“Black Friday” approaches and gives good reason to think twice about ways to prevent joy from turning into fear and deals from turning into steals as holiday shopping kicks off in earnest.
Good reason, too, for the increasing number of warnings and tips filtering in to the Patch news desk from law enforcement agenices throughout the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
“For many of us the holiday season is normally a joyous but busy time of the year,” said Cpl. Wendy McGinnis, spokesperson for the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. “We often get caught up in the hustle and bustle and tend to let down our guard as we scramble to make the final holiday preparations.”
Unfortunately, she added, criminals “know this all too well and prey on distracted and vulnerable citizens.”
Nationwide, more than $35 million a day in goods are stolen from retailers, according to Andrea Davis, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department. “Shoplifting overburdens the police and the courts, adds to a store’s security expenses, costs consumers more for goods and costs communities lost dollars in sales taxes.”
Gleaned from both law enforcement agencies are these tips for a safe holiday season.
Holiday Safety Tips for Shopping and Parking
- Always park in well-lit areas, even if you don’t intend to shop after dark. If you need to shop at night, coordinate your trip with a friend; there is safety in numbers.
- Lock vehicle doors and close all windows, even if you will be away from the vehicle for a few minutes. Never leave the engine running in your absence, even for just a minute. Take all keys with you. (Don’t hide a set anywhere on your vehicle.) Activate anti-theft devices.
- Keep packages and other valuables, including cell phones and GPS devices, out of public view and preferably locked in the trunk. Some burglars will target GPS devices to look for home addresses, then burglarize the home while you’re at the mall.
- Park near street lights if possible and have keys in hand before you return to your car. Pay attention to your surroundings; potential predators do not like eye contact. Always check underneath the vehicle and the interior before unlocking the door.
- Deter identity theft. Don’t clip any type of identification to rearview mirrors or other locations in plain view.
- Discourage purse snatchers, don’t overload on packages. Instead of toting them, consider having them delivered.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash. Pay for purchases with check or credit/debit card if possible.
- Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry a purse under your arm, with the strap across your body. Keep a wallet in an inside jacket pocket. Avoid back trouser pockets.
Holiday Tips for Banking and ATM Safety
- Protect your PIN number. Don’t carry it in your purse or wallet.
- Photocopy the front and back of your credit/debit cards and keep that information in a safe place to have easy access to the information needed to report a car lost or stolen.
- Review bank and credit card statements promptly. Report any discrepancies immediately.
Holiday Tips To Keep Kids Safe
- Supervise children and always accompany them to the restroom. Make sure children check first with the adult in charge before venturing off on their own. Know where your children are, and with whom, at all times. Children should never go into a parking lot alone.
- Teach your children, if they should become separated, to go to a store clerk or security guard and ask for help. Set up a predetermined spot for such instances, such as at the sales counter of the store or at the mall’s information booth. Teach younger children how to look for people who can be sources of help within a store or mall, such as a uniformed security officer or a salesperson with a nametag.
- Children never should leave the store or mall to go looking for the adult in charge.
- Older children should not shop alone; have them invite a friend. Have them check in on a regular basis and agree upon a clear plan and place for picking them up, including where, when and what to do in case of a change in plans.
- Do not use voices of children or their names on answering machines. It alerts predators that children are members of the household.
Holiday Tips for Keeping Mail Safe
"It is not uncommon for thieves to open mailboxes during the holiday season looking for Christmas cards with cash and/or gift cards," McGinnis noted. "Thieves might also be looking for bank statements and other personal information with intent to commit identity theft."
With that in mind:
- Put outgoing mail in your mailbox shortly before scheduled pickup and delivery times. (Your mail carrier typically delivers mail about the same time every day.)
- Consider opening a post office box.
- Never put outgoing mail in your mailbox overnight. A raised flag is a good indication that there is mail going out that might include gift cards or bills with account information.