Authorities urge caution, vigilance for eager holiday shoppers

YORK -- When you join the mobs of crowds expected at stores for the after-Thanksgiving sales today, authorities want you to remember your priorities.

"Keep yourself and your valuables safe," said Capt. Jerry Hoffman of the York County Sheriff's Office. "Don't tempt a criminal."

Unattended vehicles are one temptation for criminals, authorities say, particularly during the holiday shopping season. Law enforcement data shows car break-ins have been on the rise in recent months. Last month, the Rock Hill Police Department handled 104 car break-ins, up from 53 in October 2006. The York County Sheriff's Office reported an increase in car break-ins for June and July over the same time last year.

As holiday shopping gets under way, Hoffman and Rock Hill's Lt. Jerry Waldrop encourage shoppers to adhere to a few safety tips to keep from becoming a victim.

"We don't want anyone becoming a victim of a crime this holiday season," Waldrop said. "Try to follow these safety tips as closely as possible."

• Don't leave valuables such as iPods, cell phones, digital cameras or purses visible inside a vehicle.

• Put Christmas gifts in the trunk.

• Don't leave car doors unlocked.

• Always shop in pairs.

• Have car keys ready before you approach your car.

• Be observant while getting in vehicles, and watch for those who may be up to no good. If you spot someone watching you, go back to the store or walk away from your car.

• Have a cell phone available and ready for quick use.

• Don't be so engulfed in cell phone conversations while walking to and from stores that you are not aware of what's going on around you.

• Check your vehicle, including the back seat, for anyone who could be hiding in or around it.

• Secure your home when you leave.

• Watch for suspicious activity near your home or in your community and report it to authorities, as this could help prevent crime.

"The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous occasion," Waldrop said. "Becoming a victim of a crime is the quickest way to ruin your holiday."