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Legal tips for safe holiday shopping

Published On: Nov 20 2013 11:27:31 AM CST
Mall shopping

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By Karen Holly, Special to THELAW.TV

Criminals know when to strike. According to the Tulsa Police Department, the holidays set the perfect stage for robbery: you're busy buying gifts, distracted from everyday life by the flurry of holiday activites, and your guard may be down. After all, it's tough to consider getting robbed while Christmas music is playing in the background.

No matter where you are this holiday season, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your assets.

Step one: Out shopping

It is during the holiday season that shoppers may be too preoccupied to notice their surroundings, says the Baltimore Police Department.

  • Park in well-lit areas as near the entrance of the store or mall as possible.
  • Hang up the cell phone. A phone conversation can distract you long enough for a criminal to snatch your valuables — including your cell phone.
  • Wait until your right next to your car to unlock it electronically.
  • If, for any reason, you feel uneasy, ask a store employee or security guard to walk you to your car.
  • Carry your purse near your body, not dangling by its strap. Put your wallet in a front pants pocket or the inside pocket of your coat.
  • Have your car keys out and ready before you walk out of the store.
  • If you have the sense that you're being followed, switch directions and walk into a restaurant or store. If all else fails, yell at the top of your lungs.

Step two: Shopping online

Before you even consider surfing the Internet for holiday gifts, make sure to secure your personal computers by updating your security software, warns the National Crime Prevention Council. At a minimum, everyone's computer should have anti-spyware software, anti-spam software, a good firewall and anti-virus software.

  • Keep your passwords secure. Do not respond to a request to verify your password or credit card information unless you initiated contact with the business.
  • Never give your social security number to an online business.
  • Remember that your identity is your greatest asset. Consider an identity protection program such as LifeLock to make sure that no one steals yours.
  • Before you make an online purchase, look for the icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen. That icon will tell you that the site is secure.
  • If possible, stick with online companies you know and trust.

Step three: Using your vehicle as Santa’s delivery truck

The Broward County Sheriff's Office warns shoppers that vehicles are big targets to criminals.

  • Make a note of where you parked. Walking around a parking lot with your arms full of newly purchased gifts makes you an easy target.
  • Park only in well-lit areas.
  • Before you get into your car, scan the interior to make sure no one else is there.
  • If you must store gifts you have already purchased, scan the area to make sure no one is looking and place the items out of sight.
  • Always take your purse, wallet and cell phone into the store with you.
  • If someone does try to take your belongs, let them. It's not worth being injured by fighting or chasing them. Simply call 911.
  • Drive defensively as traffic is bound to be heavier during the holidays and holiday parties can lead to over-drinking.

Step four: Giving to charity

According to the Lincoln, Neb., Police Department, some scammers have been known to pose as charity volunteers collecting donations.

  • The holidays are a great time to give, but make sure you're giving to a charity that you know and trust.
  • If someone claims to be giving you a receipt for taxes, they do not need any identifying information like your social security number. Don't give it to them.

The author, Karen Holly, has been an insurance agent for more than 10 years and shares her auto, life, and home insurance expertise on her company's blog.

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