Shopping Safety

Shopping Safety Tips

Shopping should be an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, there are parasitic criminals who prey upon unsuspecting shoppers. The following ten shopping tips will enhance your personal safety and help you avoid thieves and robbers targeting victims who are shopping. Shopping crimes may be related to theft, larceny, robbery and burglary whereby each of these property crimes have different meanings.

Ten Shopping Safety Tips

1. Assess whether you are someone who a robber might target.
Many street robberies and thefts involve “chance” as paths intersect between victims and criminals. Even so, robbers and thieves will perform an assessment when selecting a “good” victim. Each robber’s criterion varies. What suspects look for in victims varies on their emotional state, stress and need for cash, and their patience. Robbers and thieves generally steal property from places that offer concealment, anonymity and that afford easy, fast escape routes.

Robbers and thieves prefer cash, but also seek valuable items they can easily sell for cash. They generally know what items are valuable and readily redeemable. Simultaneously, they determine their own ability to take the item and whether their victim will notice their approach, potentially resist or attempt to protect their property, and if other people might interfere. These criminals consider the availability or opportunity of the situation to succeed. Most thieves and robbers spontaneously execute their plan, but some will delay to plan the time and location until they have the advantages of surprise, isolation, and intimidation.

The average street robber is attracted to monetary value and is looking for fast, simple ways to accomplish his goal. Popular items for robbery include cell phones, jewelry (chains, rings, and watches), purses/wallets, laptops or tablets, cameras, and cash. Thefts of personal items such as purses and wallets can lead to additional criminal opportunities such as identity theft, auto theft, residential burglary, and personal violence against the victim’s family.

Speed is most important for some robbers who grab cell phones or commit “chain grabs” (yank the chain from the victim’s neck) and runs off. Some robbers verbally threaten violence in what is called “strong arm” robberies. Robbers wanting a better “payoff” may use a knife or gun to threaten violence taking many more items from their victims. When working with an accomplice one robber holds the weapon while the other(s) search their victim and take anything perceived of value.

Some victim behaviors that catch the attention of robbers include:

  • How someone is dressed, what they are driving, or the stores they shop.
  • Paying with cash or just leaving the ATM machine is attractive to robbers.
  • Storefronts with large windows at street level allow robbers a good view of potential targets.
  • Be aware of people loitering around checkout lines. In addition to looking for cash paying customers, a thief or robber may find the items you purchased appealing.
  • Store purchases in the trunk of your car rather than on the front or back seat to avoid smash and grabs, where the robber breaks the car window, reaches inside to grab the item and then runs off.

Overall, how a robber or thief targets their next victim is individual preference, experience, that combine with emotional and cognitive stressors. The victim is usually at the wrong place at the wrong time as their path in life intersects with the criminal, however, there are things that can be done to influence the criminal to reconsider, or displace his timing related to his ability to be successful.

2. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings.
When you are aware of your surroundings, criminals have more difficulty approaching with surprise. Awareness is an attitude for crime prevention. Conversely, inattentive people prove to be excellent candidates for robbers and thieves. Inattention allows criminals to close distance and easily surprise their victims. While shopping, pay attention to what is happening around you. You will be less vulnerable to theft or other crime.

Whenever possible, shop with another person or with a group. However, shopping with an impatient person can be distracting, and provides advantage to robbers and thieves.

Do not use your cell phone while walking. Even sitting on a bench or standing next to a wall texting and surfing the net creates tunnel vision and restricted situational awareness, which allows predators to strike with surprise. Hands free devices allow visual awareness, but conversation can undermine environmental awareness and the criminal’s approach and body language cues may be missed. However, conversations are preferred over texting for safety. During long cell phone conversations consider stopping and position yourself in a location where a criminal cannot surprise you from behind or from the sides. Simultaneously, look around and maintain a position that provides you with multiple angles and advantage for movement. Do not isolate yourself when in conversation.

You become more aware of the behavior of others around you if you maintain environmental awareness as you shop, walk down sidewalks, or move through parking lots.

Use the reflections from store or car windows, glass, metal, and plastics to assist in your awareness of the environment around you. Often you can pick out movement and shape that may give you a little more time to respond to a threat. Avoid walking too close to corners to make it harder for a criminal to surprise you.

If you believe that someone is targeting you, turn toward their direction and look at them, but if they walk away it does not necessarily mean they are retreating. They may circle back for attack.

3. Be aware of making cash donations in front of stores.
“Donation Robberies” involve either a singular thief or a team. If a robber requests a donation and the victim generously opens her wallet or purse, he may simultaneously assess whether or not the victim has more cash. He then snatches the wallet or purse from the victim’s hand. When working as a team, one robber signals his accomplice who identifies a “good victim” to stalk and attack their robbery victim. Another variation is a robbery team will have one member act crazy. The robbers “bank” on victim’s preoccupation with the crazy individual so the accomplice can get subtly closer or approach from the victim’s blind side when wearily walking away.

Be wary of people conducting surveys, especially sexual questionnaires. When searching for future victims, more sophisticated criminals may “conduct studies” or “surveys” in an attempt to obtain personal information. They seek victims’ who voluntarily provide information to plan future crimes.

4. Assess and reduce your risk of loss.
Keep cash and previously purchased items out of sight when paying for items. To reduce chances of being targeted for robbery, before leaving home, don’t wear expensive jewelry when shopping. Don’t carry things in your wallet or purse that if lost, cannot be replaced in the event of loss or a robbery or theft. Don’t carry more cash than is necessary. Minimize the number of credit cards you carry. If your purse or wallet is stolen, avoid easy identity theft by not carrying your social security card in your wallet. Avoid loss during auto burglaries by removing valuables from your vehicle.

Some thieves and robbers position themselves around check out lines to identify and assess cash paying customers. If you prefer paying with cash, consider wearing an undercover pocket such as a money belt, neck wallet, waist pouch, or bra pocket. Before approaching the checkout line, pull out only enough money to conclude the transaction. If you forget before entering the checkout line, ask the customer in front or behind you to watch your place in line, then go into another aisle to retrieve the necessary money from your hidden pouch, belt, or wallet.

While Christmas shopping with her daughter and granddaughter, a mother pulled cash out of her bra. She paid for her purchase and put the rest of the cash back into her bra. In the next check stand, unknown to her, a group of thieves was paying for an item. When the women were getting into their vehicle, a member of the group suddenly confronted the mother, pointed a gun at her and demanded her money. She denied having any. He called her a liar, and said, “I saw you put money into your bra.” She reluctantly gave it to him hearing her daughters yelling at her to give him the money. He and his accomplices then stole several hundred dollars and several pieces of jewelry from the victims.

5. Trying on clothes provide opportunities for voyeurs and thieves.
While trying on clothes in changing rooms, keep your purse with you at all times. If you leave your purse in the stall while going to a mirror, a thief can quickly enter the stall and steal your purse, wallet, cell phone, keys, or shopping bags. If you wish to see how the outfit looks without holding your purse, or packages, place your property against the mirror in front of you, or put it between your ankles. Though inconvenient, any distraction that diverts your attention away from the stall is all a thief needs in order to take your property from the dressing room. Whenever possible, have a shopping buddy guard your things.

Beware of voyeurs who use digital recording devices to capture images of unsuspecting females in various stages of undress in changing areas. Some voyeurs set up hidden cameras to blend in with the environment, but most incidents involve either direct eye contact or cameras over walls or under stall partitions. Women are usually the victims of voyeurs, but men can also be targeted. Ask your shopping partner to glance around for hidden devices that might be camouflaged in clothes, objects on walls, at the bottom edges of stalls, and vents.

6. Do not restrict mobility by overloading your arms with packages.
When taking groceries and packages to the car, to maintain your balance and keep your hands free, transport them in a shopping cart. You can use the cart as a barrier and/or ramming device against a harassing or threatening individual. If children are in the cart, position it out of traffic and apply boundary setting techniques to counter the criminal and avoid the cart being tipped over and injuring the child.

Load packages before putting your children into the car, because if you are threatened while loading, you can abandon both packages and car, making the children’s safety your first priority. Let the carjacker have the vehicle. You have more options to maneuver if you load packages into the trunk rather than onto the seats.

If you see or sense something threatening, go back inside the store and call the police or facility security. If it is late, consider asking a store employee to walk you to the car. Review the crime prevention page for safety tips when walking to your vehicle.

Do not be shy about requesting assistance from a store clerk for help carry numerous bags to your car, even if it is to simply escort you. Ask them to wait near your vehicle while you load items. If you buy an expensive item or it is too large to conceal in the trunk of your vehicle, consider having the store deliver it or pay to have it shipped.

7. Never let young children out of your sight when shopping.
Occasionally, children are abducted while parents are shopping. Younger children are at greater risk because they can be easily carried out of the store. If your child wanders away, abandon your cart and notify store staff immediately. Time is essential. Most major stores have lock down protocols to guard exits and search for the child after a missing child alert is given.

8. When possible, use public restrooms in highly traveled areas.
Public restrooms are a security problem for business owners and store security personnel. Robbers and thieves are drawn to bathrooms that are located out of sight in places not well traveled. Men and women have been robbed when entering or in the middle of using the bathroom. If you must use a secluded restroom, and whenever possible, go with a friend and ask them to stands off to the side rather than going into the restroom with you. This tactic makes it more difficult for a robber to attack both of you inside the restroom. Scan the area around the entrance. Look for individuals loitering while observing those who enter the bathroom corridor. If there is someone loitering, go back to the business and ask for escort or call security.

If you must use a secluded restroom, check the bathroom. Pushing the door open until it presses against the wall to ensure no one is hiding behind the door. After glancing inside and before you enter, look behind you to ensure no one is making their approach to you. Then clear the stall(s). Lock the door if you can. When you leave, quickly pull the door open and get out of the room making it difficult for a robber to trap you inside.

9. Pay attention to people who may be following you.
Some robbers and thieves follow victims to the parking lot, subway or home to commit robbery, burglary, or additional crimes. When possible, plan or schedule your shopping trips during daylight hours. There are more people, and fewer shadows from which criminals can hide and stealthily approach. However, occasionally some follow home criminals are betting that their victims’ husbands or other family members are at work and school thereby alone and more vulnerable. Apply home safety tips.

Shoppers making purchases at electronics stores are vulnerable to “follow-along” robberies, where criminals post themselves near exits and registers to identify customers who make expensive purchases or buy products they want to steal. These types of thefts involve group coordination. Via cell phone, the observer notifies his accomplice(s) who waits inside a vehicle. The observer describes the victims, their vehicle, and where the victim stows the purchase (usually in the trunk). The accomplice, already waiting in a vehicle, follows the victim to the next stop. When the victim goes inside their next destination, the thief(s) breaks into the victim’s vehicle, and steals the item(s).

10. If confronted with a threat of robbery or other crime, have a preliminary plan.
We have a natural tendency to protect our property. If confronted by a robber, generally it is safer to give up the property. In most cases victims are not stabbed or killed. However, if you feel you may be still harmed if confronted or attacked, be prepared to drop your packages or toss an item at the assailant’s face. As taught in the Model Mugging Basic course, immediately follow with a continuous barrage of strikes to his vital areas. Throwing an item at his face or eyes creates distraction. This simple pre-planning strategy reduces reaction time for self defense if assaulted in a parking lot or while carrying belongings from your car into your house or apartment. Having your hands free affords you the valuable time needed for self-protection.

Women are being targeted by street thugs who initiate an attack with a closed fist punch to the face. Often the victim is talking on the cell phone and that is the item he takes. In this scenario, maneuver to kick position, as taught in the Model Mugging Basic course, and engage the assailant. These violent robbers may not stop at one punch.

While waiting in line, watch and check the entrance and exits within stores in the event a robber enters or violence occurs. A robber may have his hand in his pocket, a mask on, a hooded sweatshirt, and/or gloves. Sometimes they may have a weapon in hand. In warmer weather, robbers may wear bulkier clothes to conceal a weapon as they enter a business.

Prior to a robbery, sometimes robbers assume a predatory stare or exhibit nervous fidgeting. If someone approaches and you feel uncomfortable, avoid the location or leave. If walking and you feel stalked, possibly walk up to someone and make conversation identifying the suspicious behavior you are witnessing. If you feel vulnerable, do not be shy about asking for security or store personnel to escort you to your car, or help you get a taxi to take you out of the area.

While waiting in lines, watch and check the entrance for robbers. Take notice of exits within stores in the event a robber enters or other violence occurs. Some business robbers wait their turn in line before threatening the cashier, while others display a gun or knife immediately upon entering the business doors.

Assess distance to exits and places where you can seek cover in case the robbery turns into a battle or hostage situation. However, be aware that running for the door may startle an armed robber, who may shoot people seeking to escape. When cashiers are robbed, thieves sometimes also steal customers’ wallets and jewelry. Some robbers wait in line before threatening the cashier. Others immediately display a gun or knife upon entering the business.

Sometimes complying the demands of a robber or other armed assailant may not always be the best option. This may be the initial stages of a hostage situation or public shooting event. In the early stage, mass escape and counterattack might be preferred over being held hostage by terrorists or gunned down. What you do in such a circumstance becomes a personal choice. However, simply considering these threats in places you visit may give you a second or two time advantage over an assailant. You can quickly overcome the shock that this is really happening.

Shopping in the age of terrorism requires another level of consideration. There have been public or active shooting events that have occurred in malls and businesses. Mass terrorist attacks in market places have been the target of attacks in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and more frequently in the United States. Terrorist attacks often occur in locations where large numbers of people gather. Terrorists who hold hostages, or hide and detonate explosives, are attracted to populated areas, because larger numbers of people equate to the chance of greater carnage. Some terrorists prefer complex attacks that include multiple explosive devices combined with indiscriminate shooting of civilian men, women, and children.

As you shop consider areas appropriate for cover from projectiles and places for concealment to hide from view. For example, stone and metal objects provide good cover to stop or slow bullets, shrapnel or debris from explosions. Thin metal, wood, and plaster offer concealment, but are poor protection against projectiles. When possible, avoid glass, because it shatters that can cause cuts and abrasions that may impede subsequent maneuvering and self-protective actions. Over time, consciously looking for places that offer cover and concealment gets easier and can develop into unconscious awareness wherever you go. Conscious awareness also speeds your reaction time in the event that violence in a public venue occurs.

Taking basic shopping precautions can thwart robbers and thieves from targeting you first, and reduces your loss if you are targeted. You also improve your responses to potential threats, first with avoidance, and then with physical action if needed.

Shopping Safety Tip Summary

1. Assess whether you are someone who a robber might target.
2. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings.
3. Be aware of robbers watching you make storefront charity donations.
4. Assess the risk of what to carry in the event those items were lost or stolen.
5. Trying on clothes provide opportunities for voyeurs and thieves.
6. Do not restrict mobility by overloading your arms with packages.
7. Never let young children out of your sight when shopping.
8. When possible, use public restrooms in highly traveled areas.
9. Pay attention to people who may be following you.
10.If confronted with a threat of robbery or other crime, have a preliminary plan.


Crime Prevention Updates

Join our Contact List or Like Us on Facebook to be notified of the next crime prevention post for various safety tips and crime prevention strategies in the following crime safety categories:

Awareness for Crime Prevention

Crimes Within Relationships

Protecting Children

Personal Safety

Home Safety

Vehicle Safety

Travel Safety

Like us on Facebook