The holiday season is of course a time for happiness, good spirits, charity and generosity.

But law enforcement continues to warn people to avoid being too generous.

Scams and crime are commonplace as consumers take their cash and credit cards around busy retail centers and online shopping options.

"Typically during the Christmas shopping season we certainly see an increase in activity along and among our retail corridors," city of Brookfield police captain Phil Horter said.

The hustle and bustle of shoppers heading out to the stores and rushing home with their treasures can create an irresistible lure for some criminals.

"When we get the activity that's generated just from the increase in shopping volume, unfortunately, there are certainly those that take advantage of the increase in the shoppers and they take advantage of the retail establishments being busy," Horter said.

Horter noted that a majority of the increase in crime that the department observes is non-violent, but that there is the potential for criminals to make direct confrontations with their victims.

"Retail thefts will increase, theft from vehicles will increase and, from time to time, we do get some strong-armed robberies from patrons as they're walking from the stores to their vehicles," Horter said.

Taking precautions

In general, Horter said that basic precautions can likely be enough to keep you from being a victim of one of these types of crime.

"The biggest one is not leaving valuables unattended in plain view in your vehicles. That doesn't just go towards the presents, but also purses, backpacks and electronics," Horter said. "A lot of vehicles these days don't have trunks anymore, but there's certainly areas in vehicles that are more discrete and out of view. Even if you just place a blanket or coat over an item or two. Just don't have it in plain sight."

As far as potentially being confronted by a criminal on the way out to your vehicle, Horter recommends not shopping alone if possible and, if not, to at least wait to exit a store or shopping center when other patrons are also doing so.

"Worst-case scenario, you can always ask security or maybe an employee to monitor you as you walk to your vehicle," Horter said.

Stay vigilant 

Horter also said that shoppers remaining vigilant and aware of their surroundings is important.

"Don't be talking on your cell phone or texting. We all get distracted and sometimes we put ourselves in more of a vulnerable position than we need to."

With the increased number of shoppers and traffic circulating around the area's major retail corridors, such as Bluemound Road, the city of Brookfield police department does plan to increase its patrols and visibility during the holiday season. However, the department is also asking that citizens remain aware and look out for one another.

"There are many more citizens out and about than there are police officers. We need the citizens to be aware of what's going on and, if they see something that they believe to be suspicious or somebody that they believe to be suspicious, they certainly need to contact the authorities," Horter said. "There's thousands of people out driving and shopping and only a handful of police officers."

In the present day and age, it's not only shoppers who are out among the crowds and the decorations who need to be careful.

Online precautions

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has released a list of potential online shopping-related scams and scares that people should be aware of.

The list ranges from gift card scams to online shopping plots meant to steal personal and banking information.

The department advises online shoppers to keep their devices updated, to be on the lookout for fraudulent shipping emails that may be fishing for personal information and to beware of offers that seem too good to be true.

"There are cyber-Grinches out there who want nothing more than to drain your checking account, steal your identity and ruin your holidays," Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection Frank Frassetto said. "Be vigilant this season by avoiding unrealistic deals on questionable websites and social media posts."

Other scams

Officials also warn of gift card scams that include secondhand sellers trying to sell gift cards with no value or that were stolen from stores. Some people will also take advantage of the generosity of many during the holiday season through charity scams.

"Scammers see your goodwill as an opening to get into your wallet," Frassetto said. "Be suspicious of aggressive, out-of-the-blue requests for donations and always take the time to learn more about a charity before making a payment."

For a complete list of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's warnings, go to http://bit.ly/2f1qlcw.

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