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Don’t let thieves rob you of your holiday joy

Media contact:

Linda Geist
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185
Email: GeistLi@missouri.edu
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Holiday shopping season presents a 'target-rich' environment for thieves.

Credit: University of Missouri Extension

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

Story source:

John Worden, 573-882-6851

"Extension on the Go" podcast by Debbie Johnson. Episode 86: Holiday Shopping Safety

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Simple safety tips can help you prevent criminals from filling their Christmas stockings with your goodies this holiday season.

Black Friday shopping weekend and the weeks that follow present many opportunities for criminals to make merry with your glad tidings, says John Worden, director of University of Missouri Extension’s Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia.

“There are more people out with more money to spend, so we really make it a target-rich environment,” Worden says.

Check your Christmas shopping safety list twice to avoid those who are naughty, not nice:

• Make Black Friday shopping a social event, Worden says. Invite friends to go with you. There is safety in numbers, especially in places like mall parking lots and garages.

• Take only what you need. Leave your purse at home. Instead, tuck your cards, cash and identification into the front pocket of your pants.

• Don’t wear loose-fitting pants, which make it easier for cards and cash to slip out and thieves’ hands to slip in, especially in crowded store aisles.

• Put your lights on timers during the holiday season and ask your neighbors to watch your house while you are gone during peak shopping days. Give the appearance that someone is home to avoid a “doorbuster” bargain for the thief, Worden says,

• Park in well-lit garages or lots.

• Have an exit plan in your mind when you enter a parking garage. Have your keys ready and be prepared to use the panic button.

• Follow your instincts. “Certainly, if you feel uncomfortable, have an associate from the store walk you out to your car,” he says.

• Put your purchases in shopping bags so that items are not visible. If a thief doesn’t know if you’re carrying an inexpensive sweatshirt or a high-end laptop, he’s less likely to take a chance. Return packages to your vehicle frequently during the day so that your arms are not full when you enter a parking garage.

• Store packages in your locked trunk. Criminals, by nature, look for easy targets, Worden says. If they can’t see it, they are less likely to try to steal it.

• Lock your vehicle doors as soon as you are inside. “Once you get to your car, don’t worry about looking at the receipts, don’t worry about figuring out the checkbook,” Worden says. “Get in your car and go.”

Online shopping safety

Brandon Hough, associate director for information security at MU, offers these pointers for secure cyber-shopping:

Use anti-virus protection, keep your system up-to-date and make sure your firewall is on. Your firewall prevents others from connecting to your device over the network. However, you should also use anti-virus software to protect yourself from malware and other viruses that can harvest information from your device.

Employ strong password safety. Form a strong and unique password for each site that requires you to create an account to make online purchases. This minimizes your risk if your password is ever compromised. When possible, opt out of automatically saving your credit card information.

Limit your Web browsing to well-known and trusted websites, and use encryption when possible. Encryption protects information in transit. Encrypted websites contain an “https://” address and most browsers will display a padlock icon to indicate encryption.

Be aware of your surroundings. Never use unsecured networks such as public Wi-Fi networks or public computers to make online purchases.

Select your payment method carefully. Prepaid credit cards and gift cards are optimal choices for online transactions. Regular credit cards are required to provide basic purchase protection to their customers, so they are a better payment option than debit cards.