Today marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. While most people are going to be intent on purchasing the items on their gift lists, Ardmore Police Department Deputy Chief Eric Hamblin said there are others just as intent on shopping for free — either by stealing purchases made by shoppers or swiping Christmas shopping cash or credit cards.
"Generally this time of year we have two big issues. The first one is people leaving their cars unlocked and/or valuables, like Christmas gifts, inside their cars. Second, is leaving purses unattended. It only takes a thief seconds to take a purse or a wallet and be gone," Hamblin said.
Hamblin offered several suggestions to help shoppers take a proactive approach in protecting themselves, their purchases and their cash.
"It's always a good idea to shop in pairs or groups, rather than by yourself," he said. "Also pay attention. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in places like parking lots. Make sure you park in a well lighted area. When you return, if something seems wrong — if you have a bad feeling or you see someone standing or parked near your vehicle that appears out of place go back in the store and call the police. We will be happy to come out," he said.
Other parking lot tips include:
Carry your car keys in your hand so you're ready to immediately unlock the door when you arrive at your car
Keep a firm grip on purses and purchases
Lock purchases and valuables in the trunk
Immediately lock the door once your inside the vehicle and before you do other things like turn on the radio, GPS, or check items off lists
Don't leave purses unattended or placed in shopping carts, not even if buckled to the cart with the child seat strap. "Keep your purse with you and keep it closed don't allow your purse to hang open and items like your wallet exposed," Hamblin said.
Don't "flash" large amounts of cash. Carry bills in small denominations in order to pay for items with close to the purchase price. Separate cash so you do not expose all your money when paying for items.
Don't carry unnecessary or excessive numbers of credit cards. Before you leave home make sure to make a copy of all the account numbers and credit card phone numbers of the cards you plan to carry and leave the information in a safe place at home
Before you swipe, shield your PIN number as you punch it in or ask the cashier to run your card through the register
Be extra careful at ATMs, gas pumps and other pay terminals. Don't use cards at any device that looks out or place. If something seems wrong or you see people close by who make you uncomfortable don't use the machine, leave immediately.
Hamblin also offered tips for those you plan to travel over the holidays
"Number one is be sure you have a contact person. Whether your alarm company notifies us, a break in has been discovered or something else happens, like a busted water pipe, you should have contact person — someone we can contact. And, that contact person should also have a way to contact you wherever you are," the deputy chief said.
Other proactive precautions to protect homes:
Make sure all doors and windows are securely locked
Leave lights on or placed on timers to turn on and off at various times
Have a friend or neighbor pick up your mail and newspapers while you are away
"Finally alert the police department concerning the dates you will be away, ask for extra patrol during the time you plan to be away and provide police dispatchers with information about how to contact you should the need arise," Hamblin said.