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2011 column image: 
2011 column title: 

Spend and Celebrate Safely to Ensure a Happy Holiday Season

2011 column date: 
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
2011 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

MADISON — The festive, holiday season is full of opportunity – the chance to take a break, to spend time with family and good friends, to show loved ones how much you care, or to give back to your community. But, unfortunately, with all of the activity and distraction, some of us will fall victim to those who would rather steal than celebrate during the holiday season.

 

So, while preparing to put up your holiday decorations or purchase gifts, be sure to put your guard up for some common crimes during this time of year.

 

Many of us will shop online. The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center has some reminders to protect yourself and your personal information in cyberspace. For instance, do not respond to unsolicited e-mail, or spam, and do not click on links contained within those e-mails. Do not share personal information by e-mail, and if you wish to visit an online retailer, make sure the retailer is reputable and go directly to the retailer's site instead of clicking a link within an unsolicited e-mail. And, always feel free to contact a business directly if you're uncertain. If you think you've received a scam e-mail, you can notify the FBI by filing a complaint online.

 

But if the risk is real at our fingertips, it's as real on the street. Especially in crowded shops or restaurants, we all need to be well aware of our surroundings to avoid becoming a target. Never leave your purchases or personal belongings unattended, and keep them out of view if left in a parked – and locked -- vehicle. Remember to park your vehicle only in well lit, open areas, where thieves would more likely be seen. And, always keep your head up while walking to your vehicle. Criminals want to catch people – especially those with items of value on them -- off guard and appearing vulnerable, but these common sense reminders can go a long way toward prevention.

 

If you're one of the many who see the season as a reason to donate to charity, please do so responsibly. Some charities solicit donations in person by going door-to-door or by soliciting donors on street corners or in malls. However, if you are concerned that the money you donate may not reach the intended charity, you can always mail in your donation or donate online. Anyone may check out a charity by going to www.irs.gov, or go to www.give.org, which is part of the Better Business Bureau. Both sites allow you to check out organizations and non-profits to make sure your well intended gift will be well spent. And, if donating online, use the same kind of caution you would use if shopping in cyberspace. If you do think you've fallen victim to a phony charity, report it to Consumer Protection at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Every year, the Wisconsin Department of Justice files cases to enforce our state's consumer protection laws, but we all can do our part to prevent consumer fraud.

 

Finally, if you consume alcohol, keep in mind, you're a more attractive victim, but you also could victimize yourself, your family or others if you get behind the wheel intoxicated. Designate a driver, buckle up and make it a happy holiday season. Thank you.