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Tips for safe Black Friday shopping

By BECKY CRISSMAN
becky.crissman@cordeledispatch.com

CORDELE — Well the holiday season is getting into full swing. Thanksgiving is tomorrow and as soon as the table is cleared and the leftovers tucked safely in the fridge, millions will head out in search of that jump-start on Christmas, known as Black Friday.
Of course these days I am not sure why they continue to call it Black Friday since it begins on Thursday night.
Black Friday is to shoppers what Super Bowl Sunday is to football fans. If you have ever been to a Black Friday sale, you know it can be almost as dangerous as running with the bulls in Pamplona. Only on Black Friday can you almost lose an eye trying to get the latest toy, electronic, or clothing item. More people have been trampled during Black Friday shopping than in a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert.
There are those die-hard Black Friday shoppers that plan their strategy weeks in advance; What stores to hit? Who is having the best sale? What time is their desired item going to be on sale? Some people will stand in line for hours in the hopes they will get what they came for.
Shoppers should be advised they are not the only ones making plans for Black Friday, and should include safety as part of their shopping experience.  Department stores and malls will be filled with shoppers, which makes both the stores and customers easy targets for criminal activity. Here are a few helpful hints to keep in mind to make your Black Friday experience safe.
• Keep an eye on your wallet or purse as you are shopping. Avoid taking a purse if possible. Crowded malls and stores are ground zero for holiday pickpockets.
• Only carry one form of payment and identification; leave extra credit cards and debit cards home and NEVER carry your Social Security Card with you.
• Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas. When we are distracted we leave ourselves vulnerable to pickpockets. Oftentimes pickpockets work in teams so watch out for shoppers who bump into you or otherwise create a commotion. While your attention is averted an accomplice could be grabbing your wallet.
In the rush to score seasonal discounts, holiday shoppers also could be putting their financial security at risk. Many people mistakenly believe that identity theft is limited to those who shop online. However, statistics show that the crime is more likely to happen in “the real world” and what better place than crowded stores or malls.
• Sometimes, in the rush to hire seasonal help, stores may end up with part-time employees who are out to take advantage of holiday shoppers by stealing credit card information.  Protect yourself by always swiping your own card and never letting your card out of your sight.
• Even with PIN codes debit cards are not always a safe alternative. When making a debit purchase take a closer look at the stranger behind you in line. They may not even be making a purchase at all, they may just be “shoulder surfing” to gain access to your pin number. Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN code.
Watch for strangers that are too close behind you. Be diligent. Check your bank statement each day for irregularities and report them immediately to your bank.
Now that you have tips on how to protect your finances during the shopping season here are some more useful tips to keep safe during your Black Friday experience.
• If lining up outside of a store enter safely when the doors are unlocked. Walk, don’t run and do not push other shoppers out of the way.
• Know when to back down: If you and another shopper are in pursuit of the same item, know when to walk away. No material item is worth a verbal or physical altercation.
• Be aware of the people around you. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, notify a store employee.
Parking Lot safety
• If you are in a hurry to get into a store, you may forget to lock your card. Double or even triple-check to make sure your car is secured.
• Keep your vehicle clear of any items that could be tempting to thieves. Lock shopping purchases in the trunk before moving on to your next shopping destination.
• Be alert: A shopper carrying too many bags or talking on the cell phone could be targeted by a thief. Walk confidently and briskly.
• Use the buddy system: Shopping is more fun when you’re with a friend. Walking with someone in the parking lot is a strong deterrent for theft.
Keep your children safe
• Buckle them in: If your child is small enough to ride in a stroller or shopping cart insist that they do – both inside the store and outside in the parking lot.
• Keep them close: If your child is bigger, have them hold onto your hand in the parking lot and stay within eyesight and earshot inside the store.
• Encourage speaking up: Tell your child to alert you immediately if anything makes them feel uncomfortable inside or outside the store.
• Leave the elves at home: Shop without your children. Not only could you become separated from them in a crowded store; They might also create distractions that could make you a target for a thief.
Just keep these tips in mind when planning your shopping not just on Black Friday, but all year round.