Community Voices

Don’t become a victim: How to stay safe this holiday shopping season

Carmen Caldwell
Carmen Caldwell

The holiday shopping season is here. Hello, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We all will try to get the best deals. Criminals are in the same state of mind, looking for potential easy victims.

So let’s look at some ways we can deter them from ruining our holiday spirit.

Is it really necessary to carry a purse at all times? It may be wiser to just put the essentials, such as keys, credit cards and ID cards, in our pockets. If you must take a purse, use one that crosses your body, and keep it always in front of you, making it harder for someone to grab. Carry as little cash and as few credit cards as possible.

Put your wallet in your front pockets to avoid pickpockets. It’s easier to steal a wallet from your back pocket than the front pocket especially if you are dealing with a distraction team.

Be aware of camera phones. There have been instances in which these phones have been used to set you up for a burglary.

Here’s how it works: You’re standing in line making your purchases while the person behind you is pretending to be on the phone. That person is actually taking a picture of you.

By the time you have finished paying, that picture has been sent to a contact outside. They’ll follow you to your car and either wait for you to put all the merchandise in your trunk and you continue shopping, or they will follow you home and break into your trunk. There are ways to protect yourself from this scheme. For example, when you’re shopping — and this usually happens when you’re buying big items such as electronics — don’t go to your car and leave the packages in your trunk and then continue shopping. You need to change locations if you are in the same mall or shopping center.

When you go home, remove all your purchases from the trunk before doing anything else, including rushing inside to use the restroom. Pay attention to your surroundings and look for tell-tale signs such as a car or a pedestrian near your home. If someone is home ask them to come outside, if its dark make sure the porch lights are on.

When using an ATM to make withdrawals, make sure it is in a well-lighted and not-secluded area. Once you get your money, wait until you get into your car to count the cash, with the windows up and doors locked. An added recommendation is turn your car alarm on but better yet have someone go with you.

Many malls and shopping areas are working with law enforcement to reduce crime. You may see an increase in the number of uniformed officers in and around malls, but many places also will have undercover officers.

It may put us at ease to know that we have police officers protecting us while we shop, but those officers cannot be everywhere all the time. We need to remember to take extra measures to protect ourselves from becoming crime victims.

Be safe, be alert and call the police if you see anything suspicious. Place the non-emergency phone number in your cell phone for your area so that you can have it handy or just dial 911.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to carmen@citizenscrimewatch.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.

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