Local News: Asheville and Hendersonville

‘Locked and Unloaded’: Car break-in chances lessened by removing, hiding valuables

Hendersonville Police Chief Herbert Blake is reminding people to lock their parked cars and remove or hide valuables inside, to deter break-ins. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

A break-in “can happen any time, anywhere you park your car,” Chief Blake told The Tribune. “It may be in a shopping area, your driveway, or on a street where street parking allowed.” He said the recent rash was most often “west of City Hall, back toward Laurel Park.”

Ease of theft is a major factor, even when there does not seem to be much of valuable for the taking, Chief Blake said. “Thieves will enter an unlocked vehicle, for minimally-valued items.” He added that “even if there seems to be nothing of value in a vehicle, if it’s unlocked there are people bold enough to go inside and make sure. They’re not picky, on what they take.”

He said often “they’re not after bulky items. It’s things they can carry away.” As for time spent searching, “they’ll do what they think they can get away with” before getting detected.

It helps to park in a visible spot near a store or road traffic, a lit location at dark, not sandwiched between large vehicles nor parked for hours.

In hot weather, one should avoid leaving a parked car with a window rolled down much as it could allow unlocking the locked doors. “People tend to be more careless in the summer months,” Blake reasons. “Days are longer and hotter. People are in more of a celebratory mood, and not as cautious as they may be when they do more shopping” in the holidays.

Precautions are needed even with doors locked and windows up, Blake noted. He said would-be thieves will go to trouble of breaking into a locked vehicle for apparent bigger prizes. “If your vehicle is locked, they will damage it to break in for items they notice of value,” he said in the robo-call. “Don’t be a victim. Consider removing any items of value from your vehicle, and locking your vehicles when parking them.”

He added to The Tribune, “They’ll break a window,” to get into a vehicle.

Thus, it is worth going back home and putting away valuables purchased then driving to other stores for further shopping. When far from home, at least hide the valuables in the trunk, beneath seats or elsewhere. If otherwise in view, cover them with paper but not a coat or other item that may be deemed of value. Avoid piles of hidden items, which beckon a curious thief.

The automated messages are a new tactic locally in community outreach, and crime-tip education. This is the second one by Chief Blake. His first, in March, warned of a detected phone scam launched against local residents. He said he will only do three or four per year plus any urgent situation.

Typically, it will be “when we get complaint in bunches, it’s time to reach out.” Limiting the number of robo-calls makes each one take on more importance, he figures. “When I call during dinner time, I want to get people’s attention.”

As for phone scams, the intent is to scare people into divulging critical personal data over the phone to the scammers. The culprits then use the data to try to hack into financial accounts, or set some up in the victim’s name. Social security number and date of birth are the start of info that should be kept private. Chief Blake said there are instances of identity theft even when providing a date of birth that is incorrect, but “close enough.”

“If you answer, panic, and give them information it could result in your identity getting stolen,” Chief Blake said. “They could hack into your accounts. They can damage you financially, and make your life miserable for years.”

There are many means of scanning these days, he added. “Social media, internet and your phone are all potential threats. Be careful how you interact, using them.”

The excuse for prying for info or seeking money might vary. A common scam premise is the victim has to prevent a harmful action such as getting one’s credit card account closed, and to do so first verify it is truly he or she who is in trouble.

That phone scam prevalent in March still goes on, Blake noted, and even went to his cell and home phones. Its hammering tactic is telling the victim he or she was about to be hauled to jail. “People were called and told there was some ‘serious charge against your name.’ They were urged to call back immediately. Or, if not, they said law enforcement would show up and take matters into their own hands.”

Unlike other scams where they have the would-be victim’s name, this call is depersonalized. “They don’t call out your name,” Blake noted.

A stereotype is to suspect someone with a foreign dialect is calling from overseas and not locally as they may claim. Widen suspicions, the chief suggests. “Regardless of the dialect, these scams are illegitimate calls.”

A tip-off of a scammer is when the person gets huffy when questioned; this can be intimidation to try to steer the victim back on track.

Also, Chief Blake emphasized that police do not make calls pressing for sensitive data — let alone with outlandish claims, or seeking money. He said anyone doing so is pretending to be local law authority and not authentic. “Law enforcement won’t call you, threaten you, or ask for money. People should not divulge personal information about themselves, unless they made the phone call” to a reputable number.

Similarly, many financial institutions also make it clear they do not call people then press for personal information. Instead, they verify identity of a person calling in to them.

Notorious scams for decades have involved pretending to take donations for law enforcement or other worthy associations and causes. On one hand, that hurts those who truly are who they claim to be.

Many suggest a precautionary solution of never sending money over the phone, or by mail when solicited that way. At the least, one might go to the office of the organization the person claims to represent and see if such calls are going out. If they are not, those in the office are alerted a scam is going on in their name.

In his robo-call, Chief Blake ended by providing his department’s general number to call to verify the call is indeed from him. He noted to The Tribune that with so much “phishing” online and over phone lines, scammers can provide bogus data such as the phone number they are calling from.

To report a crime including a suspected scam, call Hendersonville Police’s business number of 697-3025. Simply call 911 for an ongoing, urgent and severe emergency.

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