By Jamie Ridenhour

Two common struggles many people feel about the holidays regarding shopping are there is too much to buy and not enough time to get it all.  These two together can turn an otherwise careful person into an easy target for theft or criminal activity.  With that in mind, the holidays are also a good time for a refresher on some simple things that can be done to lower the odds of being a target of crime while out and about.

Rather than make you wait until the end, we will start off with the most important tip – be aware of your surroundings.  It is extremely easy to become preoccupied with tasks or focused on the latest notification on your phone.  Simply taking a moment to pay attention to your surroundings and what is happening around you can help make you less of a target.

Are there people standing idle in the parking lot or near the entrances?  Are crowds blocking exits, are they rowdy?  Is there a security/ police officer nearby? Is your pathway from the car to the entrance well-lit and free of dark areas?  Is this store too crowded? Essentially, you are looking for potential threats and considering your escape route should something happen.  Scanning your environment can make you a lot safer and it’s a good general habit to get into.

If possible, shop as a group.  Have a plan for where and when you will meet if you go separate ways.  An agreed upon meeting place can also be used in the event of an emergency.  If you are shopping with children, discuss the importance of staying together and listening to any instructions you give.  Be sure to set a place to meet in case they do get separated and tell them to ask a store clerk or security/police officer for help.

Parking in a well-lit area helps to make you less of a target.  While often not possible during the holidays, parking close to the store entrance you plan to use is another good idea.  Don’t make yourself a target by having to walk a long distance in the dark.  Get your keys out when leaving the store and try not to be overburdened with packages.

Always lock your car and never leave it running unattended for any amount of time.  If you need to wait in the car, lock your doors while you are in it. Keep your car and valuables safe by not leaving any items visible. Do not move valuables to the trunk or hatch after you have parked, possibly showing a waiting thief exactly what is in your car.

Cash is becoming less and less common these days, and that’s a good thing in some ways.  Avoid carrying large amounts of cash when shopping, and if you must, separate it into smaller bundles to avoid having to take it all out at one time.  Whether you carry cards, cash, or both, keep it in a front pocket or close hanging purse.  A wallet in a rear pocket or a low hanging purse make you a tempting target for pickpockets or purse snatchers.  Finally, wait until you need to pay before getting your money out.

Keeping track of card usage is useful not only to stay within your budget, but to avoid fraud as well.  Check your recent purchase history often to make sure there are no charges you didn’t make.  Using only one or two cards can make this process easier and utilizing your card issuer’s text and email alerts for purchases can also warn you of fraudulent use.

Shopping online is a safer option than braving the malls, but it still carries some risks, particularly in the financial sense.  Using a separate card for online purchases is a great way to monitor your spending and limits your exposure if the card is compromised.  Again, be sure to check your purchase history regularly and set up an alert for when a purchase is made.

Avoid doing any shopping when on an open network, such as store or restaurant WiFi.  Sending personal and financial information only when at home or on a trusted network makes you much less vulnerable.  Shop only at retailers you recognize or do your homework by reading reviews for those you don’t.  Never click on a link to a product or company in an email you receive unless you are certain it is legitimate. More tips on safe online habits can be found in our Practical Tips for Cybersecurity article published earlier this year.

For many of us, part of the fun of the holidays is shopping for the perfect present and finding good deals.  Don’t let the bad actors out there ruin it for you.  Simple awareness and good habits can help ensure that you don’t become a victim.  Happy Holidays from all of us at DSI!