(WBAY) – Crowded stores, people bumping into each other, plenty of distractions, a lot of credit cards being flashed and money changing hands. For most of us it’s the start of the holiday shopping season, but for pickpockets and identity thieves it’s like Christmas.
Action 2 News has advice to keep your family, your packages and your credit safe.
We compiled this advice from local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, professional crime prevention organizations and identity theft protection services.
Outside the store
1. Always lock your car doors, even if you are just planning to make it a quick stop.
2. Park in well-lit areas. Even if it’s daytime, park near lamp posts — it will make finding your car easier and offer protection if your shopping trip lasts past nightfall.
3. Avoid parking next to vehicles with dark, tinted windows.
4. Have your car keys in hand before you walk through the parking lot.
5. Be aware of your surroundings and anyone who may be following you. Don’t focus on your smartphone or listen to an iPod or other music player, because these can distract you from being aware of your surroundings.
6. Don’t purchase more than you can carry — this is another time shopping with family or friends comes in handy, or ask a store employee for help. Inquire about curbside pick-up.
7. Lock packages in the trunk. If you have an SUV or station wagon, use a shade, tarp or blanket to cover what’s in the back.
8. Leave nothing in plain sight inside your vehicle — not just Christmas packages but also CDs, gift cards, sunglasses and other belongings.
9. If you’ve carried packages to your car and plan to go back into the store or mall, move your car to another place in the parking lot. To someone who watched you carrying packages, it will appear that you’re leaving and no longer a “mark.”
Inside the store
10. Avoid bringing a lot of cash. Plan on paying with a credit card or check.
11. Take anything you don’t need out of your wallet. Pack only the credit cards and loyalty cards you intend to use and your driver’s license. You’re minimizing what can be stolen or lost.
12. If possible, don’t bring a purse, just a wallet.
13. Make your wallet hard to grab. Carry it in the front pocket of your pants or an inside pocket of a coat.
14. If you must have a purse:
- Never put it in your shopping cart or let it leave your person;
use a purse with a long strap you can sling across your body, making it impossible to pull off of you;
- Some WBAY viewers told us they pass the cart's child safety belt through the purse strap;
- Ideally, use a purse with a flap that goes over the top -- which are harder for thieves to get into than a purse that clasps or zips at the top;
- Keep your purse fastened or zipped until you're making payment at the checkout.
15. Beware anyone approaching you for any reason. “Con artists may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or your belongings,” The American Crime Prevention Institute cautions. One tactic is to work in pairs: One strikes up a conversation to distract the victim while the other takes the purse from the cart.
16. Keep your credit card in sight. With touchpads commonplace at checkouts, a clerk should not have to take your card out of your sight. Don’t let yourself be distracted while checking out; identity thieves may take the opportunity to look at your card number or watch you type in your PIN.
17. Not all theft is intentional. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection urges you to monitor your items being rung up to make sure the prices are what you expect. “If there is an overcharge, speak up when you are in the store and ask for a refund.” It helps to bring sales ads with you for your (and the clerk's) reference.
18. When possible, slip valuable items into non-descript bags or bags from other stores. Thieves are more likely to target a bag from a jewelry store than a bag that says "T-Shirts 2 Go."
19. See something, say something. Notify a security guard or store employee if you see packages left unattended. There are terrorism concerns, but you could also make a family very happy to learn their packages are at Lost & Found and weren’t whisked away by a thief.
20. The name “doorbusters” is associated with Black Friday sales for a reason. When the doors open, that long line of people waiting for big sales can turn into a stampede. Expect this and be prepared.
21. Wear shoes that give you good footing to avoid slips and falls.
22. Go in as a group; family and friends can help you up quickly if you stumble.
23. The American Crime Prevention Institute advises you stay close to walls and protective barriers if it’s safe to do so and avoid the bottlenecks.
24. Carry a cell phone in case you need to call for help or get separated from your group.
25. Avoid confrontation. Remember there will be more opportunities to shop, more deals to be had, and one disorderly conduct ticket could wipe out any savings you would've had from a Black Friday sale.
Shopping with children
26. If shopping with children, decide on a meeting place in case you get separated. Do not make this meeting place near the doors or the restrooms. Do not choose a meeting place that is likely to be busy (e.g., the electronics department).
27. As you move around a shopping mall, change your meeting place based on some place or thing close to you.
28. Make your children verbally repeat the meeting place to know that they understand.
29. Teach younger children to identify store employees (e.g., point out people without coats who are wearing shirts in store colors or working behind cash registers) and other people they can easily identify and go to for help, including security guards and mothers shopping with children.
Deliveries and "Porch Pirates"
30. More retail chains, including Target, Meijer and others, offer in-store or curbside pick-up or local deliveries for orders online. Some orders may give you same-day pick-up or delivery. You enjoy the convenience of shopping online without the risk of package thieves.
31. Take advantage of package tracking. Check often until you receive your package. If shipping from a store, ask if they offer package tracking.
32. If you know you won’t be home during delivery times, have the package shipped to your workplace or the home of a trusted neighbor, relative or friend who you know will be home. Because of the chance for theft, delivery services usually won’t acknowledge a note taped to your door asking you to change the delivery destination. Delivery services may let you divert a package before the first delivery attempt or pick up the package at select locations, including UPS Stores or Walgreens.
- For US Postal Service delivery change options, click here
- For UPS delivery options, click here
- For FedEx delivery options, click here
33. Ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye out for packages on your doorstep and take them in for safe keeping. Offer to do the same for them.
34. Ask the delivery service to put packages where they aren’t easily seen by others, such as the back door.
35. Consider purchasing a security camera or video doorbell to keep an eye on your front stoop. Cameras have come down significantly in price and while improving in quality and features. They can alert you when motion is detected on your porch and send pictures and video to your computer or your smartphone.
36. If shipping a package to someone else through the post office, select "Hold for Delivery," which requires the recipient to pick up the package at their local post office.
37. Inspect package contents immediately. It’s not just a good idea for making sure your package wasn’t tampered with but also to make sure you received everything you expected and in good condition.
38. If buying gift cards online, buy from reputable sources, such as the retailer's own website. Wisconsin consumer officials say you might find discounted or bulk gift cards on auction sites, only to discover they're used, expired or tampered with.
39. Consider using a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. While there's a lot of worry about security, wallet apps use an even stronger encryption than credit cards with chips. Use two-factor authentication, such as a 4-digit passcode with your fingerprint or face scan.
40. Police suggest keeping a copy of your credit card information at home. Include the telephone numbers for the credit card issuer from the back of the card. Contact the credit card issuer as soon as possible to have a stolen card canceled.
41. Check your credit card and bank accounts online after a shopping trip as well as your monthly statement. This will help you catch any fraudulent or questionable charges sooner.
42. When ordering online, look for "https" at the start of the retailer's web address. This indicates transactions on the website are secure.
42. Many retailers' websites let you save your credit card information for future purchases. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection recommends you don't do this because of the risk of computer breaches (think Equifax in 2017). Typing in your credit card information each time may be less convenient, but it's also less risky.
43. Never click on links or respond to emails and text messages warning you that you’ve approached or exceeded your credit limit or that a hold is being placed on your credit card. These may be legitimate warnings after spending sprees, but go to your credit card company’s website yourself to verify it, never through a link.
44. Similarly, beware of callers claiming to be with your credit card company or using a generic name such as “Card Services.” Even if they provide you with a callback number to seem legit, don’t bother. Call the number on the back of your credit card if you want to verify there are issues with your account.
45. Your bank or credit card company will never ask you for your account number, whether the request is through a phone call, email or text message. They already know it.
46. State consumer officials say beware of offers for "free" gift cards that ask for your mobile phone number. "Scammers have been known to place monthly subscription fees for a variety of 'services' on consumers' phone bills without authorization."
47. Similarly, be leery of offers for "free" gift cards for filing out a survey that requests personal or contact information, which can then be sold to scammers or spammers.
48. If you get an email or a check in the mail (or what appears to be a check) offering to make you a Secret Shopper this holiday season, toss it out. You're being scammed.
49. Similarly, ignore invitations for "Secret Sisters" or similar gift exchanges on social media. For giving a $10 gift you're promised six gifts. The Better Business Bureau and US Postal Inspectors say these are pyramid schemes, which are illegal.
50. The Better Business Bureau warns if you get an unexpected holiday greeting by email, verify with your friend that they sent it before opening it or clicking on any links. You don’t want spyware or a virus on your computer for Christmas.
Sources: American Crime Prevention Institute; Appleton Police Department; The Balance, Better Business Bureau; FedEx; Green Bay Police Department; Identity Police; National Crime Prevention Council; Reolink, UPS; Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection