Preparation is the key to safe vacations

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Every year about this time, mailboxes are inundated with all types of vacation brochures and flyers for great places to visit. How many times, though, can you remember receiving information on how to have fun in the sun without becoming a crime victim?

Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson witnesses the devastation experienced by people who have been scammed by companies promising more than they deliver, and he sees the victims of robberies, pickpockets, carjackers, muggers and other street criminals. He said he’s heard more than one vacation tale of woe.

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&uot;Staying alert to safety may make your summer much more pleasant and enjoyable,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;Criminals love the summer season because people go out more for walks and drives, visit friends and family and take vacation trips. I have offered a few simple precautions you can take now and you’ll help keep the fun going all summer long.&uot;

He also said some people don’t even have to leave home to suffer losses.

&uot;While out and about, your homes and cars are left unprotected and you are much more likely to become a target for criminal predators,&uot; he said. &uot;During the summer we are much more vulnerable to burglars, however, you can prevent crimes by installing alarms on your home and car and by taking common sense precautions when out working, shopping, dining or traveling. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and be alert to anything out of the ordinary.&uot;

With the summer weather, we’ll be spending as much time as possible outside in our backyards, working in the garden, or playing with the kids, and Ferguson noted that it is extremely important to lock the front door of your home when in the backyard.

&uot;It only takes a burglar a couple of minutes to locate purses left in the kitchen or money and jewelry in the bedrooms,&uot; he added. &uot;Also, keep your garage doors closed, even if you are home in the backyard. About 50 percent of the burglaries that will occur this summer will be at homes with open garage doors. Also, leave your lights on at night. Dollar for dollar, adequate lighting is still the cheapest security one can have at home.&uot;

Preventing crime during family travel starts with making sure your home is protected while you’re away. The key, according to the Commonwealth’s attorney, is to make it look like you never left.

&uot;You can leave the shades and blinds in their normal positions, and you should stop mail and newspaper deliveries or ask a neighbor to pick them up each day,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;Also, leave several household lights on timers so they turn on and off at appropriate times, just as if you are home.&uot;

Finally preparing for a family trip requires a lot of planning, and careful planning can decrease the chances of crime joining you on your journey. The first and one of the most important steps to take is, according to Ferguson, cleaning out your wallet or purse before leaving for vacation.

&uot;Take only essential credit cards, and plan to use credit cards or traveler’s checks instead of cash whenever possible,&uot; said the attorney. &uot;Ladies should carry their purses close to their side, and men should place wallets in an inside front pocket. Better yet, take a &uot;fanny pack&uot; or wear a money pouch under your clothes.&uot;

Pack as lightly as possible because many heavy, cumbersome bags slow you down and make you more vulnerable to getting robbed, Ferguson added. He also suggested that keeping a record of the contents of your luggage. The contents may be, in some instances, covered against theft by your homeowner’s policy. Also, keep anything of value such as medicine and jewelry in a carryon that stays with you.

Ferguson also cautioned that it is important to remember that tourists make tempting targets for thieves.

Your home is secured and you’re packed. Now it’s time to go. While you and your family are traveling, it’s important to remember that tourists make tempting targets for thieves.

&uot;Many times a vacationer is lost or distracted by being weighed down with bags and carrying cameras, plane tickets, money and other valuables,&uot; said Ferguson.

&uot;Unsuspecting travelers can attract crime like a magnet.

The best advice for you and your family is to do all you can to blend in with the crowd.

In other words, don’t display expensive jewelry, cameras, bags and other items that might draw attention. Check maps before you go out so you can tour confidently. Also, stick to well-lighted, well-traveled streets at all times – no shortcuts, and always lock your car when it is parked, even if it is only for a brief moment.&uot;

It is also a good idea to keep valuables locked in the trunk of your vehicle. Don’t advertise that you’re a tourist by leaving maps and guidebooks on the seat or dashboard – keep them in the glove compartment.

Traveling safely with your family also means sticking together, and with the number of child abductions within the past few years, parents should make sure they know where the children are at all times, Ferguson suggested.

&uot;Make sure they know where you’re staying – name and address of the hotel – and teach them what to do if they get lost or separated,&uot; he added. &uot;You might want to agree on a meeting place, just in case. And by all means, make sure your kids know not to accept rides or favors from strangers. The important thing is, just be as careful as possible so that you can bring back with you wonderful memories.&uot;

Additional tips from Ferguson’s office include:

Arrange to have grass mowed while you’re gone to give the home a lived-in look.

Don’t announce your absence on answering machine messages.

Make sure all door and window locks are in working order – and use them.

Never leave your house key hidden outside your home.

Activate your home alarm (if you have one).

You might even leave a radio on – or put it on a timer.

Ask a neighbor to park in your driveway overnight – anything that might suggest someone’s home.

Give trusted friends and neighbors your itinerary and emergency phone numbers. And keep a list of your credit cards, traveler’s checks and driver’s license numbers in a safe place.

For more information on summer safety, identity theft, or any other personal protective measures, call the Community Outreach Coordinator, Diana Klink, at the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney at 923-2238 to make an appointment with Ferguson or a member of his criminal justice staff.