NEW MADRID - New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens agrees with at least one line of a familiar holiday song: "You better watch out!"
Stevens is warning area residents to be cautious as the holidays move into full swing. While there are people filled with good wishes, there are also those waiting to steal or scam that holiday cheer away.
Already Stevens said his office has received several reports of individuals trying to con residents out of money.
In one instance a man showed up late at night wanting to cash a check in order to pay a tow truck driver. The homeowner agreed to exchange the man's check for cash only to be left with a check written on a non-existent account.
Another resident reported a man offering to do yardwork but requesting payment in advance. The work was never completed.
"People just need to be cautious," warned Stevens. "If an individual is offering to work or sell you something, ask for a business license. If it is late at night, don't open your door to a stranger. If anything is suspicious call your local police or the sheriff's department."
The Crime Prevention Panel notes that bogus callers often succeed in their scams because they sound so believable.
The panel suggests before opening the door, homeowners should engage the door chain and look through the spy hole or adjacent window to see if they recognize the caller.
"Remember while your door is closed you are in control," the panel stated. "If you are not satisfied as to the identity of the caller, do not let them in. Ask the caller to come back later and arrange for a friend, relative or neighbor to be present on their return."
Steven suggested that stories should be checked out first before assistance is offered. Also references should be sought from those seeking work and, if hired, the worker should not be paid, even a partial payment, until the task is finished, he suggested.
"There shouldn't be anyone asking for work after normal business hours," continued the sheriff.
During the holidays, the number of burglaries and thefts reported in the county typically increases, according to Stevens. Burglars are well aware that many homeowners are stock-piling gifts in anticipation of Christmas.
"It isn't the best idea to put your presents under the tree," he said. "If you are like most people, you put your tree in an area where it can be easily seen from the outside, a potential burglar will spot those presents making your house a target for a theft."
Along with the holiday outdoor lighting, Stevens suggests residents be sure their front doors are well-lit making it easy to see who approaches the house.
Those out shopping should take additional precautions. Shoppers should never leave their purses or billfolds unattended in a shopping cart. Carrying purses close to the body rather than dangling by the straps or putting wallets in inside coat pockets will deter pickpockets.
Always park in well-lit areas, the sheriff recommended, and lock the car doors. When taking items to their cars, shoppers should have their keys out to make a quick entry into the car. Packages should be placed in the trunk or out of sight from passers-by.
Finally, those leaving town for the holidays need to take additional care to make their houses look as if they are occupied. Newspaper and mail delivery should be halted so they don't accumulate leaving burglars an obvious clue. Lights can be put on a timer to come on an off during the evening hours, also a radio or television running will give the appearance someone is in the house.
"People can let us know if they are going to be out-of-town. We will keep the information confidential and will check their house periodically," added Stevens.
Pointing out the county's 9-1-1 system can provide immediate assistance for those confronted by a possible scam artist or burglar, Stevens noted the sheriff's department also has available a toll-free number of 1-800-961-1595.