It’s hard to believe, but Christmas is right around the corner. During this special time of year, people enjoy buying gifts for their friends and family. Sadly, there are always criminals hoping to take advantage of the generosity of others. Whether you shop online or at local businesses, I would like to provide some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim during this holiday season.

My first suggestion is to buy your gifts locally. Morrison County merchants provide competitive prices and excellent customer service. Please consider buying your gifts from local businesses that you already know and trust. A fun thing that I have done for my family is to create a “Morrison County gift basket” filled with products produced right here in Morrison County.

Whenever you go out in the community, remember to lock your car doors and keep valuables out of sight. Generally speaking, a thief isn’t going to bother breaking into a locked car if they don’t see anything of value inside. When you are out and about in the evenings, remember to leave lights on in your home or place them on a timer. A well-lit home discourages thieves. Also consider leaving a radio or TV on as well.

If you choose to shop on the internet, then you need to use caution. Only do business on the trusted websites of reputable companies. Regularly check your online credit card statements for any unauthorized purchases. Don’t follow links that you receive from unsolicited emails or links that you find on social media sites. Be suspicious of deals that sound too good to be true. Skepticism is your best defense.

If you have ordered gifts online, most companies now send an email with a tracking number. It’s a good idea to track your order online, so you know when the package will arrive. Arrange to have someone at home around the time your packages arrive. In the alternative, ask your shipper if they can put the packages in the rear of your home or leave them with a neighbor who is home. If your employer allows it, consider having packages shipped to your place of employment instead.

Finally, this time of year many of us want to help out those that are less fortunate. However, it is important to be wary of charity scams. Consider donating only to a local charity that you know and trust.

Before donating to an unfamiliar charity, do some research about the organization. If you have doubts about a charity, then call the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office at (651) 757-1496. The Attorney General can usually answer basic questions about a specific charity. It should be a red flag if the organization is not registered with the Attorney General’s Office.

If you decide to donate to a charity, don’t give out your credit card number or other personal information in response to an unsolicited email or phone call. Instead, contact the charity directly yourself.

I wish you a safe and healthy holiday season!

Brian Middendorf is the county attorney for Morrison County.

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