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With the onset of the holiday shopping season, here are some good thoughts about being safe when out in the "maddening crowd":

1) SHOP WITH FRIENDS. A lone shopper is an easy target, safety is in numbers especially in the parking lot! The mall interior is just as concerning as the exterior, especially when it's crowded.

2) STAY IN WELL-LIT AREAS. Parking close is nice, but if in a dark corner or desolate stretch, it's not so safe. Drive around awhile and find a brighter section.

3) MINIMIZE YOUR PACKAGES, MAKE SEVERAL TRIPS TO YOUR CAR. Having an armload of bags is an easy target, too. Carry your back in your weak hand, keys at the ready in your strong hand, with the "Alert" button on your remote at your fingertips. Criminals hate noise - it calls attention and they can be identified by more people. If you have a pepper-gas device on your keyring, have your finger on the safety, ready to go.

4) CARRY A SMALL PURSE. Keep it over your shoulder and inside toward your abdomen - less change someone wiull try to "snatch & run". Best practice is to carry only your wallet in a deep coat or slacks pocket - and in front pockets whenever possible. Pickpockets are very good, expecially from the rear.

5) DON'T FLASH CASH. Most people today use plastic, but for those that like not having the large after-holiday bills, cash is cool. Pull out only the bills you need for that purchase - not the whole wad. Crooks love to stand around the check-out booths - and don't put your purse down on the counter while paying!

6) CLOSELY WATCH THE CASHIER RING YOUR SALE. Many crooks use accomplices working the reigister - "dropping" your credit card on the floor - while they're looking for it, the crook is scanning it. In a minute or so, it's "found". Watch the amount their ringing in - if the cashier/salesperson is on commission, ringing higher amounts means more money for them - many stores don't deduct refunds or returns from the salesperson's tally, and besides, you don't wnat to be overcharged on sale items anyway. (I find this a lot!).

7) WATCH FOR "ACCIDENTS" WHEN BACKING OUT OF THE PARKING SPACE. This is a great diversion! Another car bumps into yours - while your exchanging information or looking at the damage, the accomplice opens your car doors and grabs whatever is in reach - including your purse. If this happens, lock your doors and call mall security or police and stay in the car until they arrive. The bad guys won't want to hang around! (Take their picture maybe, too?)

8) KEEP YOUR CHILDREN IN-HAND OR SECURED. Protect from child-nabbing by having them right beside you, hand-in-hand with you or discreetly tethered to your belt or shopping cart. Colorful, cartoon-character lanyards make for great securing devices. There are also new watch-like devices that beep when the child is more than so many feet away form you - you can locate them from the beeping or your cell-phone app. It also keeps children from wandering off while your attention is diverted by a sales clerk describing the product or while in the changing room (take them with you). Children disappear every day in America - many are never found. In a minute they can be whisked away, out the door, in a car and gone forever.

9) BE OBSERVANT & AWARE OF RISKS AROUND YOU. Watch for people approaching yoyu, seemingly innocent. If you don't know them, put up your hand and tell them to please stay away. A great tactic is the perfume girl - she sprays you "accidentally" in the face; while you're choking or blinded, her accompice grabs your purse or picks your pocket. Again, safety is in numbers.

10) SHOPPING EARLY. Avoid the rushes of the wekeends and days just beofe the holiday. Weekdays are less frustrating and parking is better. Do your best to shop safely!

11) ONLINE SHOPPING. Avoid the crowds by shopping online. Be careful of some sites - ensure their check out is secure (a logo should appear of the security system). Don't hit "Check out" more than once, even if it's slow processing - go "Back" or exit completely if you're unsure. Watch your receipt, and print it immediately. Check your billing statements, too, for errors or hacking. The major retailers are usually safer than small companies, but you never know - fraud & indentity theft is a major issue. It's best to ensure your bank offers fraud watch & protection for your credit cards, too.


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