Holiday Crime Stoppers

Avoid giving up your goods during the season of giving

Crime is a problem year-round, not just during the holidays, right? True, but the sheer volume of people, money and purchases floating around the malls, in Midtown and every place in between from now until late January means you should be on your guard as you complete your shopping list.

Steve Reed, security and guest-services manager at Arden Fair Mall and a former Sacramento police officer, says that between Thanksgiving and January 31, 1.4 million people visit the mall. Amidst the soccer moms and clueless boyfriends are plenty of unscrupulous people looking to capitalize on the crowds, the hectic pace and your vulnerability.

So, what’s a safety-conscious shopaholic to do? Consider these 10 steps to avoid becoming a victim of theft and other crimes this holiday season:

Don’t leave packages visible in vehicles. A Nordstrom bag sitting on the backseat of your Beamer will tempt even a reformed thief. If you are making multiple stops and have numerous packages, lock them in your trunk out of view.

Park with caution. According to Reed, 38 percent of all robberies occur in parking lots. He recommends shopping with a buddy whenever possible. Have your key ready as you walk to your car to avoid fumbling in your bag for it, and, for Pete’s sake, if you’re going to sit in your car and apply makeup, talk on the phone or update your shopping list, lock the door first.

Park only in well-lighted areas. Enough said.

Stash your cash. Debt counselors will cringe, but leave large amounts of cash at home and use credit cards for your purchases. It’s a lot easier to cancel your credit cards than it is to track down the jerk who stole your wad of twenties. Guys, keep your wallet in your front pocket, in an inside coat pocket or in shirt pocket.

Keep your credit-card information in a safe place. Record your account numbers, creditor phone numbers and any other related information on one sheet of paper and store it in a secure place. If your wallet does get stolen, and we sincerely hope it doesn’t, this could help you cancel your credit cards before the perpetrator can book a trip to Maui with them.

Don’t use outdoor ATMs after dark. Again, enough said.

Be careful with your purchases. If you’ve got too many bags, make a trip to the car and lock them in the trunk. Don’t ask the store clerk to hold bags for you—they aren’t responsible if they disappear. Moreover, being loaded down with packages can hamper your mobility and visibility, making you more vulnerable to theft.

Take advantage of mall-security services. Whether you’ve got a lot of bags, a long and scary walk to your car, or a fetish for men in uniform, mall security can meet your needs. For example, security personnel at Arden Fair and the Galleria at Roseville will escort customers to their vehicles free of charge.

Guard against identity theft. It is not just the subject of amusing commercials. Identity theft is real, and you can protect yourself from it by hiding receipts in a secure location, i.e., not the front seat of your car. If you’re a real worrywort, you can call one of the three credit-reporting companies (Transunion, Equifax and Experian) and put an alert on your social-security number. If someone tries to open an account using your personal information, they will call you first to verify the activity.

Don’t talk to strangers. We’ve all been approached by a zealot plugging a multilevel business opportunity or handing out copies of the Watchtower at one time or another. But for every well-meaning proselytizer out there, there are several con artists who just want to distract you so they can steal your stuff. Make small talk with caution.

Both Reed and David Hosbein, assistant general manager of the Galleria at Roseville, say they beef up security around the holidays to include things like rooftop surveillance, parking-lot patrollers on bicycle and foot, and plain-clothes officers. Reed says that crime actually falls during the holidays at Arden Fair because of the security overload. But that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. If you follow all of these suggestion and still find yourself confronted by a crook hell-bent on taking your purse, your wallet or your purchases, don’t risk your personal safety: Just hand it over and add it to your list of life’s lessons. It is the season of giving, after all.