The strangest thing just happened to me, and I’m reminded that even though this is hands-down my favorite time of year, this is also the season during which scam artists crawl out of the woodwork. Sad, I know, but we must be realists if we are to get by in this world.
Our doorbell rang, and when I answered the door, I saw a gentleman snapping photos of my house. Now that’s odd in anybody’s book, right? I asked him whether I could help him, and he handed me a slip of paper with a toll free number listed on it. He said he was appraising our house, because the loan was in default.
I asked him to hold on one second, that I had to make a phone call. He asked whether I was calling to “catch up the payments,” because if so, I had to call the number he gave me. I told him that no, I was not calling to divulge personal information and make payments to anyone. I was calling the police. The young man turned, walked back down the driveway, got in his car (of which I snapped my own photos), and drove off.
“Tis the season, folks."
I’ve had the pleasure, over the ten-plus years I’ve written for a living, to get to know many of our local police chiefs in Gwinnett. I have learned an awful lot about crime prevention from them in that time, and I’m grateful for the knowledge. I have been the victim (oh how I detest that word, but there is no other that applies in this case) of theft, and my entire family has been the victim of identity theft. What a nightmare that has been.
The first time I fell victim to a thief, I was a newly-single mom. My children were very young, and Santa was very real. I had been slowly purchasing Christmas presents for my children in the weeks before the Big Day, and I kept the presents in the trunk of my car. When children are five and seven years old, there is no hiding gifts from them inside the house, remember? I’ll never forget the day I walked out of Gwinnett Place Mall, having just purchased another gift that I planned to tuck away in the trunk of my little Honda.
As I approached my car, I could see that the trunk had been pried open, and everything I had bought and stashed away for my children was gone. Gone. The guy even took the jack and my “Swiss Army” flashlight, the one my dad had given me for roadside emergencies. It shone, blinked, buzzed, called 9-1-1 and even washed the windshield, as I recall. It was the kind of flashlight that only a dad could find and give to his daughter.
I will never forget that horrible feeling, just standing there in the cold, with less than two weeks until Christmas Eve, staring at my ravaged car with the empty trunk. I stood there in that parking lot and cried like a baby. It’s a terrible feeling, one I don’t have to explain if you’ve ever been in that situation.
Well, before we all start crying, let’s take away something positive from that awful lesson. My police friends have taught me a few things that I’m happy to share here. I was very naïve when that awful incident happened. I can still slip into that “protected bubble” frame of mind that we in suburbia love so much, but I am much more aware of the dangers that surround us.
First, when shoppers are out in force, so are the crooks. These days, they’re equipped with smart phones and texts, and they communicate with each other, watching and following happy shoppers, just waiting for the chance to pounce.
If you purchase a big-ticket item, take it straight home and secure it, then resume your shopping. They’re watching, trust me. Keep an eye, and preferably a hand, on your purse at all times. One of the popular scams going on right now is for one crook to distract you in the store, while another reaches in your purse and snatches your wallet.
Whatever you do, be aware of your surroundings at all times. When you go to the bank or ATM, be doubly aware.
Have your keys in your hand when you leave the store. Don’t wait until you reach your car to go digging around in your purse for them. If your purse is anything like mine, that invites all kinds of trouble.
Back to the strange situation that happened at my house today. I did call Gwinnett’s finest, because that’s something else that police officers have taught me. It’s OK to call them; that’s what they’re there for. They’d rather you call them one time too many than one less time than you should have.
Well, that’s enough of that. I dearly love the holidays, and if I can contribute anything that makes them a little better (even if it’s just warding off trouble), then I’m happy to do just that.
To the gentleman who stopped by my house today trying to glean personal information, you might want to change clothes, and soon. I described everything, right down to your shoes and the pattern of your sweater (and your license plate number) to the nice officer.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both an outlandish and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently working on her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit http://www.caroletownsend.com.