When it comes to holiday shopping, safety may be the farthest thing from your mind. As you search for the perfect gifts at the best prices, it’s easy to forget that the height of the shopping season is prime time for crime and accidents.
To prevent your festivities from being marred by tragedy, follow these basic safety guidelines:
Carry Only What You Need
Before you hit the stores this season, sort through your bag or pockets to take out anything you don’t need. Skip the camera, and leave your sleek new tablet at home. By the same token, you should also avoid wearing expensive jewelry on shopping trips. Stick to the essentials, and you’ll make yourself less of a target, as well as minimize the risk you face if you are the victim of theft.
Whenever you can help it, avoid carrying large sums of cash. If you need to get cash from an ATM, look for one in an indoor, well-lit and busy location. Such ATMs are less likely to be outfitted with unofficial cameras to read your PIN code or to have false fronts on the card slots to skim your information. Withdraw no more cash than you need, and stay aware of your surroundings.
When it comes to cards, take one or two reliable credit cards on your shopping trip, and leave the debit cards at home. If your information – or physical card – is stolen, it’s easier to reverse unauthorized charges made on credit than via debit.
Avoid overloading yourself with multiple bags. Not only will your piles of presents attract attention from thieves, but your limited mobility also makes you more vulnerable. Buy only as much as you can comfortably carry, and if you need more stuff, bring along a friend to help you carry your items and offer an extra set of eyes.
Keep Your Wallet Out of Thieves’ Reach
To keep your valuables safe from the pickpockets drawn to crowds of shoppers, select an appropriate bag or pocket to deter theft from the start.
If you choose a bag, make sure it has a strap long enough to wear across your chest. Thieves are less likely to go for bags that look harder to grab. Avoid clutches and bags with short straps that can easily be dropped or slip off your shoulder.
But it’s not just the outside that counts. Bags outfitted with practical, zippered compartments make it easier for you to locate your wallet and keys and avoid fumbling through your bag in public. This way, you can immediately remove and replace your wallet when you make a purchase, rather than conspicuously digging through its contents to unearth your cash.
Prefer pockets over a bag? This method can help free up your hands, but whatever you do, don’t keep your valuables in your back pocket. It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who shove their wallets into this accessible location, only to find it missing the next time they reach for it.
Instead of a back pocket, store your money, keys and phone in a front pocket – preferably zippered – and, even better, in an inside pocket, if you have one. If you’re dressed in layers, don’t store essential items in coats or jackets that you’re planning to take off.
Drive, Park and Stow Gifts Cautiously
The transportation method of choice, the car offers another area for potential danger. With early nightfall as well as snow, rain and fog, winter is prime time for hazardous conditions that can obstruct your path. Whenever possible, avoid driving at night in bad conditions or alone, and if you must be out there, do your best to stay alert.
Make sure you’re well-rested before you drive, and cut down on distractions – like music, conversation and phone calls – to keep your eyes on the road.
Once you get to your destination, avoid theft by parking close to well-lit, busy areas and removing all valuables and visible bags from your car. Even an empty backpack can be the lure for a break-in – there’s no way for thieves to know that that bag holds some old socks, not a pile of cash. Always stay aware of the people around you, and be cautious of strangers who strike up conversations in the parking lot.
Don’t Forget About Your Home
Malls aren’t the only place to look out for crime this season – your home can also be a target. Whether you’re leaving the house to go shopping or heading on vacation, don’t announce your whereabouts on Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare. There’s no need to alert the world that your home will be empty.
Whether inside or outside your home, gifts are a great way to attract unwanted attention. If you have a Christmas tree visible from windows or doors, make sure to hide gifts from view. When ordering items online, track their delivery closely to ensure that they don’t get snapped up while sitting on your porch. Ask that a signature be required to drop off the package if you know you’ll be home, or entrust a neighbor to accept the delivery if you’ll be out of the house.
Turning to the Internet to shop this season? Don’t miss our tips on protecting yourself from cyber threats.
Written by Melinda Szell
Thief and handbag image via Shutterstock