A distracted shopper is the prime target for an opportunistic thief, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
The organization offers the following advice to make crooks cranky this holiday season:
Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and take only what you need in a purse or wallet.
Park in well-lit spaces, lock your doors, and close your windows.
Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. Check the back seat and around the car before getting in.
Do not leave packages visible in your car windows. Lock them in the trunk or, if possible, take them directly home.
If you're shopping with kids, teach them to go to a store clerk or security guard for help if you become separated from each other.
Deter pickpockets and purse snatchers by keeping your purse closed and carrying it snugly against your body. Men should carry wallets in a front or inside coat pocket.
File receipts in your wallet immediately; identity thieves can use lost receipts to obtain important personal information.
If shopping online
Before surfing the Internet, secure your personal computers by updating your security software. Everyone's computer should have anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-spam software, as well as a good firewall installed. Visit www.bytecrime.org for free software downloads.
Keep your personal information private and your password secure. Do not respond to requests to "verify" your password or credit card information unless you initiated the contact. Legitimate businesses will not contact you in this manner.
Beware of "bargains" from companies with whom you are unfamiliar - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Use secure Web sites for purchases. Look for the icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen or "https" in the URL address.
Shop with companies you know and trust. Check for background information if you plan to buy from a new or unfamiliar company.
Avoid crooks "phishing" for charity. Do not respond to online solicitations for charities unless you initiated the contact. If you are interested in giving, investigate the charity and give through their approved donation process online or through the mail.
Gift cards are handy even for crooks. Avoid purchasing cards with signs of tampering, keep the receipt, and encourage the recipient to monitor the card activity so problems can be detected and reported immediately.
Consider alternate options to pay for your merchandise, such as one-time or multi-use disposable credit cards or money orders at online stores and auction sites. Also, familiarize yourself with the rules and policies of online sites.