Preparing for the Christmas holiday usually involves making a list and checking it twice (at least), and lots of trips to shopping centers. All of that money changing hands and bundles of expensive merchandise just waiting to be gift-wrapped can prove to be a huge temptation for the naughty people on Santa's list and potential danger for the shopper intent on holiday merriment.
From the FBI to local police departments, many of the cautionary tips for holiday shoppers are the same:
--Park your car in well traveled and well lighted areas. Always lock your car doors and trunk, and set the alarm if you have one. Be aware of your surroundings. When returning to your car, have your car keys ready in your hand. Do not use a "clicker" to unlock your car before you reach it.
--Visit the shopping centers during the day if possible and preferably with a shopping partner, especially if you shop in the evening. Carry a whistle with you to use for attention if needed
--Dress casually and comfortably; wear shoes you can easily walk or even run in. If you are carrying a purse, hold it close to your body. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or wearing headphones.
--Don't carry a lot of cash; do most of your shopping with a credit card or check. If you do carry cash, put it in your front pocket and don't flash it around. Ensure that only your salesclerk can see any necessary ID you need when making a purchase and do not toss sales receipts with credit card numbers.
--Don't overload on packages to the point where your view or movement is seriously encumbered. Several stores offer assistance to escort shoppers and help carry your packages to the car.
--Do not load your car with packages and then go back into the stores to do more shopping. Even if you put your packages out of sight, such as in the trunk, thieves may be watching and can break into your car as soon as you are out of sight.
--Be wary of strangers who approach you to ask the time, directions or to start up a conversation. Do not give any strangers access into your vehicle. Carry a cell phone and call for professional help if your car is disabled. Lock your car doors from inside once you enter your vehicle.
Shopping with children in a crowded store adds another level of danger. Children are easily fascinated by bright decorations and displays and can easily wander off. A parent, intent on fulfilling special holiday wishes, may get distracted for just that one moment and suddenly lose the child. If this happens, immediately notify both law enforcement and the store manager. Many stores have trained their employees to follow "Code Adam" steps:
--Obtain a detailed description of the child, including what he or she is wearing.
--Page "Code Adam." Describe the child's physical features and clothing.
--Designated employees will immediately stop working, look for the child and monitor front entrances to ensure the child does not leave the premises.
--Ensure that law enforcement is notified.
--If the child is found and appears to have been lost and unharmed, reunite the child with the searching family member.
--If the child is found accompanied by someone other than a parent or legal guardian, make reasonable efforts to delay their departure without putting the child, staff or visitors at risk. Immediately notify law enforcement and give details about the person accompanying the child.
--Cancel the "Code Adam" page after the child is found.
Shoppers are also cautioned to be careful when shopping online. Do not click on links or attachments in unsolicited emails. Go to the retailer website directly to conduct any transactions. Don't send any personal information via email and don't supply credit card numbers by phone unless you initiated the phone call. Verify the Website URL with every step of the transaction to make sure you haven't been redirected. If you believe that you've been scammed, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov.