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Don’t take all your cash to the beach and other tips to prevent theft while vacationing in Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu police recently gained some attention on social media for recommending beachgoers not leave their valuables unattended and instead take them to the ocean in a waterproof bag.

But police and the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, a nonprofit organization that helps tourists who become victims of crime or other problems, also have more basic advice: Don’t take your valuables to the beach at all. Instead, they say leave them where you are staying.

The number of thefts in Honolulu in general, and Waikiki in particular, was lower last year than in 2022 and 2021, but locals still have some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of theft on the famous beaches of Hawaii.

How do I protect myself against theft on the beach?

Jessica Lani Rich, CEO of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, recommends bringing only what you need for the day. For example, just take $20 so your vacation won’t be ruined if you lose it.

In the past, she helped a South Carolina woman who took all her jewelry to the beach and then had it stolen. Some Japanese visitors brought all their cash with them. One man buried his wallet in the sand for safekeeping with the intention of digging it up later, but was never able to find it, even after volunteers from Rich’s group helped him search.

“You don’t have to carry thousands of dollars in cash,” she said. “You don’t have to take all your credit cards with you.”

Rich recommends that visitors use their hotel safe for valuables and always have one member of their party stay on the beach with their belongings.

“Never leave your valuables unattended on the beach,” Rich said. “Putting it under a towel and in your tennis shoe is not very safe.”

Waikiki convenience stores sell waterproof pouches that can fit a cell phone and other items. Some have a lanyard so you can wear them around your neck.

What about leaving stuff in the car?

If you leave bags in your car, make sure you don’t leave them visible, Rich said.

Earlier this month, the association helped a woman who left her bag on the front passenger seat. Thieves smashed the car window and made off with it.

In another case, a Los Angeles woman who stopped to see turtles at Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore left her bag in the front seat of an open convertible. It was stolen.

If you put your purse or bag in the trunk of your car, do this before you arrive at the beach.

“Don’t do it where you’re going to park your car because people are watching,” Rich said.

Major James Slayter, the Honolulu Police Department officer in charge of the tourist mecca of Waikiki, is reminding people to roll up their windows and lock their doors.

“It is important to take many proactive measures to prevent easy crimes from happening,” he said.

What do the locals do?

Mindy Pennybacker, a surfer and author of “Surfing Sisterhood Hawaii: Wahine Reclaiming the Waves,” says she puts her car keys, driver’s license, credit card and sunscreen in a plastic bag and puts the bag in a small pocket of her surf shorts. A loop in the pocket also secures the key.

She can do this because her key is an older type that she inserts directly into a car’s door and ignition, and not an electronic key that could be damaged by salt water, she said.

She always buys wetsuits or shorts with a well-closable pocket.

“As far as I know, you can’t actually leave anything in the car. Anywhere, any beach,” Pennybacker said.

She also leaves her cell phone at home.

“It’s just not worth it,” she said.

How safe is Hawaii?

Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii with a metropolitan area – entirely on the island of Oahu – of almost 1 million inhabitants. It has crime, like many other places. But those who fall victim to crime make up only a small portion of the nearly ten million visitors who travel to the islands every year.

Honolulu Police Department data shows there were 1,927 thefts in Waikiki last year, up from 2,276 in 2022 and 2,167 in 2021.

For all of Oahu, thefts fell 23% and 7.1% during the same periods.

Slayter, the police chief, said the city is working with the nonprofit Waikiki Business Improvement District to install lockers at some beaches so visitors have another option to store their belongings.

It’s easy to become complacent. Rich and Slayer both say that some travelers are lulled into thinking that Hawaii is so beautiful that nothing bad can happen to them here. Rich once even helped a Virginia law enforcement officer whose official ID was snatched when he and his wife went swimming and left their belongings on the sand.

Many theft victims tell Rich they never thought they would be the ones targeted.

“Hawaii is a safe place,” she said, “but we also encourage visitors to use common sense when going to the beach.”

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