Shop safely, police warn

Published 10:52 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The holiday lights are twinkling and shoppers are hitting stores in droves to find just the right gifts this season, but beneath the jolly cheer in the atmosphere there is often something more sinister.

“It’s always a possibility during the holiday season that a person can become a victim of a crime,” said Troy Police Sgt. Benny Scarborough.

Across the board, property theft from homes, vehicles and people increases during December, according to Scarborough. However, there are a few things shoppers can do to lessen their chances of becoming the target of a crime.

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Shoppers should have a plan, Scarborough said. People should know where they are going and know what they are going to buy.

“You need to know that before you get in your car and leave your driveway,” Scarborough said.

Maranda Braswell, 26, was Christmas shopping for her children in Troy Wednesday and said she tries to be cautious every shopping trip, not just during the holidays.

“If I am getting out of my car and I know there is something inside it people might want, I go ahead and hide it,” Braswell said. “I don’t want to give them any opportunity.”

Scarborough seconded Braswell’s advice. When you get out of your vehicle, make sure nothing of value is in plain sight to anyone passing by. Place keys, electronics, money and other items in glove compartments or under seats. If you’ve already been shopping, Scarborough recommends locking recently-purchased items in the trunk, or putting them in the back of SUVs.

“Periodically go home and unload your packages and take a break,” Scarborough said. “People shop ‘til they drop and rush around. You make mistakes when you get tired, or are in a hurry.”

When you are in stores, or unloading gifts into your vehicle, remain alert. Handbags and other items can be lifted with ease by people who are looking to take advantage of holiday shoppers. Look around.

“Criminals won’t have something stamped on their foreheads saying, ‘thief’ or ‘this person will steal from you,’ ” Scarborough said.

After losing her wallet a year ago, 22-year-old Heather Butts said she never shops with a purse anymore. She uses a small wallet with a wrist strap.

“Everything is on me. I have this wristlet and I can turn away from the cart and not worry,” Butts said. “It makes shopping so much easier.”

Shopping during daylight hours is preferable, but if you expect to return to your vehicle after the sun goes down, plan ahead. Park in an area where there will be ample light.

And never hesitate to ask someone who works for the business where you shopping to escort you to your car.

“It won’t be a problem,” Scarborough said. “Many businesses increase their number of employees this time of year and they’ll be able to provide that assistance.”

If you are walking to your car alone, have your keys in hand. That way you are ready to quickly get in your vehicle and can even use your keys as weapons to scratch an assailant, if attacked.

Groups of people are less likely to be targeted, Scarborough advised. Shop in numbers when you can.

While online or catalog shopping may cut down on the stress of the season, people who choose to have items shipped directly to them aren’t immune to crime.

Scarborough recommends having packages delivered to places of work so they aren’t left on doorsteps. He also said that customers should only shop from businesses with an established reputation to avoid identity theft.

The most important thing Scarborough said shoppers can do is to is pay attention to their instincts.

“Trust your gut, that common sense that directs us all where to go and what to do. If you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings, move to where there are other people.”