Local law enforcement officers are recommending residents take a few precautions to prevent a Grinch -- a real thief -- from ruining their Christmas during the busy holiday shopping season.
Lt. Bimley West of the Merced Police Department said officers encourage residents to be aware of their surroundings when they are placing items in their vehicles to ensure they aren't being followed or watched.
West said people should put gifts in the trunks of their vehicles because it's more difficult for the bad guys to gain entry and remove all the items.
Officers recommend that people avoid leaving items anywhere inside the vehicle where they're visible, West said, because thieves will target them -- even if they're covered.
In previous years, West said, there have been thieves parked in lots watching people exit stores, place items in their cars and then drive to other locations to do more shopping. The criminals waited until the shoppers entered the store and then broke into their vehicles.
"There are suspects who are out there who are just waiting," he warned.
Officers suggest that at least one person stay behind in a vehicle with the gifts to discourage thieves. Police also said parking in well-lighted areas is another deterrent.
"There are bad people out there, and they are looking for opportunity to steal," West said.
Senior citizens are encouraged to go together to do their shopping so they can keep an eye on each other and aren't as easily singled out.
Women need to make sure they keep their purses close to them and also be aware of their surroundings. West said thieves can suddenly walk or ride by a victim, pull away a purse and flee.
He said credit cards can be quickly used to get cash or buy merchandise.
"People really have to be aware of their surroundings and they must work together as a team to prevent bad things from happening," West said.
The Police Department's call volume increases during this time of the year, West said, but that's expected. "With more people out, more things happen," he added.
Deputy Ed Katen of the Merced County Sheriff's Department said his agency also encourages shoppers to follow the same tips to reduce their chances of becoming targets.
The department also sees a slight increase in its call volume during this time of the year. "It is pretty much because of the amount of shoppers that are out," he said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.