The Signal Tribune newspaper

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Safe holiday shopping requires vigilance, awareness of surroundings and common sense

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By Bud Bradley
Vice President of Shopping Centers
AlliedBarton Security Services

“Black Friday,” historically the busiest retail shopping day of the year, starts the holiday shopping season and continues through the end of the year. But as the holiday season gets into full swing, some crooks and predators are celebrating their “holiday cheer” with assorted mayhem, misdeeds and misdemeanors.
Stay alert. Thieves and predators are on the lookout for body language that conveys vulnerability. Criminals look for easy marks, such as people who are preoccupied with infants or small children, on a cell phone or fumbling with packages. Walk confidently, and be alert when you maneuver through crowded malls and parking areas. Keep your shopping bags in your sight at all times, and don’t burden yourself with too many packages.
Don’t be flashy. Displaying large sums of cash is a powerful lure to greedy thieves. Use checks or credit cards whenever possible and never leave your credit card on a store counter or out of your sight. Instead of signing the back of your credit card, write “see ID.” Store clerks should verify ownership of the card before processing it.
Keep your purse close. Carry your purse close to your body with the clasp or flap secured and facing toward you. For safety reasons, long straps on shoulder-style bags should never be placed over the head. Never leave your purse on a store counter, or on the floor in a restroom or dressing room. 
Stay together, shop together. There is safety in numbers, so shopping with friends whenever possible is highly recommended. However, if you are shopping alone, ask mall security for an escort to or from your car.
Report suspicious activity. Report suspicious people or situations to mall or store security. Be aware of unusual movements or anyone who gets too close for comfort.
Collect cash with care. Avoid using unfamiliar ATMs when possible.  ATM skimmers are devices that are deceivably placed on the ATM by thieves to access your personal information or account. Avoid this trap by using ATM machines inside bank lobbies, under video surveillance, that are less likely to be tampered with. Shield the keyboard as you enter your PIN and keep your card in your possession. Don’t accept help from strangers at the ATM, and, if the machine keeps your card, call your bank immediately.
Avoid parking lot isolation. Parking lots are targeted locations for the theft of valuables from vehicles, and in some locations, vehicle break-ins are more common during the holiday season. Parking in an isolated area rolls out the welcome mat for criminals, so park near other vehicles or in high pedestrian and vehicle traffic areas. Plan your visit so that you are parked in a well lighted area during hours of darkness. You can also avoid becoming an easy target for theft by storing packages and valuables out of sight in your vehicle or placing them in the trunk. Make sure that your windows are closed and doors are locked before leaving your vehicle. 
Be proactive, be ready. Avoid becoming an easy mark in the parking lot by being aware of noises and movements and having your keys in your hands, ready to open your vehicle. Be sure to look into the vehicle’s front and rear seat before entering it, and lock your vehicle as soon as you get in. If someone approaches your vehicle inquiring about directions, do not open your door or roll your window down. If you have car trouble, remain in your car and use a cell phone to call for assistance, or return to the mall and notify security.
 While criminals and predators are most prolific during the holidays, effective security precautions require a conscious awareness of one’s environment at all times. Maintain vigilance, awareness of your surroundings and common sense as you shop during the holidays and always.

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Safe holiday shopping requires vigilance, awareness of surroundings and common sense