Holiday crime dulls the season’s glitter

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 4, 1999

Christmas is supposed to be the season of giving; however, some see it as the season of stealing.

Every year at this time law enforcement officers across the nation report an increase in thefts and burglaries and Butler County is no different.

Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris said there are several ways

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thieves will try to take advantage of people during the busy holiday shopping season.

There has already been reports of flimflamming here in Butler County. This particular crime is usually aimed at the elderly and occurs where people feel the most comfortable-their own homes.

"Usually there are at least two people involved in this type scheme. Sometimes there are more people and there are a few instances where there has only been one person involved," Harris said.

The crime involves the criminal pretending to be someone they are not in order to gain entry into the victim's home.

"Usually, someone will go to the door and pretend to be with the phone company, electric company or something like that in order to gain entry into the house," she said. "There are different ways for them to steal once they have established a trust with the home owners."

One example of flimflamming that has occurred here recently involved two men who targeted an elderly man. They told the victim he should hold the front door open while they do some measurements of the house. With the diversion in place, one of the men entered through the back door and stole the man's wallet, which he probably saw when he entered the home earlier.

"When they enter the house initially, they are usually looking for something they can steal. Then they keep the victim busy while the actual theft is taking place. By the time the victim realizes what has happened, the thieves are gone," she said.

Harris said there are ways to protect a home from flimflammers.

"People should always ask to see an identification card to confirm that they are who they say they are," she said. "If anybody suspects someone who has come to their house they should call the Sheriff's Office immediately so that we can get there while they are still on the premises and have a better chance of arresting them."

Another thing Harris suggests is to always take a good look at the vehicle that is being used by anyone who comes to the door that would be considered a stranger. It is also wise to look at the license plate number if possible.

There are other, more traditional, ways to take advantage of people during the holiday season. When shopping, people should remember to conceal the merchandise they have bought when they leave their vehicle.

"Try to park in a well-lit area and always hide the packages that you have inside the vehicle. It is very easy for someone to break out a window, take the packages and disappear with someone else's Christmas gifts," she said.

Another time to be careful is when stopping at a gas station. Lock your doors when you get out and be cautious as you walk back to your car. Whether at a gas station or mall, it is always wise to have your keys in your hand ready to open the door and enter quickly.

There is also the old-fashioned burglaries. Crooks know that Christmas is a perfect time to catch people off their guard and come away with a lot of new, expensive merchandise for free.

"We tend to have a lot of burglaries around this time of the year," Harris said. "They will take any packages and gifts they see plus any jewelry, guns or money they can find."

For those who may be planning a trip out of town for any length of time between now and Christmas should be cautious and let people they know help them protect their homes.

"If someone has plans to go out of town they should call the Sheriff's Office so that we can set up some type of surveillance and keep an eye on the house while they are gone. They also should designate a neighbor or someone they trust to look after their home," she said.

Harris said the best way to be protected during the season is to be careful and use their heads.

"Some of these crimes could be prevented if people would just slow down and think," she said. "Everybody is in such a hurry during the shopping season and criminals have a way of taking advantage of that. It is important that everyone be a little more careful this time of the year so that they will not become a victim."