Situational Awareness + the Holidays

This time of year

The Holiday season is full of joy excitement, and festive spirits. It is also a time when people can become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crimes. There is a big increase in the amount of people that are out and about shopping at malls, grocery stores, packing the parking lots, grabbing taxis, filling up the seats on rapid transit and waiting in lines at ATMs.

All the hustle and bustle going on over the holidays gives thieves what they want, almost as much as an unlocked bank vault, and that is the opportunity to become invisible. By being as nondescript as possible, they can move through big crowds of rushed and distracted people without anyone noticing them. They can pickpocket and shoplift, when their victims realize that they have been robbed, they will have no idea who did it.

Opportunity

Thieves feed on opportunities. Thieves know that the police are overloaded during the holiday season and they take full advantage of it. They thrive on the fact that the police and stores’ loss prevention staff have their hands full with amateur thieves who are hauled to jail for trying to steal from the electronics departments or waiting for the parents of pre-teens who pocketed the latest video game. In the meantime, the professional thieves are busy breaking into cars in the parking lots to steal gifts, cell phones, electronics, etc.

Holiday shopping is hectic and fun, but can definitely be dangerous. Developing situational awareness habits can keep you and your family safe and enjoining the season. Being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats or dangerous situations is a mindset.  Knowledge is power, and you can give yourself the tools to be prepared for any situation. Learn to trust your gut. Recognize when you are rushed, distracted or stressed out, and stay alert to what is going on around you.

Tips & Tricks

Parking Lots

Avoid driving alone or at night. If you must shop at night, park in a well-lit area, park as close as you can to your destination and take notice of where you parked.  It may take several trips around the parking lot to find a safe spot, but it is worth the effort! Some malls offer valet services, and while you are paying for the service it can be well worth the expense to keep yourself and your posessions safe.

When approaching or leaving your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings. Don’t approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area. Check the back seat before getting in. Consider asking mall or store security for an escort before leaving your shopping location.

Many stores extend hours late into the night. People head to the stores after work, then at closing time, you see them emerging with the dazed eyes of sleepwalkers. Amazingly, then the mall parking lots empty out in record time and within minuets become deserted. Without fail, there are always a handful of people wandering the lots alone, looking for where they parked their cars or digging through handfuls of shopping bags searching for their lost car keys.

Strangers

Be aware of strangers approaching you for any reason. At this time of year, con-artists may try various methods of distracting you, including working in teams, with the intention of taking your money, belongings or worse. Murderer Ted Bundy would typically approach his victims in public places, feigning injury or disability, or impersonating an authority figure, before over powering and assaulting his victims at a more secluded location.

The Kids

If possible, leave children at home with a trusted babysitter.  If you must shop with your kids, always teach them to stay close to you. Never allow them to make unaccompanied trips to the restroom or to the cars. Instruct them to ask a store clerk or uniformed security guard for assistance if they become separated from you! Make sure they know how to identify

Keep a LOW PROFILE

Dress causally and comfortably.  Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, carrying expensive handbags, or flashing large amounts of cash while shopping for the holidays, and remember: stolen cash is rarely recovered, and stolen debit cards give the thief direct access to your checking account. It’s much more secure to shop with your chip enabled credit card whenever possible, and leave other options at home in your safe.

Don’t leave packages of valuables on the seat of your car.  This creates a temptation for thieves.  If you must leave something in the car, lock it in the truck or put it out of sight.

But stay VISIBLE

Use ATM’s only in well-lit, public places.  Be aware of anything that doesn’t look right – ATM skimmer devices may have been installed by thieves to steal card numbers and PINS.  If there are people loitering in the area, find another terminal.

And stay MOBILE

Avoid overloading yourself with packages.  It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion if you are approached.

Learn how to control distance with another person, how to defend yourself and escape an attacker and how to effectively use pepper spray and other non-lethal tools.  Keep yourself and your loved ones safe this holiday season.

In short:

Commonsense and awareness can go a long way toward helping you and your family stay safe this holiday season. If you’re unsure of your surroundings or situation, (either in person or online), get away and report the suspicious behavior. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

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