Sheriff's department gives holiday safety advice to seniors

Dec. 9—The most likely targets for criminal activity during the holidays are seniors, according to the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department, but by taking a few precautions, those of all ages can increase the likelihood of celebrating without fear of theft or burglary.

Kim Lopez, lieutenant and deputy sheriff of the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office, said that small changes can be as easy as remembering to position blinds on windows in an upward position.

"Speaking specifically of Christmas Crime, here's one thing. We are doing it wrong. With respect to our blinds, we are tilting them downward. They need to be tilted up. When criminals peek into your window, they won't be able to see everything under your Christmas tree," she said.

Many criminals have already surveyed the houses that they plan to enter — often using Halloween as an opportunity to peer into homes.

"So, they want to see the inside of your door. They want to see if there's any windows on, or beside, your front door. They can put a mask on, and you'll just think it's a high school kid trick or treating. When you open your door, they'll want to see what's on the inside," said Lopez.

These criminals are examining what type of deadbolt a homeowner uses so they can prepare how to cut through it. Lopez recommends installing a two-sided lock.

For those that go this route, she recommends keeping a key easy to access in the case of a fire emergency.

Seniors can also become targets at the store as they are buying groceries or holiday presents, especially if they are paying with a debit card. Lopez recommends that shoppers swipe their debit cards as credit cards, this way, they will not need to enter a personal identification number.

"Most people think if they enter the magic numbers, then that's safe because they are the only ones that know the number. That simply isn't true," said Lopez.

Scammers now have the ability to affix heat-sensing cameras on the backs of their iPhones. This allows them to take pictures of heat signatures on keypads, which means that they will know a person's PIN that corresponds with their debit card.

"It is very easy to see what numbers they hit first, because the first digit turns to a green color as it cools, and the last digit they hit is yellow and red," she said.

These criminals often take photos of the debit card while they are casually waiting in line. They also take pictures of shoppers writing out checks.

"They are taking rapid pictures of your mother's check. Then they know where she lives, they know her account number, and they know her name. They know the bank based on the symbol. All they need are the seven digits in the middle, and with 75 pictures taken, they are going to get it," Lopez said.

A trick that she suggests is for every senior to use a shopping cart, even if they are only picking up one item, and then pulling it into the checkout line, rather than pushing it.

This way, it will create space between the shopper and those behind them.

For those entering a PIN, she recommends using a pen, stylus, or a fingernail to press down the buttons so that cameras can't pick up on a heat signature. For those who forget and already enter the PIN, upon completion of the transaction, they should touch all the buttons on the keypad so heat cameras won't know which were selected.

All car owners should remember to lock their cars and park their cars in their garages.

"One of the things that gets my goose is that people will have a garage door opener in their vehicle, leave their car out of the garage, and that tells how to get in their garage," said Lopez.

Criminals will break into the car, open the garage door opener, memorize the digits, and clone it, which gives them no-trace access to the garage at any given time.

Locals should also report all crimes and suspicious activity, including small car burglaries.

This way, law enforcement can better predict crimes and are more likely to apprehend wrong-doers.