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Black Friday is still the official start to the holiday shopping season, but it's no secret the holidays arrive in stores earlier each year.
That means many people are already shopping - hoping to beat the crowds. But it's important to be careful so holiday shopping doesn't open the door to criminals.
"This time of year attracts more shopping-related criminal activity because of the larger crowds and the extended store hours. These factors and the usual distraction of shopping, creates a more favorable environment for petty thieves and other offenders," says Lincoln County Sheriff David Carpenter.
The Sheriff says "busy holiday shoppers become careless and vulnerable to other crimes as well. Credit card fraud and gift card fraud are on the rise. However, taking a few preventive measures can help."
Sheriff Carpenter offers the following advice to keep the holidays cheerful:
A single shopper is the best target for theft. Always shop with a friend or relative.
When going shopping, tell someone where you are going and what time to expect you to return. Also, make sure they know what you are wearing, as well as the type of vehicle you are driving.
Shop during daylight hours. If you shop at night, park your vehicle 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. Also store car keys in a pants or jacket pocket. 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 you car keys in your hand to avoid spending unnecessary time unprotected from the security 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.
Credit Card Fraud:
Keep a close eye 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/debit card
Never leave your receipts or cards laying 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
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 number, 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.
If you have a problem, report it to your credit card company or bank as soon as possible.