Defeat crooks, stupidity and the weather this Christmas

Image: Front Porch, Circe Denyer, Public Domain,
Image: Front Porch, Circe Denyer, Public Domain,

Be safe this Christmas, especially if you’re away from home.

Here are some helpful tips:

1. Be aware of your surroundings
Holes in paths, unlit paths and streets, icy roads, all carry threats. Falling and twisting your ankle on a path or road you don’t walk regularly is a very common holiday injury. Carry a powerful flashlight and have your phone with you.

Be vigilant in parking lots you don’t know. Park close to the building you want, park under a light or on the best-illuminated place you can find. Carry your keys between your fingers like a blade and have your phone in your other hand ready to press 911 if you are at all concerned about the neighborhood.

And watch out for scammers targeting drivers as they reverse out of a parking space. They set themselves up to collide with you. There are usually two or three passengers in the car and one may grab their neck. The unsuspecting driver generally accepts they are at fault and the perps try to get all parties to agree to swap details and not contact the police. A claim for damages to the car or for whiplash or soft tissue injury is then made against the innocent driver, pushing up your premium. Do not accept you are at fault. Do insist on reporting it to the police (if it’s on a private parking lot like Walmart the police might not be interested but it’s a quick way to see how honest the other driver is.) Do take photos of everything, cars, location, people (if you can), and their insurance card. The more switched on you look the less likely they are to pursue it if it is a scam.

Don’t leave your car running to warm it up. You could lose your car AND your house contents because your house keys will likely be on your keychain and your house address in the glove compartment on your registration.

2. Online 

Keep a clean machine: All the devices you use for shopping – including smartphones and
tablets – should have up-to-date software including security software, operating systems, programs and apps.

When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise you and your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or if appropriate, mark as junk email.

Think before you act: Be wary of communications that offer amazing deals that sound too good to be true, implore you to act immediately – including those about a problem with an order or payment or ask you to view the website via a provided link. And don’t forget the old phone scam. Your bank will not call you and ask for information. If you get a call and you’re unsure, ask for their extension number, hang up, look up the phone number displayed on the website and call back. 99 times out of 100 it’ll have been a scam call.

Get savvy about Wi-Fi Hotspots: Don’t share personal or financial information over an unsecured network (a connection that doesn’t require a password for access). Using the direct web access on your phone (via a 3G/4G connection) is safer than an unsecured wireless network when on your mobile device.

Make sure the site is legitimate: This includes a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https. This indicates that the purchase is encrypted or secured. For new sites, check online reviews.

Protect your personal information: Be alert to the kinds of information being collected to complete the transaction. Make sure the information requested is only that needed to complete the transaction. Only fill out required fields on checkout forms. Check the website’s privacy policy. Make sure you understand how your information will be stored and used.

Use safe payment options: Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered. Credit cards may have a limit on the monetary amount you will be responsible for paying. PayPal is a good option as it encrypts some of your data, but remember everyone gets hacked. Never send cash through the mail or use a money-wiring service. (From Here)

Keep a paper trail: Save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale, and copies of email exchanges with the seller. Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there aren’t any unauthorized charges. If there is a discrepancy, call your bank and report it immediately.

“Porch pirates”: Police are seeing an uptick in people taking delivered packages off the doorstep of people’s homes. If you can’t be home have a big tote the delivery people can drop your packages into so they’re out of sight or give special instructions. Remember you can probably pick up from a bricks and mortar location and if all else fails have it delivered to a friend, family member or maybe even your work.

Phishing: Don’t get caught out by emails that look legitimate but aren’t. Hover your cursor over the Sender button and look at the originating address. It may say PayPal or Macy’s on the sender, but the email address might be something else all together. Or it might be just a little off, like and not Remember legitimate companies will never ask for your details. They will ask you to go to your account to sign in. And don’t do that through a link in the email. That’s probably a redirected link to someone trying to capture your data and identity. Instead, open a browser and go in through the site. And be very wary of those emails that say your delivery wasn’t made.

3. Securing your home

This is a commonsense checklist. Remember to insure that your premises are properly locked before leaving. Where possible, arrange with a relative or friend to look after your premises during the period of your absence or to at least keep their eyes open. Lock away valuables in safes or storerooms. Ensure that your mail is not pilling up in a box, which may alert possible criminals of your absence. You can arrange with the post office not to deliver during your absence. Do not leave gates or garage doors opened during periods of absence. Set your thermostat low so you don’t burn through electricity. Set some light timers to go on and off through the building randomly. If you set your alarm, remember to give anyone who is calling by to check on your home their own code. You don’t want the alarm company calling you when you have no idea if it’s a break-in requiring a police call out or someone watering your plants.

4. Keep an eye on your pets
In a strange place? Your dog can wander off and get hurt. And remember there are dog thieves out there. Dog thefts are on the up, so keep an eye on your pooch. Pets are also temperature sensitive.

The best strategy, of course, is to keep your pets indoors during cold weather. Outdoor cats are especially susceptible to hazards like frostbite, getting lost, or being exposed to diseases. If you don’t want to be outside, your pet probably doesn’t want to be, either. When you do venture outdoors with your dog, keep them on-leash. Snow and rain can wipe away familiar scents, causing your dog to become lost or disoriented. If you live in a very cold area, unsupervised dogs also run the risk of falling through thin ice near ponds or other frozen bodies of water.

A fur coat isn’t all the protection your pet needs from the cold, especially if she is short-coated, a puppy, or a senior. She might need a dog jacket to cover from neck to tail. When indoors, be sure she has a warm, draft-free spot to rest in with lots of bedding. And to keep her skin and coat in tip-top shape from the dry winter air, brush her more frequently than usual, and never shave a long-coated dog during the winter. SnuggleSafe Pet Heating Pads can be warmed in the microwave and retain heat for 12 hours. They are excellent for tucking in your pet’s bedding at night.

When it’s cold or rainy out, pets might resist going to the bathroom outside. Work with them to try to keep them comfortable while they do their business – a jacket or rain slicker might help, as would holding an umbrella over them to keep them dry.

When the temperature drops, cats will look for any warm place to curl up. This includes under the hoods of cars where they can be seriously injured or killed when the car starts. A trick to evict stowaways is to bang on the hood of your car loudly a few times before you enter. You should never leave your pet unattended in a car on a cold day. The winter weather turns your car into a rolling refrigerator – great for keeping your groceries chilled, but terrible for keeping your pet safe. If it’s cold outside, leave your animals warm and safe at home.

When coming in from a winter walk or play session, dry your pet off thoroughly and take extra care to wipe her legs, paws, and stomach. Pets in snowy climates can pick up salt, antifreeze, or other dangerous chemicals on their pads and lick them off, making them sick. Ice and salt can also cause their pads to crack and bleed, so look them over thoroughly after all outside adventures.

Unless they have been raised to it, pets should not be kept outside during the cold months. However, if you absolutely must leave them outdoors for a limited amount of time, create a shelter for them to retreat to. It should be dry, clean, and well-insulated (straw works well to trap heat), and protect them from the wind and elements. And be sure to frequently check their water bowl to be sure they have plenty of fresh (not frozen) H2O.

Animals with fragile immune systems – including kittens, puppies, and senior pets – might be more susceptible to illness during the change of seasons. If you suspect your animal has a cold weather-related illness, take them to see the vet right away.