ELK GROVE -- This holiday season, millions will be visiting shopping malls and centers.
But while shoppers are in the stores, thieves are often targeting cars with gifts inside. It’s a problem that has many police departments in the area stepping up patrols.
"You can always roll down the windows and if you hear glass shattering, that’s what we call in police work 'a clue,'" said Elk Grove Police Officer Jason Jimenez.
Officer Jimenez was patrolling shopping center parking lots Tuesday night as part of the Elk Grove Police Department’s safe shopper program, which focuses on preventing car break-ins.
"We start from Black Friday and we run all the way through a couple days after Christmas," Jimenez told FOX40.
With so many caught up in holiday shopping, parking lots are often a gold mine for car thieves.
"They’re here and they’re everywhere, and this is the time of year that they’re going to be out," Jimenez said.
Jack and his father, Ralph Valadez, know first hand how fast someone can break in and steal valuables.
"Yeah, I mean, I’ve had my truck broken into before," Valadez said. "They broke a window, grab the stuff and just leave, so."
Jimenez said his department sees a spike in smash-and-grabs this time of year. But it’s also a crime he says is so easy for shoppers to avoid.
"Whether it’s covering the items in the car, putting them in the trunk. Doing all of that though prior to getting to your next stop is something that I would highly encourage," he said.
Hiding gift bags after you’ve already parked at the next store is not always the best idea.
"Talking to car burglars and stuff, they do their homework. They’re sitting in that parking lot, they’re watching you," Jimenez explained.
Valadez said he’s learned his lesson and now just goes to one store at a time then drops his shopping bags off at home.
"It’s pretty sad you have to think about what you leave in your truck or what you leave in your car and it's just you got to be watching out for everything," Valadez said.
While police do recommend shoppers park in well-lit areas, they also warn not to get a false sense of security and always keep valuables out of sight.