The holidays are fast approaching and will be in our faces before we know it.

Every year, residents are faced with the challenges of the season, including gift buying and giving, social gatherings and all the stresses that are an integral part of the holidays. These challenges are expected and can be considerably lessened by prior planning and coordination.

What we can’t control are the criminals who use the holidays as prime time for criminal activity such as robbery, burglary, assault and theft. We can, however, lessen or even alleviate our chances of being victimized by taking a few precautions and observing some common-sense rules of self- preservation.

Criminals rely on unwary consumers as prey. All too often, holiday shoppers are so engrossed in their own activities they are unaware of the activities of those around them.

When shopping, do so in the company of other family members or friends. There is strength in numbers. Thieves do not want witnesses to their crimes and thieves will think twice about accosting a group.

At the store or mall, park your vehicle in a well-lit and well-traveled area as close to the store entrance as possible. Remember where you parked it.

Be aware of people around you, particularly those who appear to be loitering in a parking lot.

On your shopping trip, take only the credit cards or cash you intend to use. Leave the rest at home in a secure place. Never carry large amounts of cash.

Upon leaving the store or mall with your purchases, be aware of loiterers or those who may be watching you. If you feel uneasy, return to the store and request a security escort to your vehicle. Store personnel will be happy to oblige.

On approaching your vehicle, have keys in hand to avoid a delay by having to fumble for them. If using a remote unlocking device, do not open your doors until you reach your vehicle. Before entering, scan the interior of your vehicle to be sure no one is hiding inside.

Stow purchases out of sight. A locked trunk is the best option.

When inside your vehicle, keep windows up and doors locked. Stow purses, wallets and cellphones out of sight.

If using an ATM, choose one that is well lit and in a safe location. Avoid it if you see loiterers in the area.

While most credit card transactions are completed digitally, some temporary holiday vendors may use analog receipts. Collect all carbon copies and watch the vendor to ensure that your credit card number and security code are not copied.

Beware of scams. The holidays bring scammers to the fore. If any deal sounds too good to be true, it is probably a scam. Never provide personal information to anyone you do not know and trust.

In the event that you are robbed or someone steals your belongings, do not resist. Do not chase someone who has victimized you as he or she may have a weapon and may use it to stop you.

Instead, try to obtain and remember a description of the suspect and his clothing for later identification and police information. Call 911. Property can be replaced. You can’t be.

In your home, avoid placing wrapped gifts under or around a tree in plain view. These are tempting targets for anyone peering into your home in search of an easy mark. Keep gifts stowed until they are given in the company of friends and family.

If traveling for the holidays, ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye of your home. Mail and newspapers should be retrieved daily to avoid the appearance that the home is unoccupied. And for heaven’s sake, don’t leave a porch light on during daylight hours. Nothing says “not at home” like an unnecessary porch light and a stack of newspapers.

John Vander Werff is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and a Copperas Cove resident.​

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