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A Few Tips for Safer Holidays

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Everybody wants to believe in the kindness of the season this time of year, but it's still smart to keep a somewhat level head about the world. 

On the upside, taking a few precautions to keep your home from being too tempting to would-be crooks can actually make your holidays more enjoyable. 

First off, if you're staying home, do enjoy decorating and do enjoy showing it all off to the neighbors. But don't leave your home (nor the fancy presents) on dispplay when you're not there, says Lancaster County Sheriff Deputy Bill Murphy. 

"If I come to your house when you’re not home and see all the presents, how inviting is that?" Murphy says.

One of the more common calls he hears has to do with this kind of thing -- giving the whole world a great view of all the valuable stuff you have laying right next to a big window. Another common call is about "porch pirates," he says. Those are the people who drive around looking for packages left on porches and who then steal them. There are security cameras that can record when someone takes a package from your doorstep, but there are also ways to thwart theft in the first place.

The Columbia Police Department offers some tips, but consider having packages delivered to a friend or family member that will be home. Or have it delivered to your work. Or pick it up yourself at a store, if you can.

Some states and cities do offer the ability to have packages shipped directly to a police station, but South Caroina does not appear to have many (if any) departments that do that.

Also, while you're home, you might get a visitor spreading holiday cheer or soliciting for a charity. Best to wary of strangers in general, and whtever you do, don't let them in your home.

Whether you're home or away, the internet always lurks. The Upstate Business Journal outlines some simple ways to stay safe online. That includes watching where you buy from and what kinds of bogus gift exchanges or charities to watch out for.

If you’re going away over the holidays, even for just a couple days, consider a few basics, Murphy says. Stop your mail, have a trusted neighbor or friend move your car a couple times, and put your lights on a timer. 

"I like to put timers on TV sets," Murphy says. "Very few people have a tv on in their home when they’re not there."

You can also ask your local police department or sheriff's office to keep an eye on your place if you know you'll be away. Call the local number (not 911) and talk to the communications officer. Let the department know when you'll be away, when you'll be back, and anything they might need to know about your property, like whether you have a spare car in the driveway. An officer will occasionally ride past your home and see if all is kosher. 

And if you do go away, Murphy says don't let the world know on Twitter or instagram or Facebook that you'll be gone. 

"Tell everybody about your trip when you get home," he says. "Put all the pictures up you want after you get back. If I know you, or I know someone who knows you, now I know you’re not home."

Lastly, remember to not put the boxes for all your expensive new stuff out on the curb as-is, once your present-opening festivities are over. Murphy says it's best to break those boxes down and put them inside other, nondescript boxes or bags.