SIKESTON - It could be their heads aren't screwed on quite right or maybe their hearts are two sizes too small, but there are some among the holiday crowds in stores who are more interested in your purse or wallet than finding the perfect gift.
"For the most part, thieves are opportunists," explained Det. Mike Williams of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "And bigger crowds make better opportunities for thieves."
Unattended items are the easiest for thieves to take and make up the bulk of thefts, according to DPS officials. In this community, nearly all stolen purses are not "snatched" from the owner's hands, but are taken when they are set down or put in a shopping cart - and it only takes a second or two. "All you have to do is turn your head away," Williams said.
DPS officials recommended keeping your hands on your purse and putting wallets, checkbooks or other small valuable personal items in front or inner pockets or another place that's hard to get to.
Authorities also cautioned that even if the dollar amount in them may not be much, information in wallets and purses is often more valuable that you think as identity theft is a growing problem in addition to the hassle of canceling and replacing various accounts and credit cards.
Being mindful of where valuables are is important as many victims aren't even able to recall exactly when and where their purse, wallet or checkbook came up missing. "They usually don't even know they're gone until they're home," Williams said.
Motorists should also not leave valuable items in plain sight in parked vehicles as reports of items stolen from vehicles are called into DPS on daily basis.
Unlocked cars are the easiest targets for thieves who will use the opportunity to steal even loose change.
But when valuable items are in plain sight, even locked cars are targeted often resulting in a greater loss from damage to the vehicle during the break in than the amount lost in stolen property, according to DPS officials.
Trunks are the best place in vehicles to keep items, according to Williams: "It's a secure area and they can't see in from the outside."
Whether it is a missing purse or wallet or items taken from a vehicle, authorities recommend notifying the store's management and calling police as soon as you notice something is missing. "Don't wait hours to call us," Williams advised. The sooner police are able to respond, he explained, the more likely investigators are to find evidence related to the crime.
Being aware is the best defense and the majority of crimes are solved with help from the public. "Our community is real good about calling in tips and leads," Williams noted.
Those who see a crime take place should not attempt to confront the criminal or interfere, however, but should just take note of the description of the person committing the crime and the vehicle if observed.
"Just be a good witness - that way there's less of a chance being victimized," Williams said.