FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 13, 2012) -- Holiday exodus approaches and holiday shopping is in full swing while Families prepare to leave for a long vacation, so officials at the Fort Rucker Provost Marshal's Office want to make sure Soldiers and Families stay safe and smart while shopping, traveling and leaving their homes behind.

Oftentimes people do not realize the risks they take while shopping and leaving their homes unattended because they are wrapped up in Christmas Family fun and excitement, said Peggy Contreras, supervisor of community police and crime analyst.

"There are a number of things people need to remain vigilant about during Christmas time. People are going to be leaving their homes vacant, consuming more alcohol, becoming distracted while driving and many will not make wise decisions concerning their purchases," she said.

Soldiers and Families living on post who will be leaving for the extended holiday should fill out a quarter's checklist to safeguard their empty homes, according to Contreras.

"If we have a checklist on file, each shift can go by and check the home. The checklist asks for information like the address, if there is anything unusual in the yard, if there will be a car left in the driveway or if there is going to be a neighbor feeding pets or checking mail," she said.

People can pick up and fill out a quarter's checklist at the provost marshal's office in Bldg. 5001, or they can have one emailed to them by calling 255-2222. Local law enforcement offer similar programs for Families living off post.

Thefts of every kind increase during the holidays so Contreras advises people to be vigilant and be aware of their surroundings--not only around the house, but while in town as well.

"Identify theft is big this time of year because so many people are using their debit and credit cards more frequently. Be aware if someone is standing too close to you because the radio frequency identification chip in a card can be read and information stolen by a card reading device even if the card is in a purse or pocket," she said.

Physical theft is also a concern and Contreras warns people to not get distracted.

"Holiday gift buying at malls and outlet stores can be like shooting fish in a barrel for thieves," she said. "So, whenever possible, shop with a buddy, be aware of where you park, park in a lit area, try to leave the store with other customers, have your keys in hand when you get to the car and keep purchases out of sight inside the car."

Shopping carts are a prime target for thieves, according to Contreras, so keep eyes on purchases and purses that are sitting in the carts.

"Sometimes when [people] are trying to put a child in the car [they] may leave [their] purchases or a purse in a buggy, unattended, closer to the end of the vehicle or in the back of the vehicle with the door or trunk open where a thief can snatch a few things and run off without [them] ever knowing," she said.

She suggests to keep the buggy by your side or to secure the purchases inside the vehicle first.

Once purchases are home, Contreras warns people to not become complacent. She advises people to not put the boxes of expensive merchandise out on the street, because not only can they blow into the road and cause a driving hazard, but it could also attract burglars.

"When you put those boxes out on the road it is a welcome sign that shows potential thieves what is in your house. So wait until the morning of or evening before trash pickup to put it [on the curb], or better yet, break the boxes down and take them to a dumpster or the recycling center on post," she said.

Fire hazards cannot be left out when talking about holiday safety, so Contreras offered tips to keep a decorated house safe all season long.

Be careful with the dryness of fake and real Christmas trees that can catch fire easily while at home or away.

Be aware of light sockets, power strips and extension cords that can create a spark and start a fire.

Unplug everything that you can so as to not overheat sockets and blow fuses.

Be careful with candles near decorations because pets or children may knock something down where it can create a fire hazard.

Personal safety should not be neglected during the Christmas season either. Usually a time of merriment, Christmas for some, according to Contreras, is also a time of year where many people are alone and can get severely depressed.

"We ask that Soldiers and their Families be aware and possibly reach out to a Soldier that is alone by inviting them to eat a Family dinner or to watch television. Give them a chance to hang out and spend time with your Family. It can really make a difference to someone who doesn't have anyone to do that with this holiday season," she said.

She added that many Soldiers who are invited over may feel like they are inconveniencing a Family, but people should give them a needed push to convince them to join in the celebrations.

"Tell them to come over and watch the game or have a meal. The important thing is to let them know that they are welcome and that they can stay as long or as little as they want," she said.