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Simple practices can keep holiday shopping a safe experience
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After the turkey is settling in the tummy and long before the sun rises, shoppers will be making their way to the area’s shopping malls and centers for all the deals they can handle. Joining this dedicated lot will be a criminal element looking to capitalize on the hustle and bustle of the shopping frenzy.

The key element towards staying safe this holiday season is awareness, said Turlock Police Sgt. Nino Amirfar.

“People need to be watchful and aware of their surroundings, so that they don’t mark themselves as a potential victim,” Amirfar said.

Here are a few practical tips to keep the holiday shopping season a safe one.

• Whenever possible shop in groups of two or more.

“The more people you surround yourself with, the less likely you are to be singled out by a criminal,” Amirfar said.

• Keep your valuables and packages out of sight in your vehicle. Utilize your trunk.

“ Don’t make multiple trips back and forth to your car and load it up with packages, because it just lets the criminal know they can get a large haul by targeting your car,” Amirfar said.

• Beware of approaching strangers. Con artists and scammers are out in force this time of year and are using several schemes to separate you from your money.

• Don’t wear flashy or expensive jewelry. It may look pretty, but sparkling jewels may draw the attention of the criminal element. Best to leave the bling on the tree.

• Have your keys ready before leaving the store.

• For women, keep purses on the side toward the parked vehicles and don’t leave them in shopping carts.

Most importantly, Amirfar advises people to trust their instincts.

“If you feel like it’s an unsafe situation or that you are being followed, then return to the store and ask for an escort,” he said.

Practicing safe holiday shopping tips also includes the virtual marketplaces online. The Better Business Bureau offers a few tips for online shoppers.

• Keep your computer’s anti-virus and anti-spyware software and spam filters up to date.

• Use only trustworthy Web sites. Shoppers can check a seller’s reputation at

• Protect your personal information. Take the time to read the fine print and how the Web site will use the information requested.

• Beware of phishing. A legitimate business won’t send an e-mail asking for financial and account information.

• Conform that a purchase is secure. Verify that an “s” is present in the https:// in the address box and a lock symbol is in the lower right corner. If you have doubts about a Web site, try right-clicking anywhere on the page and select “Properties,” which will let you see the real URL and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.

• Pay with a credit card. This gives the shopper the greatest protection if the item isn’t received. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on the card.

• Keep documentation of your order.

Back in the brick and mortar shopping centers, the Turlock Police Department will be ramping up efforts to keep the criminals at bay.

“We will be having more people out, from patrols, to volunteers, to undercover detectives,” Amirfar said. “You name it and we’ll have them out there. Woe to the person who wants to commit a theft in Turlock.”

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 6364-9141 ext. 2002.