Christmas shopping several years ago, I felt a moment of panic. Something was wrong. I immediately glanced around, relieved to see my two young children safely close by. Then it hit me.
Where was my pocketbook? I’d just placed it on the counter in order to pay for some photographs that I wanted to send to friends. I asked the clerk to look behind the counter, in case it had fallen there. No luck. In the store’s Lost and Found there were many purses, umbrellas, and other items, but not mine. I had to head home to begin the long process of canceling credit cards, getting a new driver’s license, and replacing all the other items I’d lost. Some things, such as a special photograph, were not replaceable.
While financial loss was minimal, I felt that my privacy had been disrupted. I learned that I was a victim of professional thieves who know how to distract people for just the amount of time necessary to take advantage of unwary shoppers. That inspired me to become a more alert shopper. This year you can use safe shopping strategies to avoid becoming a victim of theft.
Prepare for shopping.
Record the account numbers of any debit or credit cards that you have, and leave that record at home. Take just your driver’s license, specific credit or debit cards you plan to use, and the cash that you need. Ideally you should carry these items in a front pocket, rather than in a purse. Crowded stores create the potential for thieves to take a purse from your shoulder or a wallet from your back pocket without your realization. Keep receipts in your pockets, as well.
Limit distractions while shopping.
Arrange a play date for your children while you head off to shop the sales. Enjoy the stores’ music instead of listening to your iPod. Avoid texting and talking on your cell phone while browsing for the perfect gifts.
Pay attention to your surroundings and to other shoppers.
Balance politeness with common sense. Some thieves work in pairs: one person starts a quick conversation with you at the counter, while another person jostles you just a bit. All of a sudden, you realize that something’s wrong. (That’s what happened to me years ago.) Carrying too many packages can become an advertisement to thieves as well as enough of a distraction for them to move in.
Realize that your car may be a source of temptation to thieves.
Place all packages in your trunk so they’re not in view when you next park your car. Remember that when you put packages in your trunk and then re-enter the mall without moving your car, you may attract a thief who is watching the parking lot.
What to do if you become a victim of theft?
Contact your credit or debit card company as soon as possible to cancel stolen cards. In general, you’d be wise to protect your check card account by changing your PIN twice a year. (Your bank’s website will have instructions for this process.) When items you’ve purchased are stolen, check with your credit card company for its purchase protection insurance plan.