With the holiday shopping season upon us, many will be flocking to the stores to stock up on deals for all those things we have been waiting for. This season, as in the past, personal security is vital to getting goodies home, wrapped and under the tree. Here are some tips to make that experience safer and more enjoyable for everyone on the list.
Studies have shown that the unsavory element of society is more likely to target someone alone than in a group. Women are considered especially vulnerable, so hit favorite stores with a friend or two. Bring along an elder child, preferably male. It seems sexist, but the criminal element looks for the easy mark, and a woman alone struggling with packages, distracted by unlocking her car and putting those packages in has proven to be an easy mark.
Keep one hand free when carrying packages out of the store. In that free hand, make sure to have the key you need so there is no fumbling around outside the car. If needed, make more than one trip to the car. It may seem excessive, but having the keys ready in one hand can make the different between getting home safely and ending up on the evening news.
When shopping for loved ones this season, many tend to leave the store with a load of packages that get tossed into the car before scooting off to the next shopping adventure. At the checkout, double bag items or use canvas shopping bags to conceal exactly what items were purchased. Criminals often watch checkout lines and the entrances of stores to see who is buying the most expensive items. Thwart those probing eyes to deter the chance of becoming a target.
Once purchases are made and carried to the car, lock them in the trunk. Put the packages away before unlocking the car. An unlocked car with a distracted owner can be easy meat for a criminal. It is a simple thing to approach such a person unawares with a blitz attack. These people want a quick and easy hit, and leaving the car open while emptying a shopping cart is an invitation shoppers do not want to send.
If the vehicle does not have a trunk, as one finds in SUVs, wagons and hatchbacks, keep a few random pieces of “car junk” back there as well as a few blankets to cover up purchases. Every year cars are burglarized in parking lots or even at homes because criminals are able to simply peek through the window. Not only are items lost, there may also be damage to the car, unless the thief decides to steal the car as well. So hide items, conceal purchases and most importantly of all, always lock the car.
Run to the Light
This seems to be a common sense idea, but daylight shopping is safer than shopping at night. Criminals use the cover of darkness to their advantage, and the lessened number of possible witnesses night time can bring. If shopping at night cannot be avoided, park close to the front doors, or under a working light post. Shoppers can ask a security guard to walk with them to the car. It is also a good idea to keep that guard nearby until all the packages are stowed away and the motor is running.
Take it Easy
This Black Friday as with many previous, reports of altercations at major retailers fill the media. Retailers understand that shoppers have been waiting in line, some for days. They also understand that the deals, discounts and savings available are only available during this time of year. Retailers have beefed up police presence to ensure the safety of everyone shopping during the holiday season. Coming to blows over items, places in line or delays is simply too far beyond the pale. Police will not sympathize very much with shoppers who have violated the law.
There is no need to be so determined to get all this stuff that shoppers end up arrested for assault. Some retailers have placed certain high demand items on a guarantee list. If shoppers find these items out of stock, provisions are in place to make the items available at the discount price once they become available again. Simply inquire at the front counter and follow whatever protocols are needed to qualify for the guarantee.
Keep Multitasking to a Minimum
In many cases, shoppers are fielding calls and texts as they hunt for the perfect gift and the best deal. This can become a distraction that allows a thief to walk away with a purse or pocketbook. This can also bring about the dreaded at-the-car attack. Maintain vigilance while out and about and remain aware of your surroundings. If on a call or answering a text, stop and deal with it while still in the store, or let it wait until the security of the car is reached. Once inside with the doors locked, answer whatever messages are needed before leaving the parking spot.
Another common sense tip deals with money. Purses, pocket books and wallets should remain sealed, zipped, snapped and pocketed. Carry them in a front pocket and stay a few feet away from other shoppers. Pickpockets love to get up close, using an “incidental” bump to slip their hands into unsuspecting pockets. Keeping an impenetrable personal bubble in place can deter these thieves before they have a chance to ruin a holiday. Put your change away immediately. Receipts can be checked at the car, or at home.
If making purchases with cash, only pull out as much as required for the purchase. Do not flash large amounts of money either in the store or the parking lot. Criminals have an eagle eye cast about for fat wallets and will make a beeline as soon as they spot a likely one.
If using cards instead, only carry the ones that will be used. Keep the card close so the numbers cannot be photographed by a camera phone or memorized and put it away at once. Many swipe machines now have a cover on them to keep PIN numbers hidden from prying eyes. If the machine does not have this guard, do not be ashamed of using a free hand to cover the keypad.
Dress for Success
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Ladies, put the heels away and break out the flats or the running shoes. Stilettos are not built for marathon shopping sessions. They are also not built for stability or for speed. In the event that an issue arises, sometimes the smartest thing to do is to get away. This is difficult if a heel snaps or balance becomes questionable.
If possible, leave the purse at home. Carry cash, cards, driver’s license and keys in pockets instead. Leave the bling as well. Thieves look for the especially well-dressed shoppers when deciding on a target. Shoppers dripping in expensive jewelry may as well hand over everything at the door. Keep the shiny baubles and slick threads to a bare minimum and stay off of the criminal radar.
Corral the Kids
If possible, leave the young ones at home when shopping, If not, make sure each and every child understands the importance of remaining within sight at all times. Keep small children secure in a stroller or the shopping cart and do not leave them on their own for any reason. Thieves are not only looking for items and money. Sadly, some of the worst element of society comes out of the woodwork on the holiday season seeking wayward children.
Go over plans with children on what to do if separation occurs. Make sure they know to approach a store worker, security or the front desk and report themselves lost. All stores have some kind of public address system, so keep this in mind. Should the child not take these steps, go to the front immediately and have the child paged. Alert authorizes right away if a child is missing, as time is of the essence when it comes to recovering them safely. In most cases, they simply wandered off or even fell asleep under a clothes rack. There is, however, no such thing as being too careful with the most precious of gifts.
Although much of the information above is common sense, shoppers can become so focused on getting the best deal on the perfect gift that little things can be over looked. These tips are not just for the holidays. Shopping safely is always a concern, it simply becomes more intense during the holiday season due to the exponential increase in shoppers and in thieves looking to take advantage of the crowds. Stay alert, stay safe, and enjoy the season.
By Brandi Tasby