Avoid becoming the Christmas Turkey
Although a season of good cheer, the approach to Christmas and the New Year is a time when criminals have their own way of celebrating, by turning their attention to residential property crime.
Although property crime has decreased over the last few years it is best not to be complacent. In fact, more recently there has been an increase in opportunist crime with less care being taken in the protection of property. This may be a sign that people feel safe, which is reassuring, but at the same time makes it easier for criminals.
So let’s make it a Christmas to remember, for the right reasons, by taking simple and easy precautions that protect your home and, therefore, reduce the opportunities for criminals to celebrate.
Protecting your property when absent
In terms of opportunist residential household crime, the most frequent means of access is through open windows when the property is unoccupied. There is a simple message here and that is, before leaving your property, spend a few minutes checking that windows and doors are closed and locked, lights switch on if at night time, cars locked if kept in a driveway or open car-port, and, of course, do not forget to activate your alarm when actually leaving the property.
Install and use a good-quality safe for valuables and keep presents out of view from windows.
It is important to create the impression that a property is occupied when in fact it is not. The majority of burglars do not want to be confronted by occupants. Ways to create this impression are to use timers on lights and even radios.
If the house is unoccupied over a longer period, then register it through the GNR or PSP websites or by visiting your local police station. Having a helpful neighbour who can visit your home just twice a week, drawing curtains and moving a car in a driveway, are good ways of creating a “lived-in impression”, as well as checking everything is OK.
If you are away for longer periods, do not overlook simple measures such as not allowing your post box to become full. It is also best not to mention your absence on Facebook. See our Christmas menu for more measures.
Whereas foreign residents living in Portugal communicating on Facebook in English may feel that their messages will not be monitored by criminals, this is not in fact true. Giving information to the whole world on when you are leaving your house or going on holiday is like leaving the front door open to your property when it is empty – an open invitation to criminals.
On the subject of Facebook, whereas many people may think the contrary, not everything on Facebook and other social media is true! Avoid the temptation to respond immediately to posts, in particular offers of cheap goods and services. Remember, if it appears too good to be true then it usually is! Take time to check any offer out particularly if it means spending a lot of money.
Social media scams
There is no doubt that many frauds take place because the victims have divulged too much personal information about themselves on social media. I always think this is ironical; as people are more worried about government having too much information about them, but, at the same time, give more away themselves to the general public. Therefore, it is sensible not to have too much personal information on social media accounts which could allow your bank accounts to be compromised.
Donating to charity
Unfortunately, the number of fake charity scams is increasing, tugging on your heart strings at this time of the year. Never click on a hyperlink in an email purportedly from a charity. Instead, visit the charity’s website first by typing the address into your browse.
Before you donate, check the website you are on is secure – the web address should begin with https:// (the “s” stands for “secure”) and look for the padlock symbol. It is very risky to respond to requests to donate through a money transfer company such as Western Union or MoneyGram. This is the same for any service. If you are still worried, a legitimate charity will advise you on other ways to give on their website or via a phone call.
Alcohol and drink driving
Of course, the festive season is a time for relaxation and for many the opportunity for late-night partying or simply going to a nice restaurant or bar to celebrate. However, it is best to drink in moderation.
Never drink so much that you can’t remember anything; remember you are very vulnerable if you are drunk. Try turning up to the bar/party later to reduce your drinking time. Drink water before you go out and during the night as it will reduce the effect of the alcohol on your body.
Of course, do not drink and drive. Police will be mounting extensive operations over the Christmas and New Year periods and if you are caught with 0.5g/l and over you will be fined, and at 1.2 g/l it is a criminal offence. It is best to use a taxi or, if available, public transport. Do not get in a car where the driver has been drinking.
For late-night entertainment businesses
In the lead up to Christmas and the New Year, cash takings for many businesses will be higher than usual, in particular bars and other places of entertainment. Criminals are wise to this, and there have been cases in the Algarve where bars have been watched to decide which is likely to have high takings.
A problem for many businesses is how to handle cash over this period, in particular whether to transport large sums of cash to the bank or keep it on the premises. Firstly, when transporting cash do not place staff at risk; if the amounts are high, whatever the distance, the cash should be carried by a group of two or three staff members distributed between them; knowledge of cash handling arrangements should only be known to those who need to know; cash transportation times should be varied and routes varied as well; and it is better to deposit smaller amounts of cash at regular intervals, rather than large sums in one go.
Presents left in full view
Keep presents out of sight: if they can be seen, they can be stolen.
Sat Nav’s and laptops
These items are currently high on the car thieves’ shopping list.
When you leave your car, take them with you.
Car left unlocked
Always close windows, never leave keys in the ignition,
engage steering lock and alarm, and lock all doors.
Park in well-lit areas, or in attended car park
and do not obstruct other vehicles.
Doors and windows not secured
Ensure all doors and windows are locked.
Gifts displayed under the tree
Ensure all gifts are kept out of view.
Car keys and handbags conveniently placed
Never leave car keys or handbags downstairs at night – take them to bed with you
The unoccupied look – going on holiday
Use lights with timers both inside and out.
Ask a neighbour to visit your house.
If you are registered with the GNR Safe Residence Programme, inform your SRP team.
Cold callers and opening door to strangers
Do not give personal details to cold callers over the phone.
Do not let strangers or salesmen into your house.
Easy theft from homes
Keep valuable items in a well-fitted safe.
Make a record of model/serial numbers of
electrical items/cameras etc
Wallets and handbags
Keep wallets in front pockets and handbag under your arm.
Do not place them on counters or market stalls.
Cheque book and card left unattended
Never leave your cheque book and card together,
keep your pin number confidential.
Do not write your pin number down
on a piece of paper or make a note in your diary.
Thieves know where to look.
Do not carry large amounts of cash
or leave it in your house.
Thieves know where to look!
By David Thomas
David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal, with a new website www.safecommunitiesportugal.com launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on 913045093 or at www.facebook.com/scalgarve