to tell someone, like their neighbor or call their local law enforcement to watch over the home.

By telling neighbors, they can keep an eye on the house and watch for vehicles suppose to be at the house.

"If neighbors see something, they can give us a call and we can swing out there to make sure," said Ofiara. "It is what we are here for. If you see anything out of the ordinary do not hesitate to give us a call."

If unsure about neighbors or want more people watching the house, call the sheriff's office.

"Independence Township residents are fortunate to have directed patrol if they know they are going to be away for a long period of time," said Ofiara. "They can put their homes on a watch list."

When on the list, deputies will go by the house and make sure everything is alright and still secure.

Ofiara added another bonus is the officers are seen patrolling - detering thefts from occurring.

Protecting valuables:

Thieves won't always go for the house - they find vehicles a good place to find cash, credit cards and electronics, especially with bags of Christmas presents.

While shopping, Ofiara offered a tip to put stuff in the trunk and if concern is great, drive someplace else and park elsewhere.

Ofiara said to make sure vehicles are always locked and to make sure no valuables are in the car.

"If you have to leave something outside, make sure it is in the trunk or under the seat," he noted. "Most of the time thieves are looking for opportunity. They are going to see something and a lot of times the vehicles are going to be unlock. It gives them the opportunity and access."

Opportunity becomes greater when items, like purses, wallets, MP3 players, GPSs and laptops are left in plain sight on one of the vehicle's seats.

Purses and wallets give the thief cash and credit cards to shop around and Ofiara warned what started as a larceny can grow into identity theft.

"Credit cards are used as many times as possible before the account is shut down," he added. "When it is shut down, they get rid of the card."

A way to stop it quicker if it happens is to have credit card numbers and credit card company contact information in a secure place.

Common items being stolen, not just during the holiday season, are electronics and jewelry.

Ofiara said they are easily turned over on the black market or given as a gift during the holidays.

The best way to battle this one, if they are stolen, is to have the serial numbers and model written down. Pictures are a big help to the police, especially with jewelry.

"A picture makes it easier to find," Ofiara added.

Ofiara said a lot of times thieves are coming from different areas.

"It boils down to the have and have nots," he added. "If they see something, they see houses, literally lit up like Christmas trees and nobody is there and they see a pile of gifts under the tree. It's like adding fuel to the fire. Be cognitive to the fact it is tough times.

"If you are going to make it easy, someone else is going to do it. If it is important to you, keep it close," he added.

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.
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