Nov 20, 2010 11:47 PM by John Romero

Protecting yourself this holiday shopping season

Over the next few weeks, thousands of shoppers in Southern Colorado will flood the malls and other stores looking to score the perfect Christmas gift. But some of those gifts will never make it to their loved one. Around this time of year, police see a rise in thefts around shopping centers. "People tend to do their shopping, bring stuff back to the car, leave it and go back in to a different store." explains Sgt. Tim Hogan with CSPD, "The opportunity is presented to a thief to look in the cars and see property sitting there."

One easy mistake many of us make is putting our items right there in plain sight where a would-be criminal can see them. "Cover it up with a blanket or something." says Hogan "Make it not look obvious. Put it in a trunk. Trunks you can't get into unless you get into the vehicle itself."

As far as personal safety, many stores tout late night sales. While the bargains are deep it's easy for someone to rob you late at night. Go with a friend. If you can't, wait at the door for a crowd of people. "You may want to wait in a door way until there's a group of people going out and walk with them so you're with a group of people." says Hogan. It comes down to one simple fact. These are all crimes of opportunity and it's up to you to make sure you're not a target. "Any time you give somebody an opportunity that's easy for them to get in and get out with a low risk of getting caught and a low risk of getting seen, that's what's going to happen." explains Hogan.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has also released a list of tips concerning holiday shopping safety. Here's what they sent to News First 5...

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office would like to ensure members of the community have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. We would like to provide some insight into things everyone can do to be safe and alert this holiday season.

When shopping:
• Go with a friend
• Park in well lit areas
• If alone, don't hesitate to ask a store employee to walk you to your vehicle
• Have your keys in your hand before you leave the store
• Be aware of who is around you
o If you feel uneasy, do not ignore your instincts, return to the store and find someone to walk with you
• Do not leave your personal items unattended
• Do not leave purchased items visible in your car, put them in the trunk or covered in the rear of an SUV or van

Avoid Identity theft:
• When making purchases:
o At any retail, fast food, or other restaurants, watch the credit card transactions
? There are multiple schemes to get your credit/debit card information:
• Writing down the credit card number
• Using a cell phone to photograph the information on the card
• "Skimming" where a small device is used to swipe the card and transfer the data from the magnetic strip of your card to another card
• Monitor all of your bank accounts for unfamiliar/inaccurate transactions
• Review all credit card statements and compare them against your receipts for accuracy
• As often as possible it is recommended you use cash to make transactions to avoid these types of theft

Retailers/ Employers:
• Be vigilant when screening new employees
• Watch new employee behavior when they have access to monetary transactions of any kind
• Have a process in place for inspecting cash to detect counterfeit bills

Donation Scams:
• During the holidays, a lot of scammers try to get consumers to donate to false organizations. Be sure if you are providing a donation, monetary or otherwise, you are donating to a valid organization. Be especially cautious of door to door sales people and never provide a donation without "doing your homework." Ask for details on the organization, contact numbers, a receipt (with details you can use to verify the organization). It would be a good idea to take their information and ask them to come back at another time to complete the transaction. When they leave, check their information. If they are credible, they will be happy to return at a later time.

Internet/Email Awareness:
• Phishing scams:
o Be alert to scams where criminals are trying to obtain your personal information
o Know your bankers and creditors. Watch for any emails where a bank/creditor is asking you to send them specific personal information (social security, date of birth verification etc). Most banks or creditors will not seek this information through email correspondence. Report any possible phishing activity to your creditor or bank.
• Online Shopping:
o No matter how convenient it is to shop online, it is difficult to determine if you are on a secure site. Be very cautious before submitting any credit/debit card information as payment.



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