Secrets to safe holiday shopping

It is just days away from the official start of the holiday shopping season. So now is a good time to go over some shopping safety tips before you head out to the malls and shopping centers.

Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year. And between now and New Years’ Eve, are the top 10 busiest shopping days, including Black Friday.

It is great news for retailers and, unfortunately, thieves. More shoppers mean more potential victims.

So, while you are out looking for that perfect gift, the crooks are out, too, looking for that perfect opportunity to hit the holiday jackpot.

It is always best if you can shop with a buddy or a group of friend because there is safety in numbers.

But if you go out alone, try to go during the day. And, where you park is important.

“It is always best to stay in a populated area whether you're out during the day or at night,” said Lt. Cindy Kilgore, Coordinator for Michiana Crime Stoppers, Inc. “Try and park some place that's heavily trafficked. You know, people like to get exercise, but that's not necessarily the best time to get your exercise. Park as close to the store as you can, particularly if you're shopping at night. It's dark. try and find a street light to park next to so your way is lighted.”

And when you're going to and from your car, stay alert. Modern technology has a way of keeping us pre-occupied.

“So often you see people on their phones and they're not paying attention to what's going on or perhaps on their phones or their iPod and they've got earplugs in and anytime your decreasing your senses, you're exposing yourself to a little more risk,” said Kilgore.

One way to minimize the risk of getting ripped off is to minimize what you have on your person----in other words travel light.

“If you can avoid taking a purse, do that,” said Kilgore. “You don't need your make-up and your brush and that stuff. Just take what you absolutely need. It's better not to take too much cash. You can pay for your purchases using checks or credit cards. It’s better to do that. Better to keep it in your pocket instead in a purse.”

But if you insist on carrying a purse or handbag, Kilgore recommends putting your purse strap on one shoulder and draping it across your chest with the purse resting on your opposite hip.

However, some police believe that is dangerous because you could be dragged or pulled to ground by a thief. Kilgore says it's a personal choice and something to consider.

Before you go in shopping, keep all valuables in your vehicle out of sight. When you're done, put your purchased items immediately in the trunk.

“It's a good idea in this cold weather to have a blanket in your vehicle. if you don't have trunk that you can lock your purchases up in, which is preferable, throw blanket over it and conceal it so it's not immediately apparent you've got something,” said Kilgore. “Also, if you're going to different locations, do that before you get to your next location. If somebody's coming, then don’t at that time. Take the purchases that you bought at the last store and walk to your trunk and leave your car immediately. Do that before you leave your previous location.“

And if you are going to or from your car, and you feel threatened--there's someone lurking about or coming at you--Kilgore said, whatever you do, don't go back to your car. Go back to the store or mall where there are other people.

In summary, here’s a bullet list of tips for safe holiday shopping.

Out and about:
• Carry only what you need, (DL, credit card, minimize cash)
• Carry it in your pocket, if possible
• Record credit card numbers and leave at home in a safe place
• Use wristlet, or purse that can be slung across
• NEVER leave your purse in your shopping cart
• Always keep car locked
• Have keys in hand, be aware of your surroundings
• Avoid any distraction such as talking on cell phone, listening to music
• Glance inside vehicle before getting in
• Exercise is good, but opt for spot closer to store building, preferably near light
• If you sense danger, don't run to vehicle for safe haven, run back inside store
• Put items in trunk, rather than plain view in car
• Never leave anything of value in plain sight, even change. Hide GPS
• If driving van/SUV, you should keep a blanket inside anyway, throw it over your bags to help camouflage
• Extensive shopping; when dropping off packages in car, consider taking a little break and moving your car (suspects will monitor parking lots)

Panhandlers:
• Almost always scammers
• Often work with accomplices
• "Just say no", practice your response so you're ready
• Your purse may get snatched as you open it to get money
• If you feel compelled to donate, give to a local charity and refer panhandler toward proper source for help
• Notify store/mall manager, or call police

Home safety:
• Always keep doors/windows locked
• If you have an alarm, use it
• Keep potential points of entry well lit
• Never open your door for strangers, (increased solicitations around holidays may be criminal) - DONATE LOCALLY
• If you put presents under tree, wrap them and don't put the big ones out (obvious TV's, etc.)
• Don't advertise by putting boxes on curb
• If you go out of town, notify local police for home watch
• Have driveway plowed, mail taken in, lights on/off
• Don't advertise on Facebook that your house will be unoccupied!

Car safety:
• Keep doors locked
• Keep key in hand as you approach, looking around you and in back seat
• More vulnerable if attacker gets you to unfamiliar territory
• Offer your wallet, jump out a stop light, cause an accident, sound the horn
• Do not leave any packages or personal items in plain site
• If approached by carjacker, throw keys as far away as possible
• When stopping at light, leave plenty of room in front of you to pull away
• Park in lighted area

Purse snatch:
• Shoulder vs. cross-shoulder
• Carry only what you can afford to give up
• Never have your name or address on keys
• When shopping, never place on counter or in cart

Home:
• Always keep doors and windows locked
• If you have an alarm, use it
• Keep potential points of entry well lit
• Vacation home watch
• Don't post on Facebook that you'll be away
• Be aware that boxes at curb could be advertisement

General:
• Trust your gut feelings
• Be aware of your surroundings
• Make eye contact
• Practice physical descriptions
• Carry whistle, flashlight, pepper spray (stun gun yes, Taser no)
• Safety in numbers, attract attention
• Vulnerable spots: eyes, throat, knees, groin


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