Shopping and driving tips from the Virginia State Police

While Virginians are preparing for the upcoming holidays –making lists, shopping the malls and quaint out-of the-way boutiques, or heading out to visit relatives – thieves and fraudsters are making their own special holiday plans to take advantage of preoccupied shoppers and travelers during the hustle-and-bustle of the season.

By being observant and taking a few extra precautions, Virginia’s citizens can enjoy the season’s festivities and avoid falling victim to these criminals. The Virginia State Police (VSP) Insurance Fraud (IFP) and Help Eliminate Auto Theft (H.E.A.T.) programs want to make sure Virginians stay safe and offer the following safety tips to protect you and your family from the Grinches who want to steal more than your holiday.

1. Always lock your car and take your keys with you. Don’t leave your car unlocked and running even if you think you’re only going to be a few minutes. According to the National Highway Transportations Safety Administration 40 to 50 percent of stolen vehicles involve mistakes by drivers.

2. Don’t leave a spare key in the vehicle. Thieves know where to look.

3. Park your vehicle in a well lighted area – preferably in an attended lot. Don’t make your car an easy target for thieves.

4. Don’t leave any packages or valuables in your car in plain view. (Including GPS devices and mounting systems.) Always lock them in your trunk or cover them so they are not readily visible. Thieves know cars are loaded with packages this time of year and are on the lookout for those gifts.

5. Always approach your car with keys in hand and check the back seat of your car. If you see suspicious activity or someone is loitering near your car, don’t approach it, and if possible, notify the police.

6. Be wary of people who offer you the right-of-way out of a parking space or indicate that it’s okay to proceed. Scammers will motion to you that it’s okay to pull out of a parking space, only to have their accomplice run into you with their vehicle, which may lead to your insurance company having to foot the bill for vehicle repair and possible bogus bodily injury claims.

7. When driving, don’t follow too closely. You may be setting yourself up to be the victim of a staged crash if the vehicle in front of you stops suddenly.

8. If you are in a vehicle crash, be wary of individuals who don’t want to notify the police or get a police report. Also make note of the number, ages, sex and race of the occupants of the other vehicle along with the license plate number.

9. Use your cell phone camera to document both vehicles’ damages, even if there doesn’t appear to be any. A helpful mobile application, developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, is WreckCheck. It’s free for both Android® and iPhone® users. It takes users through a step-by-step process following an accident and includes other useful tips. Many insurance companies have developed their own mobile apps for reporting accidents and making claims.

10. Be mindful of people who approach your vehicle to ask for directions or change, or to hand out flyers.

11. Winter cold can be stressful on your vehicle. Avoid being stranded by making sure your vehicle’s maintenance is up-to-date and your gas doesn’t fall below a quarter of a tank.

12. Carry a cellular phone and know your emergency numbers: #77 for Virginia State Police and 911 for local police.

If you have knowledge of a fraudulent insurance scheme or suspect you may have been the victim of insurance fraud, report the activity to IFP on the insurance fraud hotline at 1-877-62FRAUD (1-877-623-7283) or visit www.StampOutFraud.com. You may also be eligible to receive a reward of up to $25,000.

The H.E.A.T. Program also offers a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest for vehicle theft. Call 1-800-947-HEAT (1-800-947-4328) or go to www.HeatReward.com if you have information about stolen cars, motorcycles, mopeds or their parts.

Check out H.E.A.T. and the IFP on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/stampoutfraud and http://www.facebook.com/HEATReward