Protect yourself when shopping

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Protect yourself when shopping
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Protect yourself when shopping

As you navigate the mall parking lots during this holiday season, you may think that squeezing into an open space will be your biggest challenge. Think again. That’s because parking lots are where most mall-related crime occurs. Drivers and walkers navigating the lot are vul­nerable to theft, and unattended vehicles loaded with packages are often open invitations for break-ins. Here’s advice from law-­enforcement officials who patrol the country’s busiest malls on how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

Sure, that isn’t always easy. But it could be worth driving around a little to find a spot in a populated area instead of settling on one in a dark, remote location, especially if you are alone. “Park in a well-lit area because criminals hate light; they don’t want to be identified,” said Officer Heidi Miller of the Police Department in Bloomington, Minn., home of the Mall of America.

Many parking-lot thefts occur because drivers neglect to perform the simplest task: locking the car and closing the windows. Don’t allow your car to be an easy target for thieves. Hide valuables such as GPS devices, cell phones, laptops, and ­iPods. If your GPS is mounted to your windshield, pull it off and try to clean off the suction marks so that thieves don’t break into the car looking for it. “Don’t even leave the GPS cable,” Miller said, because criminals think you’re simply putting the device away in your glove box or center console. In addition, if you have an aftermarket stereo with a removable faceplate, Miller suggests removing the face and taking it with you.

For more on safe driving, see our guide to car safety, and check our holiday shopping guide for the latest gift ideas and shopping advice.   

“People walking through the parking lot don’t pay as much attention as they used to,” Capt. Robert Guidetti of the Paramus, N.J., Police Department said. Instead they are checking e-mail or making calls. Look to your front, side, and rear when walking to and from a store. Being aware of your surroundings lessens your chances of becoming a victim or getting struck by a car, Guidetti says.

Criminals watch for shoppers who put purchases in their car or trunk, then walk back into the store. Once you’re gone, it can take only moments to break in and grab items. If you need to stow packages while shopping, repark your car in a different location, away from anyone who could have been observing, says Detective Bob Welsome of the New York City Police Department. Other options are to find out whether the mall has storage lockers available or ask security to hold your packages until you’re ready to leave.

“Walk like you have a purpose," said Officer Harry Nuskey of the Upper Merion Township, Pa., Police Department, near the popular Mall of Prussia. "Don't wander, even if you don't know where your car is." Have your car key in hand before you leave the store. It can also act as a weapon if necessary, Guidetti says. Once in your car, lock the doors immediately and drive off. Don’t sit and do other things. That will lessen the chance of you becoming a target.

If you are approached or chased, yell or scream to get attention or go back to the store and alert security. If you are followed while driving, go to an open gas station or a populated area with plenty of light, Miller says. “Your best defense is a well-charged cell phone," Miller said. "Get on the phone and call 911.”

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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