black friday_imposing_300WESTERN KY (11/20/12) – For most, Black Friday doesn’t evoke much in the way of safety concerns. Aside from avoiding being trampled by one's fellow shoppers trying to get that coveted and scarce video game or toy that will launch you or your kid to the top of the most-envied list, what is there to worry about?

In fact, while you gear-up for holiday shopping, it’s open season for criminals as well, who like big cats stalking prey, wait and watch for the weakest of the herd, as it were. To avoid becoming the prey, it’s all about preparation and some simple, common-sense measures.

It’s no secret that crime rates increase around this time of year. Wrongdoers target both retailers and shoppers during the busy shopping season. The difference between reading about these crimes and living through them may come down to simply being aware of the threats – easier said than done during the bustling holidays when it’s easy to get caught up in just getting through the hectic to-do list.

So then, how do we keep ourselves from being easy targets? Some of the following tips are obvious; some a little more obscure; however, thieves are crafty, so it’s never a bad idea to cover all of your bases.

Thieves scour parking lots. Holiday shopping is not a one-stop affair, so it’s important to make sure merchandise is stowed-away properly as you drive from A to B. Lock items securely in the trunk, especially electronics, backpacks, day planners, or other valuables. If there is no room in the trunk, cover your items with a blanket. The important thing is to keep your valuables out of view. Thieves are notorious for breaking into vehicles even for loose change.

It may be convenient to program your home address into the GPS system, but it is also an easy way for a thief to find your house while you shop and while they know you are away. Take the extra time to simply type in your home address if you are that deep in the retail jungle that you need directions out.

Park in well-lit areas, and try to shop with a group. There is safety in numbers, and it will help decongest the roadways if you and your crew carpool. Make sure everyone’s cell phones are charged and where they can be heard or felt if on vibrate. Tell family and friends of your planned itinerary/route and when to expect your return. Have your keys in-hand as you approach your vehicle. A fumbling key search is a favorite time for thieves to approach. Make eye contact with suspicious people near you. Thieves do not like eye contact.

As you accumulate merchandise, consolidate your bags. Ask an associate for an oversized bag that will hold several bags from your previous purchases. It’s easy to not notice that one of your six bags has been swiped during that brief, iced-coffee timeout on the mall bench. Don’t haul too much merchandise. Make a run to the car if needed to both lighten the load and to lessen the amount of items you must monitor.

Carry only a small amount of cash. Use your credit or debit card for shopping. It is easy to quickly call and cancel your card if stolen, but once the cash is gone—well, it’s gone. Ladies, forego a purse and keep cards and cash in a zipped or closed pocket. Yes, low-tech thieves such as pickpockets and purse-snatchers are still out there. Watch for over-the-shoulder lookers as well, who seek to steal your personal information or PIN number at the register.

If you decide to bring the kids along, make sure there is a plan in place in the event you get separated or lost. Small children should know their first and last names and your phone number. Put identification in their pockets with this information if needed as well. Instruct small children to never go outside or in a parking lot to look for you. For older kids, identify a designated meeting place in the event of separation. Make sure their cell phones are on and charged, and give them consequences for not answering in the event that you call.

At home, take care to dispose of your merchandise packaging responsibly. Cut-up, break down, or turn packaging inside-out so that you do not curbside advertise that you have new high-dollar items in the home such as TVs, video game consoles, stereo equipment, etc.

Of course, the best way to ensure a safe Black Friday is to stay home and watch your Facebook feed fill up with shopping horror stories. After all, this is the 21st century, and Cyber Monday, the internet shopping version of Black Friday, is fast becoming a popular alternative. But that’s another story. Stay tuned.

Casey Piscitelli
SurfKY News

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