SIDNEY – Black Friday signals one of the busiest and well loved holidays is just around the corner, but it also is a time for criminals to prey on shoppers, Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart said during his weekly interview.
“Thieves love the holiday because people let their guard down,” Lenhart said, adding women and older individuals are thieves’ top targets.
To ensure safety during holiday shopping, Lenhart offered suggestions beginning with dressing down while shopping.
“You don’t need to wear your best clothes, your jewelry,” he said.
Lenhart also said shoppers should avoid ATMs.
“ATMS are spots where not only they get skimmers on them, they look over your shoulder,” he said.
Instead of carrying large amounts of cash, shoppers should pay with credit cards or checks. Debit cards should be avoided as they don’t offer the same protections as credit cards, Lenhart said.
“If they get the identification from your debit card, they can drain your account down to zero,” he said.
Individuals also should be careful about discarding receipts or checks that have personal information on them.
To protect against pickpockets, women should keep their purses close to their bodies. If carrying a wallet, shoppers should keep them in a front pocket or inside coat pocket.
If a purse is placed in a shopping cart, the child restraint should be used to keep it in place. And purses always should be zipped shut.
There’s safety in numbers, and shoppers should use the buddy system to protect themselves. There should be plans in case friends and family get separated, especially when children are involved.
Shopping with a group is especially useful when an individual enters a dressing room.
“The dressing rooms are targets for theft because you set your purses down, your packages down,” Lenhart said.
Shoppers should keep their heads up and should avoid using their cellphones.
“They’re a target because they’re not paying attention to what’s going on,” Lenhart said of people on cellphones.
People should park in well lit and highly visible locations. High traffic areas and close to the door are good places to park, Lenhart said.
“If you can’t see 100 foot at night, park someplace else,” he said.
Valuables should be removed from vehicles. Any items that are left in a vehicle should be placed in the trunk or covered with a blanket or another object. Additionally, windows should be rolled up and doors should be locked.
When walking, shoppers should have their keys out so there’s no need to fumble for them when arriving at the car. Keys also could be used for defense, and car alarm buttons can draw attention if help is needed.
Shoppers also should be aware of potential heightened tensions.
“People get in arguments and fights in the store,” Lenhart said. “They get in arguments and fights over spots to park. Road rage and all that occurs in our malls.”
Lenhart said he recently talked to stores about security during the holiday shopping season. Both local retailers and large chains such as Walmart are on high alert for shoplifting.
“Over the holiday season there will be $60 billion worth of loss and all of them are concerned about that because you and I as consumers pay for that,” Lenhart said.
Stores have security cameras in place, and guards both in uniform and plain clothes, Lenhart said. Associates are trained to protect customers and guard against theft.
“Normally all our retailers are good to work with,” Lenhart said.
“If you see someone that is trying to steal something inside, report it to a clerk.”
Parking lots are an area where thefts are common. If shoppers see a theft outside of a store, they should call 911.
“Be careful because this is not only the time for you and I to be shopping, but it’s a time for thieves to be stealing from us,” Lenhart said.
In another topic of concern, Lenhart said grandparents need to be aware about scam phone calls.
“Scams by phone that somebody calls and says that their grandson or granddaughter are in trouble and they want money,” he said.
Lenhart said the Sheriff’s Office is seeing more and more of those calls, and 99.9 percent of them are scams. Grandparents should talk to their grandchildren or their grandchildren’s parents to confirm it’s a scam.
“Don’t be giving the grandchild’s name and certainly don’t be giving them money,” Lenhart said.
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.