Protect Yourself! Shop Safely This Holiday Season

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but that doesn't mean consumers should let down their guard while shopping. Major holiday sales, large crowds, and distracted shoppers can all create the perfect conditions for con artists and thieves.

Do you know how to protect yourself as you make your seasonal purchases? In order to help keep the holidays merry and bright, we've assembled this list of tips for staying safe.

In the Parking Lot

When parking or walking between your vehicle and the store or mall, consider the following:

Be aware of your surroundings. While it's best to attempt to complete your shopping during the day, if you must visit the store after dark, be sure to park in a well-lit portion of the lot or garage and as close to the store entrance as you can. Whenever possible, park in an area that is monitored by security cameras.

Keep doors locked and windows up. Even though parking lot cameras are effective, it's wise to make it as difficult as possible for a thief to gain access to the contents of your car. Always double-check windows and locks before exiting the vehicle.

Keep packages out of view. Don't tempt passersby with shopping bags and newly purchased items in plain sight. All packages should be kept under the seat or in your trunk.

Take care when unloading parcels. Never place purses or valuables on the ground or seat of your unlocked car. Remain vigilant and keep your possessions on your person or close to your body at all times.

In the Store

As you go about your shopping, remember to:

Never leave children or belongings unattended. Many shoppers have a tendency to set down their bags or turn their backs for "just a second" while inspecting an item. That time is all it takes for something precious to be stolen from you.

Have a plan. If shopping with children, have a plan for where to meet in the event that you become separated. Children should know how to identify store workers and/or public safety officers should they need assistance.

Remain focused and alert. The hustle and bustle of the season can cause your mind to wander, but allowing yourself to become distracted will make you an easier target. Avoid taking calls or sending texts when walking through the mall or store.

Avoid counting out large amounts of cash. Don't draw attention to how much cash you're carrying by counting it out while standing in line or at the register. You may not be the only one paying attention to the amount you have.

Never buy more than you can carry. Carrying too many parcels or items that are too heavy can impede your vision, throw off your balance, and add to your overall level of distraction. Instead, have a security guard or employee help you carry extra items to your car.

At the ATM

If you're out and about and need to grab more cash from an ATM, here are a few safety tips:

Visit a secure location. Select an ATM monitored by security cameras in a well-lit, public location. Many local police stations actually have ATMs inside for additional safety.

Protect your PIN. When entering your PIN, keep the number pad covered at all times to avoid prying eyes.

Keep your receipt. Never throw an ATM receipt into the trash can next to the machine. After all, you don't want any of your personal information getting into the wrong hands. Either opt to not have a receipt printed, or keep the piece of paper with you until you're able to dispose of it in a more secure location.

Stay smart and safe when going about your seasonal shopping this year. The holidays are an exciting time for everyone, but that's no reason to let distractions create problems. By sticking with these tips, you'll enjoy feeling happy and secure throughout the season.