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November 26, 2008 > Shop smart - shop safe this holiday season

Shop smart - shop safe this holiday season

By Lawrence F. Loesch

With the economy on a turbulent roller coaster ride, more people than ever have credit problems. While these credit problems don't derail the law abiding among us, they will likely bring more predatory thieves to our holiday shopping season. "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, is historically the busiest retail shopping day of the year and what many consider to be the "official" beginning to the holiday season. But as the holiday season gets into full swing, some crooks and predators are celebrating their "holiday cheer" with assorted mayhem, misdeeds and misdemeanors.

As Vice President and General Manager for the New York City Region of the largest American-owned security officer services company and a former NYPD Deputy Chief, I have seen my share of holiday crime. I offer the following top 10 tips for a safer shopping experience to ensure a joyous holiday season:

Strut While You Shop - Thieves and predators are on the lookout for body language that conveys vulnerability. Criminals look for easy marks such as people who are slouched over, preoccupied or are fumbling with packages. Walk confidently and be alert when you maneuver through crowded malls and parking areas.

Don't Shop Till You Drop - While Madison Avenue may say otherwise, security professionals advise that consumers avoid holiday shopping fatigue. Keep your shopping bags in your sight at all times, and don't burden yourself with too many bags or packages.

No Flashing - Displaying large sums of cash is a powerful lure to greedy thieves. Use checks or credit cards whenever possible and never leave your credit card on a store counter. While "bling" may be king, avoid wearing visibly expensive jewelry during holiday shopping jaunts.

Where is Waldo or your Wallet and Purse? - While the worldwide search for Waldo may be fun, the same spirit of joy is missing when a purse or wallet has gone MIA. Carry your handbag or purse close to your body with the clasp or flap secured and facing toward you. Never leave your purse on a store counter, on the floor in a restroom or in a dressing room.

Maintain Pack Mentality - There is safety in numbers, so shopping with friends whenever possible is highly recommended.

Report Suspicious Activity - Report suspicious people or situations to mall security. Be aware of unusual movements or anyone who gets too close for comfort.

Avoid Parking Lot Isolation - Chockfull of goodies during the holidays, parking lots are targeted locations for the theft of valuables from vehicles. Parking in an isolated area rolls out the welcome mat for criminals so park near other vehicles or in high pedestrian and vehicle traffic areas. You can also avoid becoming an easy target for theft by tucking packages and valuables out of sight in your vehicle, and making sure that your windows are closed and doors are locked.

Parking Lot Readiness - Avoid becoming an easy mark in the parking lot by being aware of noises and movements and having your keys in your hands, ready to open your vehicle. Be sure to look into the vehicle's front and rear seat before entering it, and lock your vehicle as soon as you get in.

Keep Guard and Windows Up - If someone approaches your vehicle inquiring about directions, do not open your door or roll your window down. If you have car trouble, remain in your car and use a cell phone to call for assistance, or return to the mall and notify security.

Collect Cash with Care - If your holiday shopping includes a trip to an ATM, be alert for ATM skimmers. Skimmers can be installed on an ATM's card reader to collect or skim your card information. The thieves can then use the stolen information to access your account. Avoid this by using ATM machines inside bank lobbies, under video surveillance, that are less likely to be tampered with. Be sure to shield the keyboard as you enter your PIN and keep your card in your possession. Don't accept help from random people at the ATM and if the machine keeps your card, call your bank immediately.

While criminals and predators are most prolific during the holidays, effective security precautions require a conscious awareness of one's environment virtually every day of the year. Maintain vigilance, common sense and caution to shop smart, and safe, during the holidays and always.


Lawrence F. Loesch is Vice President/General Manager for AlliedBarton Security Services' New York City region. Loesch served as a Deputy Chief for the NYC Police Department and has held corporate security positions for Credit Suisse First Boston and UBS/Paine Webber.

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