By Karen Zautyk
Despite the dateline, this is an article for readers in all our Observer towns, not just Nutley. So please pay heed. Recently Chief Thomas Strumolo and Det. Tom Perrota of the Nutley Police Department held an informational session in Town Hall offering crime prevention tips. The focus was on travelling and shopping during the holiday season, but, just as with the dateline, they are more widely applicable.
For example: Lock your cars. Whether you are in a mall parking lot or at home. Year-round.
I have lost track of the number of times I have forwarded that warning from cops in various communities, but people continue to ignore it, even though thieves are continually, by night and by day, prowling the streets and lots for unlocked vehicles. Sometimes, they take the cars. More often, they take what’s in the cars.
A few weeks back, for example, the Nutley PD nabbed a guy who was riding around with 11 GPS units in his auto. He didn’t have them because he was paranoid about getting lost. All of them had reportedly been stolen — from unlocked vehicles.
As for shopping, especially at malls, the advice for drivers includes:
• Avoid parking next to vans, trucks with camper shells or cars with tinted windows.
• Park as close as you can to your destination.
• At night, park in a well-lit area.
• Do not leave packages or valuables in plain sight in the car. If you must leave something in the vehicle, lock it in the trunk.
• Do not leave CHILDREN in the car. (Don’t laugh. Some people do this.)
• When returning to your car, have your keys ready.
• When approaching or leaving your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
• Do not approach the car if there is anyone suspicious in the area. Call the cops or go back and report it to store security.
• Do not place packages or your purse on top of the car.
• After entering your car, lock the doors immediately and leave. Don’t sit there rummaging around or chatting on your cell phone.
Inside or outside the store:
• Keep a firm hold on your purse. Don’t put it the shopping cart, even for a second. For those without a purse, keep your money in your front pocket.
• Do not carry large amounts of cash.
• Stay alert to your surroundings.
• Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. “At this time of year,” Perrota warned, “con-artists may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.”
(Personal note: They can try to take your money not by force but with some sob story. More than once, I have been approached by someone who needed “just a few dollars” to pay a parking lot fee or for bus fare or whatever because they had “lost” their wallet.)
• Be wary of purse-snatchers/ pickpockets not only in stores, but in any crowded area, e.g. at bus stops, on buses or trains, in transit hubs.
• Use one in a safe, well-lit location.
• Withdraw only the amount of cash you need.
• Protect your PIN by shielding the keypad from anyone standing nearby.
• Do not discard your ATM receipt at the ATM location (even in a trash receptacle).
• Teach your child to go to a store clerk and ask for help in case the child gets separated from you.
• Teach them not to get separated from you, but to stay close at all times while shopping.
• Never allow children to make unaccompanied trips to the restroom.
• Never allow them to go to the car alone.
• Teach the young ones their full name, address and phone number.
• Teach them to immediately inform you if a stranger bothers them.
• Update your security software. Make sure you have anti-virus, anti-spyware and antispam software and a good firewall.
• Keep your personal information/passwords secure. Do not respond to requests to “verify” your password or credit card info unless you initiated the contact. (Personal note: And even then I’d be wary.)
• Beware of “bargains” from unfamiliar companies. If it sounds too good to be true…
• Use only secure websites for purchases.
• Shop with companies you know and trust.
• Large displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through windows or doors.
• Lock your doors (with a deadbolt) and windows when you leave, even if it’s for just a few minutes.
• Do not leave your car unoccupied and with the motor running, even if it’s in your driveway. There are car thieves who roam the streets looking for just this scenario — and they’re in and gone in less than 60 seconds.
• Beware of strangers at your door. Especially at holiday time, criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering packages. “You’d better see that truck [FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.] out there,” Perrota warned. The same goes for “utility workers” who might ring your bell. Demand ID — and don’t let anyone in until you call the utility and confirm it has sent someone to your home. If the answer is “no,” call the police.
And speaking of calling the police:
Perrota and Strumolo both emphasized the need for the public to keep a watchful eye on their neighborhoods.
Residential burglaries usually start to spike in November — and most of them happen during the day.
“Be alert for suspicious activity,” Perrota said. “If someone looks out of place call us.”
And he added, “People always say they don’t want to bother us. But that’s what we’re here for.”
(Personal note: They mean that. I “bother” the police all the time. Last time, it was when I saw a neighbor on her porch trying to get rid of a door-to-door solicitor. The guy wasn’t leaving. I called the police.
Turned out, he didn’t have a permit — and he was asking her things like, “Do you live alone?” If I’d ever had any doubts about being overly cautious, that incident cured me.)