As many prepare for the holiday season, shopping for that perfect gift for loved ones is an essential part of the season. Unfortunately with holiday cheer comes increases in holiday-related crimes. For thieves, shoppers are targets. Unsuspecting shoppers are preyed upon as they maneuver from their cars into shopping areas, thieves look for shoppers who are disoriented, confused and unaware of their surroundings.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office offers tips for shoppers to ensure safety. These tips from the HCSO offer ways shoppers can stay safe and not be victimized by crime during the holiday season:

***These tips come directly from the HCSO.***

• Hide your valuables. Items in the open make your car a bigger target. Do not leave anything of value in your car including registration papers, proof of insurance or anything that has your address. These items are to be kept in your purse or wallet.

• Take your keys and never leave a second set of spare keys in your vehicle. Twenty percent of stolen vehicles had keys inside them, making the theft even easier.

• Lock your car. Almost half of all vehicles stolen were left unlocked.

• Park in well-lit or heavily-trafficked areas. Thieves do not like witnesses. Find an attended lot or garage if possible.

• Give parking attendants the ignition key only. Keep your trunk and glove box locked at all times. If possible, get separate keys for the ignition and the trunk and glove box

• Never leave your car running and unattended. Cars are often stolen at convenience stores, gas stations or when an owner leaves the vehicle running to warm it up. Lock your vehicle even if you are standing beside it while pumping gas.

• Install an anti-theft device. Many insurance companies may give you a discount for certain anti-theft devices. Check with your agent for details.

• Always try to walk to and from your vehicle with another person. If you are shopping alone, consider walking near other shoppers in the parking lot.

• If shopping alone and leaving at night — particularly if you’re carrying several bundles — ask a security officer to accompany you to your car. Most malls will provide that service.

• Inside a mall, avoid darkened hallways and other backroom areas, especially near closing time.

• Avoid using bathrooms that are tucked away in a back area of a mall concourse or department store. If you can, find a bathroom near the mall’s food court or other well-trafficked area. And always accompany your child to the bathroom.

• Never use a video arcade or toy store as a baby sitter; predators are on the prowl for unattended children.

• Take special care in your banking transactions. You may be watched and followed from the bank parking lot to a less secure location. Thieves are watching to see if you have withdrawn money or received valuables from safe deposit boxes.

• If your instinct tells you that something is wrong, something usually is.

• Do not leave your purse unattended in a shopping cart, on a baby stroller, or in a vehicle (including trunk). Carrying cash, credit cards, and identification in a wallet or fanny pack on your person is a safer choice to keep them secure.

The HSCO also encourages shoppers to share with a trusted individual shopping plans. Make sure someone in your family knows where and when you will be shopping for the holiday season. Accountability helps should there be a crime.

Cicely C. Mitchell, CBS Radio Houston


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