Take precautions while shopping

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 29, 2002

While many people in Covington County and throughout the nation are preparing for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the shopping season has seemingly become another holiday season in itself.

The shopping madness usually begins the Friday after Thanksgiving, and continues to Christmas Day for last-second shoppers, but whenever shoppers choose to get their gift-purchasing done, it is essential to do it in a safety-minded fashion as crime tends to increase significantly during the holiday season.

Covington County Sheriff Anthony Clark said the key to holiday safety, especially when shopping, is to basically use common sense.

"Be aware constantly, and I know that when we are out with the grandkids out in public, I have my eyes on them the whole time," said Clark. "Watch your wallets and items such as your social security number, where people can really mess you up with items like that. There are a lot of people out there where (criminal behavior) is their business."

Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams, Jr. also urges safe shopping during the holiday season.

"As we know, this time of the year means more traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian," said Williams. "People are out looking and shopping, getting ready to spend that Christmas Club check and in many instances we tend to forget and leave items purchased at one business on the back seat (of the car) open for view to the criminal element. We would remind our citizens to place their packages in the trunk where they are more secure and out of sight to those who are looking for a cheap Christmas."

The following tried-and-true tips are always good to remember when planning a shopping outing:

With people out there seeking to prey on shoppers, the first thing for those heading to the malls and shops to remember is to be alert and to be aware of your surroundings.

If at all possible it is best to shop with others as there is safety in numbers and to remain in well-lighted areas while paying attention to those walking around you. Crowded environments are a magnet for thieves and pickpockets.

"It is important for everyone to be more cautious and aware of their surroundings during the holiday period," said Williams. "Just take a few seconds to look around an area before walking into parking lots or other unattended areas.

If carrying a purse, keep it in front and close to your body. Shoppers can do this by covering the flap or clasp with a hand or forearm. Never leave a purse in a shopping cart while waiting to pay for purchases.

When using public washrooms, use extreme caution, such as trying to avoid putting a purse on hooks or door handles . Remember not to carry open-weave bags or purses without zippers or flaps. These items are easy marks for pickpockets.

Also, if carrying a purse, keep it with you at all times and keys should not be carried in the purse, as in the event of a purse snatching, the thief would have access to an address and keys to a home. Keep keys in a pocket, and when carrying a change purse or wallet, keep it in a pants pocket or in the inside breast pocket of your coat. Always be alert when opening a purse or wallet.

Never carry large amounts of money, and whenever possible use credit cards or checks instead of cash. When using credit cards, make sure that only one credit slip is printed.

Be sure to tear up any carbons that may be used to complete a transaction. Credit card fraud can ruin your holiday season. Also leave other unnecessary documents at home.

Dress comfortably and casually when shopping, as thieves and pickpockets are likely to be attracted by expensive clothes and jewelry.

Avoid darkened hallways and other dark areas of a mall especially during closing time.

Secure the vehicle as cars can be easy targets for criminals. Park as closely as possible to a destination and in a well-lighted spot.

After shopping, place packages in the trunk and not in the front or back seat. If you take packages to the car but plan to return back inside the mall or shop, drive to a new location in the parking lot. Make sure the car alarm is activated if there is one.

If you do not feel safe or comfortable walking back to the car alone, ask a security person to walk back to the car with you.

When returning to the vehicle (or home) be aware of people that may be walking near or behind you and have your keys in your hand ready to open the door.

If you feel someone may be following you,

return to a store immediately or notify security or 911.

Before entering the vehicle, carefully check the front and rear seats and floors for anyone that may be hiding there. Lock all doors immediately after entering a vehicle.

Keep the home secure at all times, and especially during the holiday shopping season. When out shopping, leave lights on at your home and if possible, let a neighbor know so they can be on the lookout for suspicious persons. If planning to be away for an extended period, tell a neighbor or friend so they can watch the home and they can also check for packages which may be delivered.

Use ATM machines that are in well-lighted and safe environments. During the time of year, pickpockets will loiter around ATMs in the mall looking for people making large cash withdrawals. Don't count money at the ATM machine.

On a separate note, Williams also emphasized caution on the roadways during the holiday season.

"I would like to remind our citizens that there is always an increase in vehicular traffic during the holiday season

and we ask everyone to be more careful, exercise a higher degree of patience and adopting a good defensive driving philosophy will help ensure a safer holiday season," said Williams. "If someone decides to indulge in alcoholic beverages, we ask that they make arrangements for a designated driver. Serious or even fatal traffic accidents are tragic at any time of the year but they become even more tragic during festive holiday periods. Please remember, don't wreck the holidays, don't drink and drive."