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Remember Safety When You Go Shopping

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CARY — Armed with lists and laden down with shopping bags and packages, holiday shoppers usually have a lot of fun as they immerse themselves in the joys of the season. But it's easy to become distracted or tired, and it's possible to shift from happy shopper to hapless victim.

Muggings, thefts of handbags and wallets occur year-round but at the holidays there are more of us in the stores and instead of carrying a package or two, we often have several shopping bags. We can be easy pickings for thieves.

And what about the little kids we often bring along? Turn your head for an instant, and they can easily disappear in the sea of other shoppers. It can produce worrisome moments until the child is located safely.

To ensure your holidays stay merry, area law enforcement and security officials offer some tips.

For Gerry Davis, security director at Cary Towne Center, and his staff the number one holiday problem is lost kids. But they are ready. They create a virtual dragnet for rounding up kids who've strayed from their families.

"We hear about it and we spread out towards the entrances to make sure they haven't left the building," Davis says. "Then we work our way back in, and normally we will locate them in a couple of minutes."

Security inside and outside the mall will be stepped up with the help of Cary police, with extra patrol cars and a bike patrol. But you can still be vulnerable.

What about those packages? When they get too heavy or cumbersome, take them out to the car. Put them in the trunk, out of sight. Merchandise left in the back seat is a great invitation to thieves. And be sure to lock the car when you leave it.

In the parking lot itself, be aware of your safety. Assess your surroundings as you swing into a parking space.

See if there are people loitering, someone who looks suspicious. If that's the case, consider moving to another area.

And by all means, take a moment to notice where you have left the car. Parking lots are jammed at this time of year, and trotting around a mall looking for your vehicle out of all the others that are there can be dangerous -- and it is definitely exhausting.

Women should wear their shoulder-strap bags across their chests, turning the purse so the clasp is on the side closest to one's body. That makes it more difficult for pickpockets to open it up from the outside. And men should never put their wallets in their back pants pocket.

When it's time to leave the store, don't be so loaded down with presents that you don't have a chance to defend yourself if you need to, or to get away. Cary officer Steve Lampert advises, "Have your keys ready so that when you get to the car you can get inside quickly."

One other thing to keep in mind, if you use an ATM to withdraw spending money, pay attention to who's around you. Try not to use the machines at night when they are more likely to be isolated.

Holiday shopping is great fun, if taxing on the feet and legs. Just keep these tips in mind so that it stays a happy experience.