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 November 22nd, 2010  
St. Lucie County Sheriff warns members of the public: Don't fall for scams and protect your personal safety during the holiday season
When people get busy with holiday shopping, family gatherings and gift giving, it's easy to lose your focus, warns St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara.

"All of us get busier during the holidays than at any other time of the year," Sheriff Mascara said. "We want to prepare just the right meal for family members, and we want to find just the right gifts for our loved ones. This is the time of year when thieves and fraud-mongers are counting on busy people to lose their focus and become vulnerable to crime. This takes place on the Internet as well as when people do their holiday shopping at stores."

Members of the public can get the latest Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit safety bulletins and learn more about frauds and scams by going to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office website at stluciesheriff.com.

If you think something is shady, it probably is. Report scams by calling the Sheriff's Office's detectives at 772-462-3230. For emergencies, call 9-1-1.

Sheriff Mascara has these holiday tips to avoid being victimized by Internet-based scam artists or more traditional thieves:

- Conduct an inventory of your valuables, and engrave them with your driver license number. This greatly increases the chance that we can recover these items if they are stolen.

- Consider buying a home alarm system. Prices for these systems are lower than in previous years because of improvements in technology.

- Call the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit at 772-871-5303 for a free home security inventory. There are many low-cost ways to protect your home.

- When you go shopping, have a plan of action before you leave your home for a day or evening of shopping. Carry only what you need in your purse or wallet. Shop with a companion, and only park in well lighted or well traveled areas. Carry your purse in front of you, and never leave it in a shopping cart. It takes only a matter of seconds for a person to remove credit cards, checks and valuables from your purse without your knowledge.

- When you go shopping, don't get tunnel vision. Not being aware of your surroundings can give the criminal the element of surprise. Don't assume that you're alone. Placing your purse, wallet or purchases in your vehicle's trunk may seem like a safe and easy way to hide them unless a criminal sees you do so.

When you are using the Internet, be aware that thieves are counting on you to not pay close attention to what you're doing. Concentrate, and be cautious.

- Anything that looks too good to be true is, indeed, too good to be true. This includes travel or vacation deals, amazing jobs with astounding pay and deals on craigslist or eBay that are more generous than common sense would allow.

- Keep close track of the purchases you make with your credit cards, on line and at stores. Most credit card companies let you check a website to monitor your purchases. If you find charges for items you didn't buy, immediately notify the credit card company. There's a toll-free customer service number on the back of your credit card for this purpose.

- Don't give any websites personal information such as your bank account numbers or your Social Security account number. This is especially true for any e-mails you receive asking for this information. Such e-mail messages are frauds. If you're not sure about whether to provide personal information, including credit card numbers, over the Internet, don't do it. Instead, call your bank or credit card company to make sure you're not dealing with scam artists.

- Watch out for fake invoices in the postal mail or in your e-mail. Don't pay them. Check them out.

- You did not win the Canadian or Irish lottery. Immediately delete any e-mail messages telling you that you have won money. Hang up on anyone telephoning you to "inform" you that you have won something. You could be winning a depleted bank account. Don't send money either by check or by wiring money. Save your money. You'll need it to pay your bills after holiday shopping.

- There is no governmental official who escaped his country with a bundle of money he wants to share with you. Throw away the letter or delete the e-mail message "notifying" you of this windfall, and don't send money.

- Chances are, you did not inherit a huge amount of money from a long-lost relative. Throw away the letter or delete the e-mail message "notifying" you of this windfall. Don't send money.

- Most importantly, let common sense be your guide. If something seems suspicious, follow your intuition and don't become a victim. * * *

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