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THE EXTENSION CORNER – Holiday shopping safety tips

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping. Like many Americans, we are busy people and the holidays are no different. Add shopping, decorating, extra baking and cooking to your to-do list and you can’t help but become overwhelmed and maybe careless and more vulnerable to theft and other holiday crimes.

Lori Ivey

Don’t worry, there are many great tips that will help you stay safe during the holidays or any other shopping day.

One of the most important tips is to be aware of your surroundings.

Park in well lit areas, always lock your doors and hide valuables so that they are not visible to someone passing by.

Have your keys accessible before you exit the store. Don’t wait until you reach your vehicle to fumble through your purse for keys.

Don’t overload yourself packages. Condense bags and packages so that it doesn’t look like you bought a lot.

You want to make sure you maintain visibility and mobility.

Be wary of strangers approaching your vehicle. ‘Tis the season for con-artists whom have a goal of distracting you with intentions of taking your money or belongings.

Always keep a record of your credit cards at home in the event they are lost or stolen.

This will save you from a lot of headaches.

It’s always a good idea to shop with a friend or friends. You are safer when you are accompanied by others rather than alone.

If shopping with young children, you should always be able to see and hear them.

Coach children in the event they become separated to go to a store clerk or security guard for help. In the event they do become lost, they should either know or carry a contact number for you.

Unfortunately child abduction is on the rise. More than 2,000 children are reported missing daily according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Get to know your neighbors. Let them know when you are not going to be home so they can be on the lookout for anything that is unusual or suspicious.

If you are going to be arriving late at night, have them be on the lookout. Keep valuables out of view from windows and doors.

Doors should be locked while you are at home as well as when you leave.

When using social media, don’t let others know when you are out of town or will be gone. Remind children of this as well.

Have a neighbor or friend collect newspapers or mail or have them stopped all together until you return.

For many of us, online shopping has become as popular as store shopping. Online shopping tips include:

• Look for https:// – the “s” stands for secure. You might also look for a lock icon which indicates you are on a safe site.

• Make sure you computer has anti-virus and anti-fishing software loaded and updated that will help detect any viruses or fishing scams you might encounter.

• If you have a wireless network at home, keep it password protected so others can’t get on your network and possibly have access to your personal information.

• Select secure passwords by combining letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use personal information such as children’s names and dates of birth. Be sure to log-out of websites after use.

• If you suspect theft or fraud, take action immediately. Contact credit card companies, your bank and even credit reporting agencies.

• Have packages delivered to a secure location. If you aren’t going to be home, have them delivered to your work address or track packages and have neighbors be on the look-out for any deliveries.

Lastly, don’t let thieves know what you received. Never leave empty boxes for electronics and other valuables on the street for pick-up.

Dismantle boxes and place in your recycling bin or taking to a nearby recycling center.

Take these precautions into consideration in order to keep your holidays full of laughter and cheer.

Lori Ivey is director of the Stanly County office of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.