Whilst we certainly enjoy this time of cheer, we can sometimes lose our usual sense of caution, as we throw ourselves headfirst into parties, Christmas meals and the general frenetic preparations for that one-day.
Sadly, it’s also a time where crime including burglary, robbery and anti-social behavior rise. As we increase our reliance on the Internet to purchase our gifts and surprises, cyber crime rates rise as criminals take advantage of the plentiful opportunities that Christmas presents. (No-pun intended!)
So, we at Blackstone would like to offer you a small gift, our five thoughts for Christmas, which will keep you, your family and friends safe during the festive season.
1. Spiked Drinks
There is little hard evidence about the number of people who have had their drinks spiked in the United Kingdom. This is because the effects of having a drink spiked can often be confused with drunkenness. Not being able to remember exactly what happened, or blaming yourself for drinking too much often puts people off reporting it to the police.
Whilst it is perceived as being something that happens to women, men can also be victims, either as a sick joke or so that they can be easily robbed outside the pub or club once they are removed from the premises.
Front line staff that work on the doors at pubs and clubs, paramedics or A&E teams see victims that are often just drunk and one of the many that they will see that night. This is one of the major issues that gets raised in all the discussions about being the victim of having your drink spiked, an assumption is made that they have brought it open themselves because they have got p****d when in fact they are a victim of a nasty crime or worse, crimes.
So what can you do to not become part of what anecdotally appears to be an increasing trend? Well we could suggest that you don’t drink, but as that’s as likely as Father Christmas parking his sleigh on your roof, we have some other suggestions.
– If you leave your drink unattended get a fresh one, (assume that it has been spiked) it might make the night a little more expensive but at least you’ll be safe.
– Pay for your own drinks and do NOT accept drinks from strangers, particularly if you have not seen them buy them at the bar.
– If you are out with friends, then get somebody to look after the drinks while you go off to the loo or dance floor, after all you would do the same for them. Wouldn’t you?
– Get bottled drinks as this makes it harder to drop or pour something into a small opening and it’s also easier to keep in your hand.
Finally, if you do start to feel ill, you have about 15 to 20 minutes before the drug takes full effect (according to Dr Sarah Jarvis a GP and a medical advisor to Drink Aware). Tell someone what has happened and get them to keep an eye on you. The sooner you alert someone, the less likely they are to think you are simply just another drunk. This is particularly important if you need the help of the venue staff.
Most importantly do not blame yourself; somebody has committed one of a number of serious criminal offences against you. Report it, you may not be able to offer enough evidence for the police to prosecute in your case, but what you do know might help others, it also adds to the local intelligence picture, which could result in some direct police action.
Finally, seek medical help, if you cannot remember what happened, get checked out.
2. Fake Wi-Fi Hotspots
In December 2014, UK shoppers spent over £17bn online for Christmas. On the 28th November 2014, ‘Black Friday’ the credit rating agency, Experian estimated that £810m of online business was completed in that one day. It is easy to see how reliant we have become on Internet shopping.
It is also easy to see how having scoured the shops for an elusive gift, or this years must have toy, how nice it is to slump down into a comfy sofa in your favorite coffee shop, allowing you to retrieve your tablet or smartphone to order the item that has been evading your grasp all day.
Cyber savvy criminals know how desperate we can become, our relief at having resolved another shopping dilemma and how we are too likely to drop our guard as we blithely connect with their fake Wi-Fi hotspot exposing credit card data, passwords, browsing history and other valuable information that they go onto exploit.
Here are some simple tips that might help…
– Wait till you get home or another place where you know that the Wi-Fi is secure. Of course this assumes that you have changed the password on the home router and are not using the one that it came with!
– Check with the shop staff what the name (SSID) of their Wi-Fi is. A fake hotspot might use a very similar name to the genuine one to try and catch you out.
– Most public Wi-Fi now is captive portal, so you don’t have to put in a password each time to join the network, but normally you will have registered on the first occasion you have used it.
– Public Wi-Fi networks will ask you to agree with their terms before using it, your email address and search history is a commodity that can be used by them to target advertising to you. If you connect to a network and immediately start browsing, be concerned.
– Another warning sign is a sluggish connection; if the Internet connection is slow you may have connected to a fake Wi-Fi hotspot. The hotspot will be doing a lot of work behind the scenes to capture your data; this will slow things down and might even slow down your device generally.
3. Unlicensed taxis
Getting a cab home is how many of us end our Christmas celebrations. Sadly, unlicensed and unscrupulous individuals know this and will try and make some easy money. Whilst hopping into the first car you can find will get you home quicker, you don’t know if the driver is insured, the vehicle roadworthy or worse (we have all heard the horror-stories). While most of us wouldn’t get into any old car at other times, we are more than happy to do so at the end of a night out.
To remove any doubt, always take a licensed taxi or minicab, this way you can be assured that the driver and the vehicle have been checked. It is worth remembering that you can hail a black cab in the street, but a mini cab must be booked.
– So how do you get a black taxi or minicab?
– Phone your local licensed minicab company
– Go into any licensed minicab office
– Download Cabwise, Gett, Hailo or a minicab booking app such as Uber
– Text CAB to 60835
– Some late night venues hold a licence so that they can take your minicab booking (acting like a minicab office) but the booking must be made inside the venue
– Use marshalled taxi ranks.
Do not take an un-booked minicab thinking that you will be safe just because:
– The driver is smartly dressed
– You have taken down the number plate as an insurance policy, it could be false
– You only get an un-booked minicab if you are in a group, trusting safety in numbers
– The door supervisor hailed a mini cab for you, or knows a mate
– You talk to a friend on your mobile on the way home for reassurance
– You approached the minicab in the street.
4. Burglary and Social Media
For some of us another great thing about Christmas is that it gives us a chance to go on holiday. Some maybe soaking up warm winter sun, or getting our first runs in at our favorite ski resort. What better way to let everybody know that we are thinking of them and what a great time we’re having by publishing our holiday pictures on one of the many social media platforms. In some cases, we just cannot wait until we arrive at our destination, so we check in as we wait at the airport to board our flight.
What many people are not aware of is that criminals conduct research before they carry out burglaries looking for homes that are going to be empty during the festive period. Yes you may have a fancy alarm and CCTV system but that will not put criminals off. Also, insurance companies are increasingly using social media accounts to see if details of holidays and trips are being posted online while the victims of burglary are away.
This has led to some claims being rejected or amounts claimed being reduced, as the policyholder is seen as partly or wholly culpable for their loss.
As a spokesman for the Financial Ombudsman Service said: “It’s possible that your insurance cover could be affected if you explicitly announce your plans on social media…You wouldn’t put a poster up on your front lawn saying you’re going on holiday.” The Association of British Insurers have also warned homeowners to: “think carefully about what you put on social media’.
Ideally you should wait until you get home before you upload your holiday pictures and make sure all the family understand why this is important. But if you really must publish your holiday pictures, then at least check your security settings and restrict access to family and trusted friends. Maybe, set up a closed group on Facebook or another cloud-based server where only trusted individuals can view your pictures.
5. Feeling Vulnerable
With so many more people about, drinking more than they usually do, signals can get confused or people start to behave in ways that they wouldn’t normally. The guy in the club who you brushed past and smiled at, might misread that signal and follow you outside as you leave. That group of girls who you passed in the street might find it funny to follow you, shouting as you go. Naturally you will feel vulnerable, slightly scared as you try and shake them off.
So what can you do?
– Breath slowly, expand you belly and slow your breath. This will help you to keep calm and alert, it will help to stop you panicking
– Do not walk into dark, quiet, side streets
– Try not to get boxed in, avoid alleys, service roads or allowing yourself to get cornered against a wall
– Avoid conversation with them, do not engage with them, with a bit of luck they will get bored
– No matter how scared you are, try and walk tall and with purpose, fake it. This is worth doing in any case, project an assertive, but NOT aggressive persona
– Do not get aggressive with them; you are providing feedback and rewarding their behavior. Things will escalate
– If they pull bags or coats from you let them go, your well-being is much more important than your possessions. It is a bit of a pain to get them replaced, but you are safe and well
– Go back to the club or bar where you were, aim for a public place or busy street. Where there is activity, or a nighttime economy, there is likely to be some kind of uniform assistance, police, ambulance, door supervisors or council staff.
– Call 999 from your mobile telephone and open a channel of communication with the police control room. They should stay on the line until you get somewhere safe and might be able to direct officers to you. They can also take down details as you are walking.
And finally, from all the team at Blackstone Consultancy Ltd, we wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.