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Holidays no time to give vigilance a day off

Officer Anthony Strickland, Fort Rucker civilian police officer, and Spc. Edward Ellman, 6th Military Police Detachment, perform a security check of the Munson Heights Neighborhood Center last year. Fort Rucker residents can opt for courtesy checks of their homes while they are traveling by filling out a form at the Directorate of Public Safety. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Officer Anthony Strickland, Fort Rucker civilian police officer, and Spc. Edward Ellman, 6th Military Police Detachment, perform a security check of the Munson Heights Neighborhood Center last year. Fort Rucker residents can opt for courtesy checks of their homes while they are traveling by filling out a form at the Directorate of Public Safety. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: December 5, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 5, 2014) -- As people’s thoughts turn to shopping for the perfect gifts, spending time with family, and enjoying friends, good cheer and festivities, post officials remind Soldiers and families not to give vigilance any time off for the holidays.

Operational security is a term that most involved in military life are familiar with, but personal OPSEC is just as important, especially when it comes to keeping families safe, said Maj. Anthony Whittaker, installation OPSEC officer.

“People tend to let their guard down during the holidays,” he said. “People’s family, friends and others that they love and haven’t seen in years are coming in town, and they are just focusing on having a great time. People may not be focused on their surroundings or what could potentially be a threat.”

Whittaker said there are a number of things that people need to watch out for during the holiday season when it comes to travel, shopping, social media or just everyday normal activities.

One big thing that people need to be aware of, especially now that the holiday shopping season is in full swing, are people Whittaker calls “shoulder surfers.”

Shoulder surfers can be any individual with a camera on their phone or even their watch that can take pictures of credit cards or ATM cards while people are making a purchase or withdrawing money out of an ATM, said Whittaker, adding that people need to keep an eye out for anyone that might be trying to snap an image of their information.

The OPSEC officer also suggests that people refrain from carrying large amounts of cash during the holidays, and after making a large amount of purchases, people need to make sure to store the items in the trunk of their car so that potential thieves can’t see what might have been purchased through the window.

When loading a vehicle with recent purchases, Whittaker suggests that shoppers load the vehicle and move it to a different location if they are going to continue shopping. This way, any person who might have noticed all of the purchases that were loaded into the car won’t have an easy target.

Although people might finally feel safe once they return home after the hectic shopping season, people don’t need to let their guard down once they are in their home because houses can become a prime target for criminals during the holidays, according to Matthew Roe, communications specialist for Corvias Military Living.

“Burglaries are a rare thing on post, but it can still pose a threat, especially during the holiday season,” said Roe. “There’s a lot more opportunity during this time of year because people are purchasing a lot of high-value items. Fort Rucker is a pretty safe community, but people still need to remain cautious.”

Roe suggests that people avoid bringing too much attention to their home, and one way to do this is by making sure to not stack too many presents under the tree near a window. Presents that are visible from the outside of the house can be very inviting for criminals, he added.

In order for people to feel safer in their homes throughout this time of year, as well as year round, Roe said people should always make sure to lock their windows and doors, and secure their garage doors.

Many people will be traveling out of town during this time of year and people need to make sure they secure their home before they leave town as well, he added.

“If you’re traveling out of town, ask a friend or neighbor to check on your mail and pick up newspapers from the yard,” said Roe. “Also, install timers to turn lights on and off during the evening hours, and if others on the installation notice something that is out of the ordinary, they should call the military police.”

Residents can even opt for quarters checks provided by the Fort Rucker Military Police by stopping by the Directorate of Public Safety and filling out a form that allows police officers to check on their homes while they are out of town. This is a service that is provided year round, not just around the holidays, so people should take full advantage, added Roe.

Even after the season of gift giving is over, Whittaker said that people should be careful not to stack all of their opened gift boxes on the sides of the street too long before trash pickup. The boxes can almost advertise to potential criminals what items are in the home and make the home a potential target.

Break the boxes down and place them in an opaque trash bag, or wait until the day of trash pickup and give the items to the sanitation department when they arrive, said the OPSEC officer.

Another thing people need to be wary of is posting personal information on social media websites, which can provide a wealth of information to any criminal, said Whittaker.

“People need to watch what they are putting (on these sites), especially in regards to where they are going,” he said. “These are just opportunities for (criminals). If I’m a criminal and I know when you’re leaving or what you’re planning to do, that allows me to easily plan and see what it is I’m going to do to take advantage of you.”

Whittaker said people should avoid posting this type of information, and also be aware that when they take photos and post them on many of these sites, the photos are geotagged so that the location of the place the photo was taken can be traced. People should go into their settings and disable location-sharing information on their smart phones and devices.

“People aren’t expecting to get taken advantage of during this time of year because the holidays are suppose to be about giving and love, but people have to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings,” he said. “We live in a different world now and some people have different motives, and they will take advantage of you if they can.”

This article was originally published at

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