Holiday Shopping Safety Tips – Alert and Aware

Because we’re all about ultimate self-protection, we thought we’d take a little bit of time to talk about the holidays and some of the safety concerns associated with the season. Master Blair always steps up his self-defense classes a notch during the winter months. It’s getting darker earlier and you’re more likely to be shopping for holiday goodies.

The holiday season has always given those conscious about personal safety a little extra cause for pause. The fact that we’re all out shopping and looking for gifts for our loved ones leaves us vulnerable. We’re creating targets – in our homes, in our cars, while we’re walking through the malls. Even in good economic times, thieves are looking to take advantage of those trying to embrace some holiday cheer; and in tough economic times, things get worse.

Safety while Shopping in Public

Let’s start with some of the things you should be thinking about while shopping. You are – obviously – spending money. This means potential thieves will be watching you to see if you are carrying cash, using a debit card, or writing checks. They’re also going to be keeping an eye on what you’re buying.

  • Don’t carry a purse. Only carry the money and identification you really need, and keep it close to your body. If your jacket has an inside pocket, use it. If you must carry a purse, keep it close to your body at all times. Don’t leave it in a shopping cart or carry it over one shoulder. Sling it across your body so it can’t be easily grabbed.
  • Don’t display your money or payment method until necessary. Standing in a 20 minute line with your checkbook in your hand, flipping through the pages while you wait, simply puts your account information on display. Leave your cash, debit card, or checkbook in your bag or pocket until it’s time to actually make the payment. The less time your information is visible to others, the lower your odds of a thief being able to grab the data he needs.
  • Don’t carry huge wads of cash. If you are doing a lot of shopping, split your cash up into different pockets so you’re only ever displaying a small amount at a time. Pulling out a roll of $20 bills to pay for a single item will catch any thief’s attention, making you a target for a pickpocket or a would-be thug who feels brave enough to follow you into the parking lot.
  • Park close to the stores you’re shopping in. While it may be tempting to park as far away from the store as possible, to avoid traffic jams, this means you’ll end up having to walk a further distance back to your car once you have your packages. The further you are from the store, the less visible you are to security as well – and the longer it will take someone to get to you if you do need help.
  • If you have no choice but to park far from the store, be conscious of your path as you walk back to your car. Don’t text or talk on the phone. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • While it’s often difficult for those who work daytime shifts, try to do your shopping during daylight hours. If you’re shopping at night, don’t hesitate to ask a security guard to walk you back to your car.
  • Don’t stand at your car searching for your keys. I know exactly what this is like. They slip to the bottom of my coat pocket or they disappear to the bottom of my purse. Look for your keys before you leave the store building. Stop and organize yourself so that you can get right into your car when you arrive.
  • Don’t sit in an unlocked car. A lot of people get in the car, turn it on, and then sit for a few minutes while sorting through receipts or lists. Get in your car and lock the doors before doing anything else.
  • Place your packages in the trunk. If you don’t have a closed trunk, make sure your packages are covered and out of sight. Many cars and SUVs have a cover you can pull over your open back area. If you don’t have one, use a blanket.

Master Blair, in teaching self defense, has talked several times about how con artists will attempt to distract you. Be conscious of anyone who is walking up to you, whether to ask a question about a store or to ask you what time it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the parking lot or in the middle of a well-lit, crowded mall. Anything you do that takes your eyes off of the person in front of you is a distraction – one that could cost you, especially if you are carrying too many bags to control easily.

Safety while Shopping Online

Online safety is a huge concern these days as well. There are a few things you need to keep in mind in this regard as well.

  • Make sure you are carefully reviewing the websites you are using to make purchases. There is a difference between http:// and https:// – mainly in that the “s” at the end is an indicator that the site is using extra security. Most retail store sites begin with the “https://” and many will also show a small “lock” symbol at the bottom of the screen.
  • Make sure your computer’s antivirus software has been updated. A lot of scammers will use viruses and tools that track your keystrokes to steal information. This makes it easy for them to get all of your personal finance information – from your name and address to your credit card number, expiration, and security code – to use on other sites.
  • Make sure your internet connection is secure. Wireless networks without strong passwords can be accessed by just about anyone, leaving your personal information at risk.
  • Make purchases with temporary credit cards. Some credit card companies offer disposable one-time use numbers for online purchases – something you can access from your card company’s website. You would tell the company the $ amount you plan to spend and the site would generate a number for you to use online. The number can only be used one time, so even if someone did steal it, he wouldn’t be able to use it. Sadly, this service doesn’t seem as common as it used to be. A workaround is to buy pre-paid Visa cards. Load the amounts you need for your online purchases onto the card and then do your shopping. Again, if the card number is stolen while you’re making a purchase, there won’t be any money left on the card for a thief to use later.
  • Be conscious of any company sending emails asking you to verify your payment or password information – especially during this time of the year. Legitimate companies won’t ask you to verify your password via email. Never click the links in these messages, as they often take you fake pages that merely look like the actual store pages you’re familiar with. Entering your log-in details on one of these pages is basically giving it to the thieves – and they’ll use it to see if you have payment information stored in your online store accounts.

In general, whether you are shopping online or in stores, you should check your bank account statements online as often as possible. Online and cell phone access has made it easier than ever to monitor our account balances, and by looking every day – or at least a couple of times per week – you’ll be able to quickly catch any suspicious activity.

Holiday Safety in the Home

Finally, keep your home safe. Thieves are constantly canvassing neighborhoods to look for easy targets.

  • Always lock your doors when you leave the house, even if you think you live in a “safe” neighborhood. Leaving windows and doors unlocked is like leaving an engraved invitation for a would-be thief.
  • Use automatic timers for your holiday light displays, whether you’re usually home to turn them off and on or not. The timer will create consistency and will make it more difficult for a thief to locate homes that are unoccupied by looking for ones with lights that aren’t yet lit. Some of your interior lights should be on automatic timers as well.
  • Don’t leave tons of wrapped gifts under the tree, especially if your tree display is visible from outside. Wait until Christmas Ever or Christmas morning to place the gifts – while you’re home.
  • Don’t advertise your holiday vacation or extended absence. Avoid talking about it on social media, especially if you’re not really friends with everyone in your audience. Ask a close family member or friend to pick up your paper or collect your mail – or ask the newspaper carrier and mail carrier to place your deliveries on hold so that items don’t pile up outside your home.

The holiday season should be full of fun and cheer. Unfortunately, for some, it can bring disaster. Minimize your risk and keep your family safe by taking action to avoid theft or personal harm. “Ultimate self-protection” should be at the top of your list of priorities, and taking a few minutes to prepare before heading out into the world (or jumping on the internet) won’t slow your holiday roll – but it will certainly make it safer!

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