This time of year, it is hard to not get in the Christmas spirit.
Everywhere I look, decorations are going up. Homes are decked in twinkling lights, street lamps are draped with wreaths and garlands, and stores are doing everything they can to sell the perfect gift to holiday shoppers. It is beginning to look, and feel, a lot like Christmas.
But while most of us feel like the Whos of Whoville, joyfully preparing our homes and hearts for the coming feast and festivities, there are Grinches nearby whose sole goal is to not just steal our joy, but also our money and identities.
That is why the West Virginia Attorney General's Office is doing everything it can to assist and protect consumers this holiday season. We have in the past and will continue to issue tips for consumers about ways to shop safely, donate wisely and ensure their homes remains secure when they are out of town. For example, when traveling, people should ask a trusted neighbor or friend to collect their mail and newspapers, rather than place a hold-order at the newspaper or post office. That simple step can help consumers limit the number of people who know when they are out of town, and could help prevent travel plans from ending up in the wrong hands.
We also encourage people to buy from stores and donate to charities that they already know and trust. Unfortunately, this time of year, scammers will do anything they can to try to take advantage of peoples' goodwill. That includes creating bogus charities, stealing credit card information or offering deals online that are too good to be true. Some scammers are even manipulating gift cards so that they can use the money consumers put on gift cards for their own purchases.
Here are some other tips to keep you and your family safe through the holidays:
* When out shopping, make sure purchases are kept in your trunk or hidden securely inside your vehicle. This deters people from breaking into your car. If you can, take gifts home between shopping excursions.
* Have your car keys in your hands before leaving a store. This ensures you can focus on your surroundings when getting to your car rather than standing in a dimly lit parking lot or parking garage searching for your keys in your pockets or purse. When approaching your car, check around it, under it and in it before loading packages or getting in.
* Consider using a pre-paid credit card for Christmas purchases, especially if shopping online. It helps to control your spending, and helps you avoid having your credit card number stolen.
* Avoid broadcasting travel plans or what you have purchased on social media. You never know who is peering in on your accounts.
* If traveling, consider putting some lights on a timer so it appears that someone is at home.
The holidays truly are a wonderful time of year, but unfortunately everyone must remain vigilant against scams and thieves. While the majority of people you encounter during the holidays will be just like you - looking for the perfect gift for a friend or loved one and eagerly anticipating some quality family time - there may be others out there who are focused only on stealing your joy.
My hope is these few tips and others found on our website at www.wvago.gov will help you and your loved ones avoid the Grinches and instead have a peaceful Christmas and blessed New Year.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.