Consumer Watch: How to avoid being a holiday crime victim

Consumer Watch: How to avoid being a holiday crime victim

December 8th, 2013 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

While the holiday shopping season generally means a fun time for celebrants, we do NOT want it to be enjoyable for crooks strolling store parking lots waiting to pounce upon unsuspecting customers. Mall and shopping center parking lots are where most crime occurs this time of year, and the vulnerable includes both drivers and walkers. I wrote a column several years ago about this very scenario but, with crime statistics up in our area, the following (updated) alerts, thanks to Consumer Reports, help reduce the likelihood of readers becoming victimized.

• Watch where you park. If you don't immediately see a close-to-the-entrance parking space, then drive around for awhile to look for a well-lit spot. Never park way off in a darkened area, especially at night and when alone.

• Do as I say and not as I do. I'm the world's worst to grab my billfold and leave the purse on the front seat while I dash into a store. This is a huge no-no! Along this same line, packages, cell phones, GPS devices, and every other valuable you don't want snatched should be placed in the trunk out of sight. And don't wait until you get to the parking lot to stow your stuff, either. Do it before you even leave home.

• Pay attention to your surroundings. Don't check emails, don't text, don't make calls (unless your caller is protection if the Big Bad Wolf jumps out at you), and be aware of what's going on all around you. According to Consumer Reports' experts, your awareness prevents you from being struck by a vehicle or being mugged. Walk confidently like you have a purpose and have your keys in hand, one finger on the alarm. The moment you slide into the car, lock the doors, and drive off. (I always have my purse on my right side so that when I unlock the door to slide in, I'm re-locking with my left hand as I close the door.) Don't just sit there doing whatever and, thus, become a target for a carjacking.

• Move your car if necessary. Many robberies occur after crooks watch shoppers put bags into their trunks and then return to the store. It's awfully easy to break in and grab items. While it may not be as convenient, better safe than sorry: if continuing to shop following package drop-off, it's better to move your car to another and possibly safer location. Another option is to ask security or customer service to hold your packages until you're ready to leave. Finally, one tip I always advocate is to ask a security guard to walk you to your vehicle if you're uneasy, especially if walking alone.

• Move quickly if approached. If walking, scream at the top of your lungs, and run back into the store and call police or, if closer, run to a group of shoppers. (Note: if you are being followed on foot, under no circumstances try to get to your car. Statistically, car jackings can occur in under a minute.) If followed while driving, call 911 and quickly get to a lighted gas station, a populated area with plenty of light or, even better, the nearest police station.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. She may be reached at consumerwatch @times free