COLUMBIA, Mo. – Simple safety tips can help you prevent criminals from filling their Christmas stockings with your goodies this holiday season.

Black Friday shopping weekend and the weeks that follow present many opportunities for criminals to make merry with your glad tidings, says John Worden, director of University of Missouri Extension’s Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia.

“There are more people out with more money to spend, so we really make it a target-rich environment,” Worden says.

Check your Christmas shopping safety list twice to avoid those who are naughty, not nice:

• Make Black Friday shopping a social event, Worden says. Invite friends to go with you. There is safety in numbers, especially in places like mall parking lots and garages.

• Take only what you need. Leave your purse at home. Instead, tuck your cards, cash and identification into the front pocket of your pants.

• Don’t wear loose-fitting pants, which make it easier for cards and cash to slip out and thieves’ hands to slip in, especially in crowded store aisles.

• Put your lights on timers during the holiday season and ask your neighbors to watch your house while you are gone during peak shopping days. Give the appearance that someone is home to avoid a “doorbuster” bargain for the thief, Worden says,

• Park in well-lit garages or lots.

• Have an exit plan in your mind when you enter a parking garage. Have your keys ready and be prepared to use the panic button.

• Follow your instincts. “Certainly, if you feel uncomfortable, have an associate from the store walk you out to your car,” he says.

• Put your purchases in shopping bags so that items are not visible. If a thief doesn’t know if you’re carrying an inexpensive sweatshirt or a high-end laptop, he’s less likely to take a chance. Return packages to your vehicle frequently during the day so that your arms are not full when you enter a parking garage.

• Store packages in your locked trunk. Criminals, by nature, look for easy targets, Worden says. If they can’t see it, they are less likely to try to steal it.

• Lock your vehicle doors as soon as you are inside. “Once you get to your car, don’t worry about looking at the receipts, don’t worry about figuring out the checkbook,” Worden says. “Get in your car and go.”

Online shopping safety

Brandon Hough, associate director for information security at MU, offers these pointers for secure cyber-shopping:

• Never share passwords. Be aware of any emails or requests from individuals over the phone requesting passwords.

• Do not give credit card information or other personal information over the phone or via email, especially if the organization or individual initiated the communication.

• Do not allow another person or organization to access your device remotely.

• Be alert and ask specific questions about individuals or organizations: Who are they? Why are they making contact? Where do they work? What personal details are they asking you to provide? Keep in mind that most large corporations do not solicit your information via the phone or through email.

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