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Mall Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

Jostling through crowded malls while carrying your jacket, juggling countless bags and keeping your child from breaking anything you can't afford to buy makes you an attractive target to criminals looking to grab wallets, purses and your purchases. To stymie would-be thieves:

A man should carry his wallet in the front pocket of his pants, rather than in a back pocket or in his jacket.

  • A woman should hold her purse close to her body, with the opening facing toward her; when walking with another person, the purse should be held between the two.
  • When you can, avoid using revolving doors -- particularly the automatic kind. A thief with good timing can grab a purse or package and make a quick getaway in the time it takes you to emerge.
  • Consolidate purchases into one or two large shopping bags so you can keep track of everything.
  • Never leave your purchases unattended, even for a few minutes.

For more on how to avoid pickpockets, click here.

PERSONAL SAFETY IN MALLS

The threat of physical assault does not necessarily increase along with the crowds that herald the holiday season. It's when you're far from the crowd, in distant reaches of parking lots or other isolated areas of the mall that you are most vulnerable. To protect yourself:

Always try to walk to and from your vehicle with another person. If you are shopping alone, consider walking near other shoppers in the parking lot.

  • If shopping alone and leaving at night -- particularly if you're carrying several bundles -- ask a security officer to accompany you to your car. Most malls will provide that service.
  • Inside a mall, avoid darkened hallways and other backroom areas, especially near closing time.
  • Avoid using bathrooms that are tucked away in a back area of a mall concourse or department. If you can, find a bathroom near the mall's food court or other well-trafficked area. And always accompany your child to the bathroom.
  • Never use a video arcade or toy store as a baby sitter; predators are on the prowl for unattended children. More then 100,000 children are abducted every year -- often in malls or department stores, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCME).
  • Find out whether the malls and stores you frequent have procedures to search for a missing child. Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target are among retailers participating in a program developed by the NCME. The program, called "Code Adam," was named after Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old Florida boy who was killed after being abducted from a shopping mall in 1981. As soon as a child is reported missing, employees scour the aisles. If the child doesn't turn up after 10 minutes, the police are notified.

DEALING WITH CHILDREN WHEN SHOPPING DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Holiday shopping can be chaotic, tiring and frustrating. Just imagine how much more of an ordeal it may be to a young child dragged from one store to the next as you work your way down your shopping list. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers these guidelines to keep tots from being pushed beyond their endurance, and older children from wandering off or otherwise getting into trouble out of boredom:

If you bring infants or toddlers on a shopping trip, limit the excursion to one or two hours. Also, make sure your child is rested and fed before you head out.

  • Remove your child's coat or sweater once you are indoors; overheated children can get awfully cranky.
  • Shop with another adult, so you can take turns browsing and minding the children.
  • Keep children close by at all times, and do not let them wander around unsupervised.
  • Point out security guards, so your child knows where to go for help if he gets lost.
  • When you have to wait in line, give your child a book, toy or snack to keep him occupied.
  • Avoid stores with narrow aisles and shelves teetering with fragile items. Be clear and firm about what your child can and cannot touch.

SHOPPING CART SAFETY TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

Some 21,600 children end up in the hospital each year after they've fallen -- or even leaped -- from shopping carts, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign. Children 5 years old and younger, particularly boys, are especially at risk. Shopping cart injuries include head and neck trauma, fractures, lacerations and damage to internal organs. Three children have died.

Part of the problem is that shopping carts can tip over easily because the wheel base is narrow. Adding to a cart's instability, children have a hard time sitting still.

Statistics compiled by the National Safe Kids Campaign show that 80 percent of parents leave their children unattended at least once during a shopping trip. The only way to keep children safe is to stay with the cart at all times. Even if you strap your child into the cart seat, he may still manage to tip the cart over. Just wiggling out of the harness or seat belt can quickly unbalance an already unstable load. To keep shopping carts from tipping over:

Place young children in the seat, not the basket.

  • If the cart comes equipped with a harness, use it. Otherwise, bring your own.
  • If you've got a child walking alongside you, make sure he does not try to climb inside the cart to join his brother or sister. You might want to pack a second child into a stroller or backpack -- it's cumbersome, but safer.
  • It's not a good idea to let a child push or steer the cart for you. He may not see or be seen by shoppers and could be struck or run over by other carts. Those miniature carts some stores supply for children to push pose the same problem, so stay close by and make sure your shopper-in-training follows the flow of traffic.

ESCALATOR SAFETY

Mangled hands and feet, lacerated tendons, broken or cut off fingers and toes, head injuries -- all are documented escalator injuries. Children can fall and get caught when they run, walk, sit or play on moving escalators. Those age 6 and younger are at highest risk.

In some cases, escalator injuries occur when children get their hands caught between moving and stationary parts of the handrail. Others are hurt while playing at the foot of the escalator and becoming entangled in the machinery of the comb plate at the bottom of the stairs.

Though uncommon -- fewer than 1,000 are reported each year -- escalator injuries are usually serious. Luckily, most such accidents are avoidable. Teaching your children to face forward, to hold both an adult's hand and the handrail while riding, to stand still and keep feet away from the edge of the step are probably the best preventive measures, according to the Escalator Safety Foundation.

To keep your child and yourself safe:

Check for loose or dangling items of clothing before stepping on. Loose shoelaces, mittens and drawstrings can get trapped in an escalator's moving parts, cautions the National Safety Council.

  • Lift toddlers on and off the step. Shoes and boots with soft rubber soles have been known to slip into cracks between steps and the escalator wall, so try to keep those little feet planted firmly on the step.
  • When you're shopping with a child in a stroller, always use the elevator. Escalator steps aren't wide enough to accommodate a stroller, so its weight may not be evenly balanced on the step; if the stroller tips over, you and your baby could take a nasty tumble. The stroller may also block your view of the bottom of the escalator, increasing your odds of tripping. And the people behind you can bump into you if you don't get off fast enough.
  • Make sure your child does not lean on the handrail -- the excess weight can slow the whole stairway down and throw riders off balance.
  • If your child does tumble or get caught, there are emergency stop buttons on every escalator, usually near the bottom but sometimes alongside the stairs. Take a minute to locate them before you get on.


CAR BREAK IN'S AT MALLS

As parking areas fill during the holiday season, shoppers are often forced to park far from mall exits, sometimes in poorly lighted areas. Now that there is less daylight, you're likely to find yourself entering the mall while the sun is up and leaving after dark, so make sure there are lights nearby before parking. Other parking tips:

Park as close to entrances and exits as you can. No one wants to circle the lot for an hour waiting for a good spot to open up, but give it a shot, at least for a few minutes.

  • If forced to the far reaches of a lot -- or even beyond the lot -- seek a spot that's well-lighted or near a well-traveled roadway.
  • Stow your purchases in the trunk. When you're weighed down with packages, you may be tempted to throw them in the back seat and return to the mall to continue shopping. If your purchases are in plain view, you may return to find your car windows smashed and your presents stolen.
  • Save your most expensive purchases for last, so you can head straight home.
  • Have your keys ready when you approach your vehicle. Before entering, check that no one is hiding in the back seat.

ATM CRIME

Automated teller machines are handy to have around when you're spending it up at the mall and don't want to max out your credit cards. But while ATMs make it easier for you to get to your money, they provide the same service for thieves.

To protect yourself, handle your bank card with the same prudence you would cash or credit cards and keep it in a safe place. Memorize your PIN code so you won't have to write it on your card or a piece of paper, and carry it in your purse or wallet. And keep your PIN to yourself -- if others are nearby waiting to use the ATM, don't let them see which buttons you press.

More ATM advice:

Choose a bank with an ATM located in a highly visible, well-lighted area.

  • If you must withdraw money from an ATM after dark, have someone accompany you. Also, try not to make large cash withdrawals.
  • If you see anyone loitering near the machine who looks or acts suspicious, walk away.
  • Minimize time spent at the ATM by having your card in your hand and resisting the temptation to count the money after it has been dispensed.
  • While using an ATM, look around from time to time to and be aware of what's going on around you. If anything suspicious happens, immediately cancel your transaction and leave.
  • Never leave your receipt in the machine. Also, keep your receipts so you can check them against your monthly bank statements.

For more on ATM Crime, click here.

Our site contains over 100 pages of travel safety tips and security tips that are useful for any traveler. You will find tips involving luggage theft, avoiding pickpockets, laptop theft, hotel burglary, and airplane, train, automobile, and boat travel crimes.