Robert Wall, a retired police officer and certified fraud examiner, is an expert in criminal justice, securing a home and personal property, and general safety tips while shopping. You see where we're going here? The busiest shopping and traveling season of the year is upon us and crooks and thieves are just waiting to pounce, whether we're headed for a shopping excursion at the mall or leaving our homes for vacation. A professor in UNT's Department of Criminal Justice in the College of Health and Public Service, Mr. Wall provides advice and tips on how to foil "porch pirates," taking precautions on shopping outings and protecting our property while we're gone.
Q: What are some new or increasing holiday crime trends?
Mr. Wall: With the rise in online purchases, so-called “porch pirates” are becoming more prevalent. Porch pirates are thieves who wait for packages to be delivered outside your home and then take the package before you can bring it inside. Porch pirates either randomly travel a neighborhood or follow delivery trucks as they travel their delivery route. Porch piracy tends to dramatically increase over the holidays.
Q: How do I protect my home from porch pirates?
Mr. Wall: Several ways work great. Set up email delivery notifications with the companies you purchase from. If you are away from home, consider having packages delivered to you at work, or delivered to a neighbor. Set up a Ring doorbell, remote security system (internet-based) that notifies you when it detects movement near your house.
Q: I really want to return to shopping in person. What are some tips?
Mr. Wall: The key to being safe at malls and other venues is simply using common sense. Stay in lighted areas that have a lot of people. If you can, park near a visible security or surveillance camera, you have found a great parking spot. Criminals avoid the cameras, which protect both your car while you are away and you as you walk to and from your car. Finally, be aware of your surroundings. If you are walking to and from your car, especially at night, keep your cell phone handy but stay off it. The phone is a distraction while you are walking and texting, and is a target for thieves who know they are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Q: How about online safety when making purchases on websites?
Mr. Wall: Online shopping requires you to disclose financial information to a third party. It also requires you to transmit that information over the internet. To protect the information in your computer, make sure to always keep your online security software updated and current. Also, make sure you use a VPN or virtual private network. As far as "data breaches" of the vendor (instances where the vendor gets hacked and customer information is compromised), there is little you can do other than respond immediately to the breach to minimize and isolate the damage that has occurred. The bad news is that data breaches are relatively common, while the good news is that most vendors are actually pretty good at resolving the issue quickly. Notify the vendor as soon as possible, then assume much of your data has been compromised. Change passwords on other accounts and credit cards. This is true if you use a single password for multiple accounts. Consider using a password generator program that generates reasonably complex individual passwords for all your accounts. They are reasonably inexpensive and some software is free (make sure you address their legitimacy).
Q: I’m traveling for the holidays. How do I keep my property safe while I'm away?
Mr. Wall: I have two major holiday tips. If you are driving, remember the Texas motto, "Drive Friendly." There seems to be a lot of stress during the holiday season, and it may be worse this season. Road rage and fatality accidents are both on the rise. If someone cuts you off in traffic, give them a wide berth. Aggressive driving very often leads to road rage, which is becoming more of a problem. If you are away from home, use sensor lights and timers to your advantage. Burglars target unoccupied residences, so make it look like someone is home. Also, if you are on vacation, share the vacation social media posts when you are home, not while you are away. While you may trust your Facebook friends, security settings on social media can be a little tricky. If your vacation posts end up on a friend’s site, others may be able to look at it and know your house is unoccupied. Some law enforcement agencies have a program for a vacation watch. These programs allow you to fill out a form that lets patrol officers know that you are away. This is a great option if it is available where you live.
Q: Any final tips?
Mr. Wall: Remember, there is a huge infrastructure of both government entities and private businesses dedicated to your holiday safety. Law enforcement and security officers are there to keep you safe. If you feel unsafe in your surroundings, find someone to help: a security guard, a police officer or even a business employee. This is also true on campus, where you can always call the police department on your campus: UNT Police Department, UNT Dallas Police Department and UNT Health Science Police Department. Each department has some great year-round safety tips, such as these from the UNT PD. For more detailed tips than I can give in this limited time and space, remember your local police have crime prevention units and social media sites where they share tips. Let’s all watch out for each other and have a safe and joyous holiday season.