With the holiday season in full swing, many criminals are working overtime to take advantage of busy shoppers and Christmas vacations.

Residents can take measures to protect themselves from thefts by following these tips from the Conway Police Department.

When shopping:

• Do not leave valuables such as gifts, purses, wallets or electronics in your vehicle where a potential thief can spot them. This may prompt a criminal to take the added chance of breaking into your car if he or she thinks that the reward may outweigh the risk. Put valuables in the trunk where they are out of sight.

• Always lock your vehicle even if you think you are just going to be away from it for a few minutes, regardless where it is parked. It only takes seconds for a thief to open your door, grab something of value and walk away as if nothing ever happened.

• Be aware of your surroundings and always try to park in a well-lit area, as close to the shopping area as possible. Given the crowds, this is not always possible, but even if you have to drive around to wait for a spot to open, this will help ensure that if something does happen you will be in the best possible position to see it coming or call for help.

• When approaching your vehicle, keep at least one finger on your car’s keyless entry buttons, if you have one. If someone makes you uncomfortable, you will easily draw attention by hitting the alarm/panic button. It’s better to apologize to the passersby for hitting the “wrong button” than to be the victim of a crime. Try not to carry packages in your strong hand. Let your strong hand maneuver the keyless entry.

• Once you get into your car keep your doors locked and windows up at all times. This will help to prevent someone from pulling you or your packages from your vehicle before your begin to drive away.

• Be mindful of your wallet or pocketbook while shopping. Pickpockets take full advantage of crowds in order to get in close and lift your wallet or pocketbook. Keep these items close at hand and be suspicious of bumps from other shoppers.

• Do not leave purses unattended in a shopping cart even if you are close by. It takes just a second for a thief to pick it up and walk away.

• When paying for purchases, do not flash large amounts of cash at the register. You do not want to make yourself a target for a thief once you leave the store and enter the parking lot.

• If you see anything suspicious, alert store personnel, security or police.

• Keep your cell phone easily accessible should you need to call 911.

At home:

• Keep your doors and windows secure even when you are at home. Never leave your garage door open unless your are standing in your garage.

• Most residential burglaries occur during the daytime hours, because criminals know that most people are at work during the day. Take a proactive response by trying to keep an eye on your neighborhood. If a person or vehicle is seen in your neighborhood that does not belong there, call the police and report it.

• During the holidays residential burglars are relying on the fact that Christmas presents are going to be in homes and under the tree. Criminals are opportunistic and will not think twice about pulling into a driveway, ringing your door bell and, when no one answers, kicking in your door and grabbing what they can before leaving. The police can’t be everywhere, so if you can be our eyes and ears we can go a long way toward reducing or eliminating some of this behavior.

• If you plan on going out of town, let a trusted neighbor know how long you plan on being gone and who, if anyone, should be stopping by your home. Ask them to call the police if anyone other than these few people will be coming by in your absence. We would rather check out these persons now than try and find them after something has happened at your home.

• If you are leaving town, make arrangements to have your mail delivery and any newspapers stopped for the duration of your trip. An overflowing mailbox or newspapers lying in the driveway are sure signs to a criminal that no one is home.

• Consider setting televisions or radios on timers so that it appears that someone is at home at varying times.

• Assess your home for any vulnerable spots, such as areas concealed by large trees or bushes, that a criminal might use to conceal his or her entry. Look at your home from a criminal’s point of view and ask yourself, “If I wanted to break into this house, how would I do it?”. Then, go to work trying to burglar-proof your home. You may not be able to completely secure your home so that no criminal can enter it, but you might be able to make him or her go somewhere else.

If you are the victim of or witness a crime:

• Do not try to be a hero. Nothing you own is worth risking your safety or the safety of those with you. Be the best possible witness you can for the police. Try to get a physcial description, clothing description, vehicle description and license plate number. Try and determine the direction of travel that the suspect(s) were last seen going and the amount of time that has lapsed since the incident. All of this information will be used by the responding officers to try and catch the suspect(s).

• If you witness a criminal act or suspect that a criminal act has occurred, call the police immediately. Do not wait to check with your neighbors to see if they want to call the police or not.

(Staff writer Stephanie Fischer can be reached by e-mail at stephanie.fischer@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1238. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)