This Christmas, safety is the best present

This Christmas, safety is the best present

Yes, Christmas is almost upon us and a chance to celebrate with family and friends.

However, criminals also like to celebrate in a rather different way! This can be through online scams or property theft.

This article is, therefore, “my take” on some crimes that may be more prevalent at this time of year and how, through simple measures, the risks can be reduced, therefore ensuring we all have a safe and crime-free Christmas.

Online scams are becoming more common than ever, but unfortunately many people fall for these. Our “good tidings” are, therefore, that through taking simple steps, most of these can be avoided. After all, Christmas can be an expensive time and the last thing we want is to lose money through a scam or any crime. So, let’s deal with scams first.

Online shopping fraud

Unfortunately, not everything on Facebook and other social media is true! There is a temptation (sometimes a compulsion) to respond immediately to posts, or click on dubious links, and this applies to offers of goods and services. Remember, if it appears too good to be true then it usually is! Take time to check out the offer.

If possible, use online retailers/brands you are aware of and trust. For major brands, always go to their official website to find a list of authorised sellers. Having selected your retailer, then check the delivery, insurance, warranty and returns policy. Ensure you have adequate anti-virus software that will enable your computer to flag any untrustworthy sites.

  • Fake parcel delivery scams

In the lead up to Christmas, we are already seeing an increase in Portugal of online parcel delivery scams using the names of well-known couriers, such as CTT.

If you are expecting a delivery, be particularly careful. Do not click on any links in emails, open attachments or reply. These are either phishing emails where the fraudster is attempting to gain your personal information or means of inserting a virus into your computer. Simply delete the email. Be aware of any QR code embedded in an unsolicited email which can be a scam. If you don’t know the sender, don’t scan the QR code. If in doubt, check with the company concerned but not using the contact details in the email.

  • Mobile payments

There are an increasing number of services such as banking services available through your mobile device. The number of attacks on mobile phones are now almost exceeding that of computers. Sound advice is not to store or save passwords or personal/financial data on your mobile device unless it is absolutely necessary and make sure the phone is passcode protected.

If stolen, most mobile devices have the software to wipe all data from their memory remotely – learn how this works. Do not leave your Bluetooth on as cyber-criminals can hack into your device unnoticed. Also install anti-virus software and check the security features.

  • 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 browser.

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.

Property crime

Let’s now turn to what I will describe as property crimes. Although crimes such as theft from vehicles and burglaries have shown downward trends in recent years, they are still relatively common and may increase at this time of year; so, it’s best to be aware and prepared.

  • Security of valuable items

Going Christmas shopping? Don’t leave valuables and gifts on display in your car. Theft of items from cars is one of the highest crimes in Portugal. Valuable items such as electronic goods, mobile phones and TVs are sought-after items by criminals, so make sure that they are not left on display.

In 2021, there was a marked increase in opportunity theft, favourite items being mobile phones and handbags. Much of this is down to carelessness by not looking after one’s property. Be particularly aware at Christmas markets and crowded stores when shopping, as not all of those around you are sharing the same Christmas spirit of “goodwill to all”.

  • Distraction crime

From time to time, we hear of distraction crime mainly in supermarket carparks. Distraction crime usually involves two or more culprits but can be one. The modus operandi is to distract you and, whilst distracted, your property is stolen. Although often in car parks, it can be in street or in coffee shop terraces. Shopping trolleys may be more loaded with attractive goods in the lead up to Christmas, so please be vigilant to this type of crime.

Late night out and drink driving

Attending a Christmas party? Some useful tips to help you have an enjoyable time out include:

  • Drink water and a snack before you go out and between alcoholic drinks during the night as it will reduce the effect of the alcohol on your body.
  • If in a bar or nightclub, do not leave your drink unattended.
  • When walking home if you are under the influence of alcohol, it is best to be accompanied by friends. Alternatively use a taxi or, if available, public transport.
  • Do not get in a car with someone who’s been drinking. Remember in Portugal that drinking and driving at 0.5g/l and above is against the law and at 1.2g/l or above, a criminal offence. If you have been driving for less than three years, then it is 0.3g/l and above.

I know it is awful at this time of year to even have to think about these matters; but we live in a real world and unfortunately there are those who take advantage at this time of year to carry out such crimes.

Safe Communities Portugal wishes you all a Very Happy and Safe Christmas and New Year.

By David Thomas
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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 2011, he founded Safe Communities 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.
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