What you can do to prevent becoming a victim of holiday crime

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – For the next few weeks, stores and mall parking lots are going to be jammed with holiday shoppers, providing many targets of opportunity for criminals.

However, there are things you can do to prevent becoming the victim of a seasonal crime.

For criminals, a mall parking lot is more than a place lot filled with holiday shoppers. It’s a field of dreams, if you happen to be a bad guy. And during the holidays, there are tons of potential victims.

“Be extra vigilant of your surroundings when you are coming and going from your vehicle,” advises Lt. Randall Packard of the Durham Police.

Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia spent some time with Lt. Packard walking a mall parking lot and it took no time at all to spot trouble.

It was a classic mistake, leaving a target out in the open for a thief.

“Right here we have a handbag or purse left out,” said the Lt. pointing to an object sitting in the front passenger seat of a car. “It’s easy to see when you walk up.”

Even if there’s nothing of value in a handbag left out in the open, crooks don’t know that and they will break into your vehicle in seconds leaving you with a “pain in your glass” at the very minimum as you scramble to get the glass repaired.

Storing items in your trunk to continue shopping is also bad idea because while you’re concentrating on shopping, the bad guys are concentrating on you.

“If you put items in your car, move the vehicle in case people in the parking lot are watching,” says Packard. “If you leave items and walk away they’ll know the vehicle is unattended.”

“I would have never thought to do that,” said shopper Gretchen Schultz. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that.”

Surveillance video shows how quickly a wallet or purse can be stolen in a store while a shopper is distracted.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, as Mellissa Shilling found out a few years ago when her purse was swiped.

“I left it in a restaurant and I walked to go to the bathroom,” she said. “It was unattended and when I returned it was gone.”

If you have a purse or pocketbook, keep it close to your body to stop people from reaching into it.

Lt. Packard says it never hurts to make eye contact with someone.

“That way they’re aware you see them,” he says. “It can always give someone a second thought because they know they don’t have the element of surprise.”

Also, police advise to keep your credit card numbers on file at home in a safe place.

That way, if the cards are stolen you can quickly report them lost.

The Durham Police Department offers a pamphlet with holiday safety tips to the public which covers shopping, home and travel safety advice.

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