During the holiday season, shoppers may be so busy that they fail to be aware of their surroundings. Careless or unaware shoppers are easy pickings for purse snatchers and street robbers.
Police Chief Jim Johnson says to scan your immediate area; don’t assume that you are secure because there are people around you.
"Every good police officer is trained to read the environment. Likewise, you should ask yourself questions when you are out and about,” Johnson says.
For example, when you are in a parking lot or garage, be alert to someone who appears to be standing around for no good reason. He or she might be waiting for someone – or that person could be an opportunist waiting to grab your shopping bags or your purse.
Here are some other important crime prevention tips to remember during the holiday season.
- Don't flash large amounts of cash or offer tempting targets for theft such as expensive jewelry or clothing.
- Carry a purse or shoulder bag close to your body, not dangling by straps. Put a wallet in an inside pocket of your coat or front pants pocket.
- Always walk and park in well-lit areas. Park close to the entrance of the store or mall, if possible. Even outside of the mall, stick to well-lit, well-traveled streets, walkways and parking areas for walking and parking.
- Don’t talk on a cell phone when walking through parking lots and streets. Your phone conversation is a distraction that makes you vulnerable to robbers. Keep your full attention on your surroundings. Also, your cell phone itself can be a tempting target to thieves.
- If you are ready to leave the mall and feel uneasy about entering the parking lot or garage by yourself, stay in the mall and ask for a security escort.
- Don't fumble for car keys. Have them in your hand, ready to use when you reach the car.
- Don’t electronically unlock your vehicle until you are within door opening distance. This helps stop a thief from getting into the car and waiting to strike when you least expect it.
- If you believe someone is following you, cross the street, switch directions, walk into a store or restaurant. If you are really scared, yell. Don't be embarrassed. Your safety is more important.
- Do not open your car door to anyone in a parking lot or garage. If you believe you are in danger, call 911 immediately.
- Always lock your car, even if you are away for only a few moments.
- Do not leave valuables – gifts, cell phones, purse or clothing – in open view in your car. Take valuables with you, lock them in your trunk, or cover them in an unobtrusive way.
- Thieves do their own form of window shopping. They look in parked cars for gifts and other merchandise, and will break through car windows to get at such valuables.
- When you return to your vehicle after your shopping trip, lock your car door as soon as you get in.
- Always lock your doors and windows, even if you plan to be out for a short while.
- Leave lights turned on both inside and outside your residence after dark. Criminals don't like bright places.
- If you will be away from home for several days, make arrangements for someone to pick up your mail and newspapers. An overstuffed mailbox is a sure sign that no one is home, and burglars are tempted to check those envelopes for holiday gifts.
- When returning home after a shopping trip, be sure to have the house keys in your hand, ready to use when you reach the door.
Beware of Purse Snatchers
Thieves look forward to holidays as much as everyone else – maybe more so! The Baltimore County Police Department asks shoppers to beware of purse snatchers; women carrying pocketbooks are easy prey. The thieves know that during the holidays, shoppers are distracted and are not as careful as they should be when out.
Thwart a would-be thief with these simple tips.
- Keep your purse close to your body.
- If the pocketbook has long straps, shorten them.
- If possible, avoid carrying a large purse when shopping. Carry your valuables in something more compact that makes it difficult for a thief to grab and run.
- Use check, debit or credit cards to avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Carry only the cards you intend to use and leave the others behind.
- Use ATMs wisely. Have the card ready before approaching the machine, and use ATMs in high traffic areas.
Do Your Homework Before Donating To Charity
- Be wary of any organization that sends unsolicited email to ask for donations. Do not open any attachment associated with suspect messages.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission's website for details on charity scams, how to report them, and precautions to take before donating.
- If you want to give, find out how an organization accepts donations.
- Give to organizations with a history of service and commitment to the community.
- Check the Better Business Bureau for a list of accredited charitable organizations.
Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson advises consumers to know the organizations that come to them for donations. He says, “Charitable giving is noble, but beware. When approached by charitable groups, ask questions before you give. Your personal information, if you don’t safeguard it, can be used without your knowledge.”
Extend The Life Of Your Holiday Gifts: Get Them Engraved
Consider having valuable gifts engraved with your driver's license number or Maryland ID number. If the item is stolen and later recovered by police, the engraved number will allow investigators to return the property to you. Engraving also may deter thieves because the identifying information makes it more difficult for them to dispose of or sell valuables.
Easy-to-use engraving equipment and instructions are available, free of charge, to Baltimore County residents at County police precincts and through many Citizens on Patrol chapters.
- Engrave a driver's license number or Maryland ID number on your property.
- Never use your Social Security number.
- Do not limit engraving to your holiday gifts. You can engrave all of your precious possessions.