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Christmas is a time for celebrating, relaxing and treating yourself and others. Sadly, not everybody shares the festive spirit, and every time the season comes around we see a sharp and unwelcome rise in crime.

Burglary, anti-social behaviour, fraud and violence all surge in the winter months, placing a substantial burden on emergency services and causing misery to people at a time meant for celebration. Police will be working tirelessly across the country so that you can enjoy your Christmas, but we can all take simple measures that will go a long way towards protecting ourselves and our property. We can’t change the fact that some people are sadly and selfishly out to ruin the holidays, but we can certainly make sure that they don’t get an easy ride!

Criminals take advantage of the darker nights, hoping to steal the high value goods people may buy in the lead up to Christmas. Unlit houses are a give-away that no one is home, so set a timer switch to turn your lights on and off when it gets dark. Lock all doors and windows, even when at home, and invest in a good burglar alarm and remember to set it. Don’t leave valuables or keys near windows, doors or letter boxes where burglars can reach through and steal them. You should also ensure that cars are secure and, if possible, parked in a well lit place. It is largely thanks to increased vigilance and security measures in our homes that we have seen reports of burglary decrease by nearly a half in the last decade, but this should not distract householders from the ongoing need to keep their home secure.

But, of course, it’s 2014 and crime and criminals evolve. Thieves won’t need to be crouched under your Christmas tree to deprive you of your hard-earned gifts this year. They won’t even need to be on the same continent. Last year, tens of thousands of people sadly fell victim to online fraud in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and even more are at risk of suffering the same fate this year – being left hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of pounds out of pocket. 74% of adults in the UK have purchased goods or services online this year. If possible use online retailers you know and trust. Major brands will have a list of authorised sellers on their websites; so when you find that computer console or those shoes at a price that is too good to be true, you can check if that website is selling them legitimately.

Fraudsters may also try to contact you by phone to trick you into giving them bank details. The police and banks will NEVER ask you to give your PIN or bank details out over the phone, or ask you to send your bank cards or cash to them via a courier or taxi. If you have any suspicions about something that you are being asked to do; hang up the phone, wait for five minutes to ensure that the phone line clears and then report the call to the police or your bank.

Christmas e-cards can also pose a threat, with cyber-criminals using them to transfer computer viruses that collect personal data, financial information, passwords and usernames that can then be used to commit fraud. If you receive an anonymous e-card, it is best to play it safe and delete the email without opening it. You should also use a reputable anti-virus product on your electronic devices and ensure that it is regularly updated and always turned on. For more information about online fraud and how to protect yourself, visit www.actionfraud.police.uk.

Excessive alcohol consumption is another big challenge to policing and other emergency services throughout Christmas, leading to more anti-social behaviour and violence in town centres, domestic violence and drink-driving. Police will be out in force to ensure that those people who don’t take responsibility for themselves don’t get the opportunity to spoil the holidays for others. People found to be too heavily intoxicated may be asked to leave town centres, and some clubs and bars will be breathalysing people on entry. Alcohol is often the cause of crime, but it is never an excuse.

Please, enjoy yourself. Celebrate in the company of family and friends but if you drink – do so responsibly.

On behalf of ACPO, I wish you a safe and happy Christmas.

Pat Geenty is the National Policing Lead for Crime Prevention and the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police.