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Avoid holiday theft this season
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For many, the holiday season brings forth thoughts of togetherness and giving, but there are those who use the hustle and bustle of the season to prey on others. Statistically, this time of year crimes against property is up, this includes everything from purse snatching to home robberies.

Newton County Sheriff's 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell offered tips to help residents stay safe while still enjoying the festive season.

Mitchell said to avoid driving at night if possible; however, if you choose to do so, make sure your doors are locked and windows are closed while in or out of your car. Just because you're in your vehicle at a stop light does not mean a thief won't approach you.

Park in well-lit areas and avoid parking next to large vehicles such as trucks with camper shells and vans, or cars with darkly tinted windows. Park closely to the store and make sure you keep track of where you park. Do not leave the car unoccupied or with your children inside and running and do not leave valuables (GPS systems, purses or gifts) sitting out in the open.

Hold on to your purse, keep your keys handy and, when in doubt, ask for an escort. This time of year, law enforcement can often be found at larger stores; if they are not available, request an escort from a store employee to your vehicle.

Shoppers are urged to dress comfortably and not wear expensive jewelry or carry their purses or wallets if possible. Mitchell suggested putting cash in a front pocket, and to avoid carrying large amounts if possible, instead use checks or credit/debit cards. If you do carry a purse, be vigilant. Keep it closed and keep your arm around the strap at all times. If you carry a wallet, keep it in a front pocket.

Avoid loading yourself down with bags and packages, this makes you vulnerable to thieves because it limits your ability to see and react quickly. Be aware of strangers approaching you, since this time of year many con-artists will team up, with one distracting while the other steals. Also be careful at ATMs, using those inside a store if possible, and watching your surroundings if you are at a drive-through or walk-up ATM.

Be cautious about locking doors and windows, even if you leave the house just for a few moments. If you're leaving for an extended period of time, call local law enforcement for patrol increase and make sure you let your neighbors know. Neighbors can, and have in the past, been the best remedy against thieves while looking out for one another. If you're going to be out late, leave a light on and a TV or radio so it appears someone is at home.

Be leery of strangers coming to your door. Criminals have been known to pose as couriers delivering gifts. Also, be aware of who you are giving to. Just because someone asks you to donate cash to a charity doesn't mean that is where that money will actually go. Ask for identification and only donate to recognizable charitable organizations.

Lastly, if a situation feels unsafe or odd, do not hesitate to contact 911. Law enforcement officials would rather respond to something that turns out to be a false alarm than respond to a crime after the fact.

And do not let the threat of thieves ruin the holiday season. Make careful and mindful of your surroundings, be smart about your actions, but remember to enjoy the holiday season.