HO HO HO, ‘Tis the Season

The Holiday Season (Christmas) is upon us. With that season, come the feelings of warmth, family and generally good will toward all. But there are some who, like retailers, see this season as a make or break for their year. People will never be more vulnerable, nor as easily distracted as they (we) are during the holidays.

What can you do to protect yourself from falling victim to the scammers, the phishers, the con artists, pickpockets, outright thieves and all around bad guys?

I will try to give you some things to look out for and advice as how to avoid getting caught by one of the bad guys.

The first and simplest is, Ladies, don’t leave your purse in your shopping basket. Not even for a moment. In this season, we are focused on getting our items and getting out, not watching as someone opens the purse and lifts the wallet, or stack of credit cards. Some thieves work in teams, and one will distract you even more while the other lifts the wallet and takes only one credit card, making it harder for you to realize that a theft has occurred. The cross body strap purses are a good deterrent, but not fool proof. Good pickpockets can open one and lift its contents when you are in a crowded situation. Keep your hand on the purse, so you can feel any unusual activity.

Diaper bags have become a catch all and some people carry their purses/wallets in them for convenience. DON’T DO IT. Keep only baby things in there, Diaper bags are big open bags and are very easily gotten into without you being any the wiser until you get to check out and start looking for your purse/wallet – too late then. Secure it before you go into the store or mall.

Men, move your wallet to your front pocket. It is much harder for a pickpocket to lift and much easier to feel when anyone is trying to get it out of your front pocket.

Charity scams abound because everyone (almost) is in a better mood and thinking good thoughts and feeling somewhat charitable toward the fellow man. Many of those soliciting donations at intersections are simply lining their own pockets. Don’t donate to charities you do not recognize or specifically want to subsidize. Best way is to contact the charity itself and send the money by check through the mail. Do not respond to phone or internet solicitations – partially because most of the calls are from phone banks and these people get paid from the donations. The money does not go directly to your charity of choice. The familiar red kettle of the Salvation Army is one of the exceptions. The Salvation Army donations go directly to the Salvation Army for their use without commissions and third party fund-raising expenses being taken out. Shriners are another group that puts 100% of their donation toward their hospitals. So far as I know, they do not pay solicitors to get donations for their charitable works. Shriners are staffed mostly by volunteers with a few paid workers to cover day to day operations. Nothing that large can exist with only volunteers. Rotary is another group that puts a vast majority of its money toward its charitable works. There are others; Kiwanis, Lions, etc., that have been around for ages and are recognized by everyone and are known for their works in the communities and throughout the world. But, mostly these do not concentrate their solicitations at Christmastime.

Don’t respond to emails that you do not know or recognize. Don’t click on a link that you are not 100% sure of. If you are interested, do a search for the item or group. Many times you can hover the curser over the return email address and see if it is the same as what is pretends to be.

Be careful this time of year buying things from internet retailers you do not recognize. Just because they say they have the latest and greatest and you too can have one to call your own by simply sending us your credit card information and waiting until the cows come home for your item. Usually, by the time you realize you have not gotten the item, it is well past the time anyone can find a trace of them on the internet, site is shut down and your credit card info has been compromised.

If you’re sending credit card information, and/or ordering over the internet, look for a secure server site by looking for “https”. The “S” means secure. So far the scammers have been less successful and spoofing the secure site.

If you are ordering packages from internet retailers and having the packages delivered by common carrier, try to make arrangements with a neighbor to accept your packages, Find a friend with an office, and ask if you can send your packages there. Many thieves follow the delivery trucks and simply walk up to the porch and pick up the packages as they are delivered. If you are a retiree or stay at home, do your neighbors a favor and watch out for delivery trucks and as they make their rounds. Make note or take pictures of cars which follow the trucks or which obviously don’t belong in your neighborhood. Be nosey. Make it unsettling for crooks to invade your neighborhood. Call the cops if you are uncomfortable. They are going to be busy this time of year, but will take your information and be on the lookout for whatever has made you uncomfortable. There is nothing like a police car to break up a little group of thieves. Get a camera and walk out and take pictures. A camera will cause thieves to leave and not return as they know if something happens, the police will get a copy and start their investigation. I especially like photos at night. The flash really lets them know they are being watched. Most thieves are not confrontational and will go where the pickings are easier and there are fewer eyes watching.

Common sense and a heightened awareness that there are those out there who will try to take advantage of your belief in your fellow man will deter thieves. Some of us get that cold, anxious feeling as we attempt to get everyone what they want for Christmas. The bad guys are depending on us being distracted by wanting to please those on our shopping lists. Don’t let the bad guys spoil your Christmas, or whatever season you celebrate at this time of year.

If you are unsure, search, ask, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by promises over the phone, mail, or internet.

Be safe, be smart. Survive the season with your bank account intact and your sanity only slightly compromised.

And from me and mine, it is a “MERRY CHRISTMAS” wish and may your new year start on a positive note.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. This does not constitute the establishment of an attorney client relationship between you and this lawyer. Most information is of a very general nature and cannot attempt to cover all fact situations. Nothing contained in this web site should be construed to constitute a recommendation of any product, service, or web site.

Weston Cotten is admitted to practice in all Texas Courts, all Federal District Courts in Texas, and the U. S. Tax Court, though not certified as to any legal specialization. He is a member of the College of the State Bar of Texas.

Please visit his website at www.westoncotten.com, or call at 281-421-5774. Office located at 5223 Garth Road, Baytown 77521.