This holiday season, don't let "the spirit of giving" allow burglars, thieves, and pickpockets a chance to do their dirty work. Crooks love the holidays as much as everyone else, but chiefly because it's an opportune time for crime.

Homes jam-packed with glittering gifts. Stores, malls and downtown streets teeming with unsuspecting shoppers. People rushing around, stressed out and careless, looking for last-minute gifts, trying to get everything done. It's enough to make a thief giddy with holiday joy. Here are some tips on how to celebrate safely this holiday season.

If You're Traveling

  • Get an automatic timer for your lights.
  • Ask a neighbor to watch your home, shovel snow, and park in the driveway from time to time.
  • Don't forget to have mail and newspaper delivery stopped. If it piles up, it's a sure sign you're gone.
  • Make sure to keep travel plans off your social media networks. Don’t post where you’re going, when you are leaving, or when you will be back, because you’re basically just making a thief’s job easier. Wait until after your trip to post about it. If you do post while away, be careful about what you say and make sure you don't have the location tagged - indicating you're far from home.

If You're Out for the Evening

  • Turn on lights and a radio or TV so it looks like someone's home.
  • Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave, even if it's just for a few minutes.
  • Don't display gifts where they can be seen from outside.

If You're Shopping

  • Stay alert and be aware of what's going on around you.
  • Park in a well-lighted space, and be sure to lock the car, close the windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a check or credit card whenever possible.
  • Deter pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Don't overburden yourself with packages. Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry a purse close to your body, not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket.
  • Shopping with kids? Teach them to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated.

If You're Expecting a Delivery

Technology has made it easy to purchase gifts online and have them delivered to your home. With this trend, we have seen an increase in unattended packages stolen right from front porches and doorsteps. If you're expecting a delivery, request signature confirmation or have a trusted neighbor hold it for you.

If a Stranger Comes to the Door, Beware

Criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts. And it's not uncommon for people to try to take advantage of others' generosity during the holidays by going door-to-door for charitable donations when there's no charity involved. Ask for identification, and find out how the funds will be used. If you aren't satisfied, don't give. Help a charitable organization you know and like instead.

Take a Holiday Inventory

The holidays are a good time to update--or create--your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, and list description and serial numbers. If your home is burgarized, having a detailed inventory can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file. Make sure things like TVs, stereo equipment, cameras, camcorders, sports equipment, jewelry, silver, computers, home office equipment, and power tools are on the list. Remember to check it twice!

Last but not least, don't let holiday stress get the best of your holiday spirit. Make time to get together with family, friends, and neighbors. And think about reaching out in the spirit of the season and helping someone who's less fortunate or lonely.

Do your part to make the holidays a safe and happy time for everybody--except criminals.