The following was written by Patrolman Craig Hoover.
As we head into the winter holiday shopping season crimes of opportunity will be on the rise. Keeping that in mind here are some shopping safety tips to prepare you for your shopping experience.
One of the most important things you can do before starting your holiday shopping is to try and plan your shopping ahead of time. The usual hustle and bustle of shopping tends to lead to rushing from place to place, which leaves you distracted. It is this distraction which makes you susceptible to becoming a potential victim.
When arriving to Parking Areas:
Always look at your surroundings, and if you are shopping anywhere near nighttime and you are going to be in the store past dark, park closer to the stores. The best case scenario is that you park near a light post so if you come out after dark, you are near a visible, well-lit area. If you see any unusual activity make sure you report it to the security staff or the local police.
Be sure to lock car and place valuables out of sight.
Be alert to your surroundings coming to and from the store, report any suspicious activity.
Refrain from going back and forth with purchases, if you must place in trunk or cover them with blanket so they are out of sight. If you have an SUV or van, take a blanket to cover up your items.
Try to buy large or expensive items at the end of your shopping trip so they do not sit inside your car for long periods of time
Pay attention to your surroundings while shopping, and carry your purse or wallet securely. The large crowds and your long to-do list can distract you. Never leave your purse unattended, and be sure to guard your wallet against pickpockets in the crowd. A stolen wallet is a gold mine to an identity thief.
Carry only the credit or debit cards you plan to use for your holiday purchases. If your wallet or purse is stolen, fewer accounts will be affected. Never carry your checkbook if you are not planning on using it that day. Take only what you need such as a driver's license, a credit card, and a minimal amount of cash.
Protect your Social Security number. Do not carry anything with your SSN in your wallet. Do not give out your SSN to store clerks and never write it on a check.
Before making a purchase online, make sure that the site is legitimate and secure. Look for “https://” (rather than” http://”) in your browser window to make sure your information is protected. There should also be a locked padlock image on your browser’s status bar. If you are uncertain whether the site is secure, do not provide any personal information. Simply shop with companies you know and trust.
If a large crowd is expected in your shopping area carry your identification cards, credit card and cash in a front pocket of your pants to limit the potential for pickpockets or purse snatchers from running away with your belongings.
While it is the season of giving, be wary of panhandlers or solicitors. The thing to remember is the vast majority of them, especially around holiday time, are scammers. If you feel compelled to donate, donate locally. But when you are dealing with these folks that are approaching you on the street, often times they are working with accomplices. What they are waiting for is for you to pull out your wallet, open up and show how much cash you have, and the next thing you know it is snatched out of your hands. If you are approached by a panhandler, notify the store or mall manager or call police. You may be saving the next person from a hassle or worse. Remember to "Just say no," if you feel compelled to give, give to a local charity or refer the individual to a local charity group for assistance.
During the holiday season everyone should keep also keep domestic terrorism in mind. Tell a security guard or store employee if you see an unattended bag or package. The same applies if you are using mass transit.
If you are shopping with children, make a plan in case you are separated from each other, select a central meeting place and teach them to know they can ask mall personnel, store security employees, or police if they need help.
When leaving the store
Women keep your purse close to your body or your purse strap around your body and have your keys ready to open cars or building door locks. Quickly glance inside your vehicle before getting in. Once inside, lock your doors then settle in and prepare for your drive home, if someone approaches and attempts to gain entry into your vehicle sound your horn to draw attention or quickly drive away and call 911.
If you have some sort of protection device such as a whistle or pepper spray, have it in hand as you walk to and from buildings/cars especially at night in an isolated parking area.
If you are heading to or from your car and you feel threatened, whatever you do, do not go back to your car. Get back to the store because safety is in numbers.
If you have been confronted, do not resist. Remain calm and follow directions.
Do not provoke the attacker to violence or panic. If a person walks up to you, points a weapon at you and demands your money, comply with their demands. Money is replaceable your life is not. Only as a last resort should you defend yourself if you are being grabbed or assaulted.
Remember thieves have no regard for anyone but themselves.