’Tis the season to be cautious.

Traditionally a time for merriment and joy, Christmas can also be a time for crooks and con artists. It’s an unfortunate fact that always seems to rear its ugly head when the focus should really be on the birth of Christ, not to mention family, feasting and fruitcake.

In Meadow Lake, the latest rash of holiday hijinks centre around a telephone scam that’s also made the rounds in other parts of the country in recent months. More than 20 separate incidents were reported to the Meadow Lake RCMP last week involving someone claiming to be a representative from the Canada Revenue Agency. According to police, the scammer calls potential victims and attempts to pressure them into paying non-existent debt – usually money said to be owing from a previous year’s tax return. In some cases – most likely when the bluff has been called or the victim proclaims his or her innocence – the conversation takes an aggressive turn. The caller tries to be intimidating, stating the police will arrive and an arrest will be made if the “taxes” are not paid immediately. In reality, this is just another trick to part the gullible from their gravy at a time of year when every dime counts.

On a positive note, it doesn’t appear anyone from the immediate area has been naïve enough to fall prey to this particular scheme – at least not yet. In fact, two accounting firms located in Meadow Lake recently confirmed a number of clients who did receive such calls opted to instead contact the professionals to ask advice before committing to something that would ultimately end up costing them dollars and, perhaps in some cases, a little dignity. The best thing to do in this kind of situation is to remember not to provide the person on the other end of the phone with any personal information and to contact the RCMP to report the incident immediately.

In addition to phone scams, it’s equally important to remember there are other forms of criminal activity to be mindful of at Christmastime. When parking your vehicle to go shopping, remember where you leave it and always park in a well-lit, well-travelled area. Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. You will be ready to unlock the door and will not be delayed by fumbling and looking for your keys. Also, never leave your purse, wallet or cell phone in plain view. However, don’t resist if someone tries to take any of your belongings. Instead, call 911. When the shopping’s all done, refrain from placing empty boxes from large, expensive gifts out for curbside recycling pickup, as this can paint a bull’s-eye on your home for would-be burglars. And, be sure to drive defensively throughout the holiday season. Traffic tends to be heavier and some drivers may also have indulged in too much holiday spirits.

Being both attentive and aware could mean the difference between holiday cheer and holiday drear.