FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Households can become hectic as families prepare for the holiday season and Fort Rucker officials urge individuals to take simple precautions to protect their home and identity.

"With the holidays ramping up and seasonal shopping in full swing, criminals are also gearing up for a busy season," Peggy Contreras, Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Safety community police supervisor, said. "Cyber criminals don't take the holidays off.

"In fact, they're especially busy trying to steal your money and personal information," she added. "Shoppers should be more vigilant than ever for scams designed to steal their money and personal information. Though criminals are often aggressive and creative in their efforts to obtain such money and personal information, there are certain red flags and common schemes holiday shoppers can guard against this holiday season."

According to Contreras, steps can be taken to prevent crime during the holiday season.

• When parking your vehicle to go shopping, remember where you parked it. Always park in a well-lit and well-traveled area.
• When you return to your vehicle, scan the interior of your car to be sure no one is hiding inside. Check to see if you are being followed.
• Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. You will be ready to unlock the door and will not be delayed by fumbling and looking for your keys.
• When storing items purchased at the stores, place them out of sight. The best place is in a locked trunk.
• Do not leave your purse, wallet, or cellular telephone in plain view.
• Don't resist if someone tries to take any of your belongings. Don't chase someone who robs you, they may have a weapon. Instead call 911.
• Lock your vehicle and put up your windows even while you are driving.
• If you go to an automatic teller machine for cash, check for people around and make sure it is well lit and in a safe location.
• Carry only the credit cards you need and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
• Beware of the "a good deal" scams. Things are not always what they appear to be.
• If you are purchasing toys for small children, be sure that they are safe. You might be surprised at what a small child can swallow or what can injure them.
• Drive defensively. Traffic is heavier during the holidays. Drivers may also have indulged in too many holiday spirits.

"After everyone opens their gifts, try not to pile up the empty boxes outside your home," Contreras said. "Break down the boxes and dispose of them in an inconspicuous manner. Piles of boxes outside your home could make criminals curious about what could be inside your home."

As families shop for gifts to place under their trees, Contreras suggests a few precautions to help protect your financial information and identity.

"If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is," she said. "Scammers often scheme to defraud consumers by offering too-good-to-be-true deals via phishing e-mails or advertisements. Such schemes may offer brand name merchandise at extremely low discounts or promise gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product. Other sites may offer products at a great price, but the products being sold are not the same as the products advertised.

"Steer clear of un-trusted sites or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons," she added. "You may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information and credit card details, and then receive nothing in return except a compromised identity. In addition, do not open any unsolicited e-mails and do not click on any links provided."

In addition to securing banking and credit accounts with strong and different passwords, Contreras suggests shoppers secure all their other accounts that contain anything of value, such as: rewards accounts, online accounts that save payment information, or accounts containing private, personal information.

What should be done if identity theft is suspected?

"When your personal identification information -- name, Social Security number, driver license number, etc. -- has been used fraudulently to open credit accounts, bank accounts, obtain loans, utilities, telephone services, etc., without your knowledge or permission, you are the victim of the crime of identity theft," Contreras said. "If you believe that your identity has been stolen, immediately contact the company or financial institution's fraud department where your information was used and alert them of this fraudulent account. Have the account closed or cancelled.

"File an immediate police report with the law enforcement agency holding jurisdiction where the identity theft occurred and obtain a case number," she added.

If individuals are unsure about anything, Contreras said, or have additional concerns, they are urged to contact local law enforcement.

"Individuals should also be sure to record serial numbers and take pictures of high-value items for record keeping in the event they are lost or stolen," she said.