The holiday season is upon us. Unfortunately, many holiday shoppers may fall prey to unscrupulous criminals who hang out in mall and shopping center parking lots, doing their “shopping” from the packages placed in parked vehicles. Some foresight and planning can reduce the chances of becoming a victim during a season that should be a joyous and loving celebration.
Whenever possible try to shop with another individual, especially after dark. You greatly reduce the chance of becoming a victim while shopping in pairs or even a group. When shopping, look for the best lit parking spaces. Once in your chosen space, look around before leaving your car. Is there anyone in the vicinity watching you? Do you see anyone loitering? If so, remain in your car and watch them for a moment. If they move on, that’s fine, but if not, you might consider moving to a different parking space. If you feel uncertain or unsafe about a situation you observe, move to a safer location.
Once parked, lock your vehicle and move quickly and confidently to the store. Would-be thieves and robbers are looking for the easiest targets. If you show that you are aware of what is happening around you and move with a sense of purpose, you are less likely to become a victim. Walk against the flow of traffic.
Keep your head up and scanning; awareness is your greatest defense. Don’t search through a purse or bags in the parking lot. If you must look for something, make sure you are in the safety of the store before you become absorbed in your hunt for a tissue, shopping list or other items. Please also try to refrain from texting or reading emails during this time of transition.
While shopping, protect/secure your cash and credit/debit cards. Women should avoid using the shoulder strap on their purse, but rather carry it clutched close to the body where it is less vulnerable to snatching. Make sure to shield the keypad from view when entering a PIN for your debit card. Better yet, have the cashier run the card as a credit card and sign for the purchase rather than exposing your PIN. After your holiday shopping, make sure to visit your cardholder’s website and check your purchases on-line to catch any unauthorized charges.
If you store items in your vehicle, make sure they are covered or concealed. If you are putting bags in your vehicle and returning to shop, move your car periodically in case someone is watching you.
Finally, if leaving late from a shopping mall or store, don’t hesitate to ask a store employee for help. Don’t accept the kind offer of a stranger who meets you outside the door and offers assistance. It may be a kind and generous offer, but it could also be trick. It’s not worth the risk.
For further tips, or if the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office can be of any assistance, please call (229) 430-6508 or (229) 431-3222. Be aware, stay safe, and have a joyous and wonderful Christmas and holiday season!
Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office since 1982 and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.