Rowan sheriff offers holiday shopping safety tips

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The holiday season is right around the corner, and while it may be tempting to rush out and get the best deal on that television, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office reminds shoppers to keep their personal and financial safety in mind.

“This time of year attracts more shopping-related criminal activity because of the larger crowds and the extended store hours,” Sheriff Kevin Auten said, “These factors and the usual distraction of shopping creates a more favorable environment for petty thieves and other offenders.”

Keep these tips in mind to protect yourself from theft or other personal danger.

Shopping safety:

  • Always shop with a friend or relative as single shoppers present a good target for theft.
  • Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Make sure they know what you’re wearing and what type of vehicle you’re driving.
  • Shop during daylight hours when at all possible. When shopping at night be sure to park in a well-lit area.
  • Dress casually and comfortably and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. If carrying cash, keep it in your front pocket rather than in a purse or wallet. This makes it much more difficult for a pick-pocket to remove. Store car keys in a pants or jacket pocket so that if your purse is stolen you will still be able to drive home.
  • Pay careful attention to your surroundings and avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps.
  • When returning to your vehicle, check around it and in the back seat. Be aware of strangers approaching you for any reason. Have your car keys in your hand to avoid spending unnecessary time outside the protection of your vehicle.
  • If you feel uneasy returning to your vehicle alone, find a security guard and ask them to walk you to your car.

But purse-snatchers aren’t the only thieves holiday shoppers need to be on the lookout for.

“During this time of year, busy holiday shoppers become careless and vulnerable to other crimes as well,” Auten said, “Credit card fraud and gift card fraud are on the rise.”

Credit card fraud:

  • Keep a close watch on your credit card every time you use it, and make sure you get it back as quickly as possible.
  • Never write your PIN on your credit card.
  • Never leave your credit cards or receipts lying around.
  • Shield your credit card number so that others around you can’t copy it or capture it on a mobile telephone or other camera.
  • Only carry credit cards that you absolutely need.
  • Shred anything with your credit card number written on it.
  • If you’re planning to purchase online, make sure the web page where you enter your credit card information is secure through SSL (Secure Socket Layer). You can tell if the web page is secure by looking for the gold lock or key icon at the bottom corner of your browser window.
  • If you’re not comfortable submitting your information through the internet, call the seller and give them your information over the telephone. Never send your credit card information via email.
  • Check the company out. Only do business with companies that provide a physical address and telephone number.
  • Keep good records. Always print out a copy of any online products or services you purchase.

Gift card fraud:

  • Never buy gift cards from online auction sites. This is a large source of gift card fraud. Many of the gift cards are stolen, counterfeit or used. Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer’s website.
  • Don’t buy gift cards off of publicly displayed racks in retail stores. Only purchase gift cards at the sales terminal from the cashier.
  • Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you see a PIN, ask for a different card. If the card looks like it has been tampered with in any way, put it back.
  • Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you just charged it with.
  • Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card.
  • If possible, register your gift card at the store’s website.
  • Never give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when purchasing a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this information.

“Unfortunately, when shopping, people have a tendency to let their guard down,” Auten said. “However, paying attention and taking precautions can help eliminate their chances of being victimized.”