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FORT LEE, Va. -- With Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebration – followed by Black Friday shopping weekend and the December holidays just a short time after that – most thoughts these days include visions of hearty home-cooked meals, gift-giving ideas, travel plans and how to make the most of time off with family and friends.

The unfortunate reality that’s less likely to be on everyone’s mind is how criminals are able to capitalize on this season of festivities when many are away from home and/or tend to overlook good security measures amid the hustle and bustle of holiday affairs.

It’s no surprise that theft – including home break-ins and items taken from vehicles – tops the list of most-frequent holiday season crimes, according to national law enforcement statistics. Stealing credit information runs a close second, followed by email and telephone scams that prey on individuals who think they’re getting a “great deal” on hard-to-find gift items or helping a charity in this time of giving back to others.

Typically, the best way to thwart a criminal is to put yourself in his or her shoes. Consider what a thief sees when “shopping” for things to steal. Is an unlit home with a week of letters sitting in the mailbox a clear indication of the occupants being away on vacation? Would the gift-filled plastic bags from a major electronics store left on the backseat of a vehicle grab your attention? If you wanted to scare someone into giving up their account information, what tricks would you use, realizing that many people forget that banks or credit card companies won’t request those sorts of details over the phone?

With prior planning and common sense prevention measures, individuals can make themselves a less likely target for thieves, scammers and the like. Here are a few more tips to discourage the scrooges from “bah-humbugging” your holiday breaks:

• Always lock doors and windows even if you’re leaving the house for only a few minutes

• Keep vehicles parked outside locked; never leave valuables in plain sight on dashboards or seats.

• While gift shopping, be strategic about parking, avoiding areas where a criminal could easily hide. Watch for suspicious individuals while walking to your vehicle and place purchased items out of sight in the trunk.

• Avoid having large displays of gifts visible from windows or doors; consider keeping high-dollar presents stashed away until Christmas Eve.

• Don’t give clues to the gifts you received – break down and invert boxes and packaging when placing empties out for trash collection

• Place lights on timers so your home appears occupied while you are away

• For extended holiday travel, ask a trusted neighbor or friend to watch your home and collect mail and newspapers. A temporary stop-delivery request also can be submitted via the U.S. Postal Service website for absences of three days or more.

• Sign up for signature delivery from your designated package shipping companies. Deliveries left unattended on the front porch invite thievery.

Fort Lee residents leaving for three or more days also can take advantage of the Provost Marshal Office House Watch Program. After sign-up, the police will conduct periodic, exterior checks of the specified home while the family is out-of-town.

“It provides the community with an extra level of security during vacation periods,” noted Lt. Col. Joe Ward, DES director and Provost Marshal. “The house watch program serves as a deterrent against crime with the goal of minimizing break-ins while families are away.”

Residents can sign up through any of the following ways:

• Visit the Military Police Station on Mahone Avenue and fill out the required paperwork

• Fill out the online registration form at www.lee.army.mil/pmo/flpolice.aspx.

• Visit the Fort Lee Police Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fortleepolice/ and locate the house watch program under services

During routine checks within the housing community, PMO officers will verify the security of buildings on the HWP list by testing all reachable windows and doors to ensure they are locked. In the event they’re not secure, the officer will immediately contact the emergency number listed by the person who signed up for the program and inform the individual of the status of the home.

The Fort Lee law enforcement team plans to increase its visible presence throughout on-post housing areas as well. As always, community members are encouraged to report any suspicious or criminal activity to the MP desk anytime day or night at 804-734-7400.