ANDERSON — Ah, the holidays. There’s hype and hoopla, and an avalanche of advertisements of happy, loving families gathering at home.
You can almost smell the aroma of turkey and mashed potatoes, and rolls and pie warming in the oven. And stuff — lots and lots of stuff.
Everyone wants that joyous holiday season.
To help make it so, move safety high up on your list of holiday practices. Remember that, as you’re checking off the gifts and the necessary ingredients for your famous side dish, this is also high season for professional thieves, and potential hazards in the home.
Here are a few safety tips compiled from the Anderson Fire Department, Better Business Bureau, Los Angeles Police Department and FedEx.
Christmas tree fire safety
Choose a recently cut tree, according to the Anderson Fire Department’s 2017 Fire Prevention Manual, because they are less likely to become a fire hazard. Provide a continuous source of water, and keep the tree away from fireplaces, candles, even the television. Make sure the stand is sturdy so the tree can’t be knocked down by children or pets.
Use lab-certified low-energy lighting, attaching a maximum of three strings to any one extension cord, and position that cord so it doesn’t become a trip hazard.
Turn the lights off at night. Artificial trees should be flame resistant. If using a metal tree, avoid electric lights; they can charge the tree and lead to electrocution.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and make sure everyone knows how to use it.
There’s nothing quite like the soft glow of candles on a cold winter night, but any open flame should be treated with respect.
Never leave a burning candle unattended, and make sure it’s away from anything that can catch fire. Also, make sure candles are in places where children and pets can’t reach them.
Experts also suggest trimming wicks to 1/4-inch before burning, because long or crooked wicks can cause uneven burning, dripping or flaring.
Finally, be sure to use proper candle holders because they are heat resistant, sturdy and large enough to contain any drips or melted wax.
As much as possible, do your holiday shopping during the day, but if you must shop at night, park in a well-lighted area, as close to your destination as possible. Avoid shopping while wearing expensive jewelry, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car. This creates a temptation for thieves. If you must leave something in the car, lock it in the trunk or put it out of sight.
Locate your keys before getting into your car. Keep a secure hold on your purse, handbag and parcels. Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area. Better yet, ask store staff or mall security to escort you to your vehicle.
As for the kids, leave small children at home with a trusted babysitter if possible, LAPD says. If not, teach them to go to a store clerk and ask for help if they get separated from you. Better yet, teach them to stay close while shopping. Don’t allow them to make unaccompanied trips to the restroom. Teach children their full name, address and telephone number to give to police or mall security, and to immediately inform you if a stranger is bothering them.
Home delivery safety
As the popularity of online shopping continues to grow, package delivery services such as Amazon, FedEx, United Parcel Service and U.S. Postal Service are kicking into high gear.
You never know when they might arrive on your doorstep, which means those boxes might simply be left on your doorstep, which is just too enticing for thieves to ignore.
It doesn’t have to be this way, according to FedEx. When ordering online, consider an alternate delivery destination such as your workplace, friend or neighbor. You can also have packages sent to the nearest FedEx location, an option available through UPS and the Postal Service.
Package delivery services will also let you chose a date and time for delivery, so you can plan to be at home when packages arrive.
If you live in an apartment, office staff usually will accept packages for their residents.
Phony bill collectors
Phony debt collectors are guaranteed to increase your holiday stress level because they are threatening and persistent.
People can sometimes be intimidated into paying for debts they never occurred, but don’t let that happen to you. Recently, a Florida company, ACS Inc., has been targeting consumers in central Indiana demanding payment of phony debts, according to the Better Business Bureau
If you are contacted by a debt collector, ask the caller for their name, company, street address, telephone number and professional license number. Be sure to get a written “validation notice,” which all debt collectors are required to provide. Do not pay any debt if you don’t receive this notice.
And do not fall for the threats or intimidation. Police are not going to arrest you. As always, do not give these callers any personal information. If the company and debt are legit, they should have information such as bank account and credit card information already.
iTunes, gift card scams
So many scams, so little space. At this time of year, card scams proliferate like dandelions. The best policy is simply to avoid them altogether, according to the Better Business Bureau
Say, for example, you receive an email claiming to be from iTunes. The text will be some variation of this: “You sent an iTunes gift card of $200 to firstname.lastname@example.org.” A gift card image is presented, as well as an invoice. The scam is this: In the invoice, there is a link offer to cancel if you don’t recognize the transaction. Click on that link and you are taken to a fake website, which asks you for personal information. Do not provide any. Click out.
Avoid this scam by buying iTunes cards from iTunes or their official reps.
Resist the temptation to use your phone or bring your laptop with you to the mall to scout gifts you plan to buy at a lower cost online. These days there are lots of free Wi-Fi signals available, and some are put out by scammers. If you buy a gift online from a public place, your credit card information could be at risk, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The best way to avoid cyber-criminals is never to enter your credit card information while using Wi-Fi in a public place. Remember, while you are online shopping for gifts, they are online looking for credit card information.
Sophisticated cyber-crime is a business like any other, which includes spending money to make money, like building complete copies of well-known sites. Then cyber-criminals will begin sending emails promoting great deals. Once you’ve “shopped” on these bogus sites, your credit cards have been compromised, and possibility your identity as well, according to the Better Business Bureau
You can avoid this dilemma by using secure sites, indicated by the “https://” in the web address. If the address begins with http:// instead, steer clear. This is an unsecured site and your information could be compromised.