This was first printed in Dawn Magazine on 6th July 2014

It’s the festive season; the malls and markets are crowded and you jostle through the masses while juggling your countless bags and keeping an eye on your children. Parking is miles away and you snake your way through the traffic snarl ups. You’ve made your choice and reach for your wallet but it’s not there, gone, cards, cash, ID all gone. Suddenly your mobile phone keeps buzzing, you check it and realise that your credit card has been charged for large sums. You could’ve sworn you had parked the car in the correct parking area but it’s vanished, the cops have no idea and you find yourself stranded. Sounds like someone with all the bad luck in the world, but that’s not so; speak to the authorities, shopkeepers and individuals, and they’ll tell you countless such stories.

Shopping can be an ordeal given the difficulty with accessible parking, overcrowding, ATM’s being out of order. Car break-in/robberies, ATM crime, pick-pocketing, mobile snatching, all rises during the peak shopping seasons. Women only markets are also not secure as many a female criminals have been arrested in the past while targeting their victims.

The authorities realise the situation and make special arrangements for major shopping areas; however, the criminals also change their game plan and adapt.

You can be mugged or deprived of your vehicle on a shopping trip; read on to see what you can do to minimise the risk
In such a situation you have to take measures for your own security. The first rule of security is to make yourself a difficult target, make the criminal think twice and they’ll probably move on to an easier mark.

When going shopping keep these tips in mind:

— Shop at odd hours to avoid rush

— Try and shop with a friend/relative; it will make you a difficult target

— Do not wear flashy jewellery or expensive watches

— Keep all your bags and purses zipped up and snaps fastened

— Men should keep their wallets in their front trouser pockets

— Women should hold their purses close to themselves with the opening on the inside

— If you are walking with someone else, then the bag should be hung between the two

— Do not keep your cash and cards in one wallet or bag. Split these on your person and among your belongings

— Keep your mobile safely in the front pocket of your trouser or in a zippered bag

— If you must use a cell phone, don’t let your guard down or get distracted

— Avoid overloading yourself with bags that hinder visibility and motion especially when accompanied with children

— Do not let beggars or street vendors crowd around you as the distraction enables pickpockets to quickly strike

— Keep children very close and do not let them stray from your line of sight at any time

— Do no store packages in a vehicle and leave the vehicle unattended. If you can’t manage the load then leave and come back

— Carry a large bag that can consolidate smaller items

— Keep your expensive purchases for last so that you can leave for home immediately after The method you choose to pay for your purchases also affects your risk. While cash is universally accepted, more and more merchants accept debit and credit cards. As a shopper you generally have an idea of what you’ll be buying and from where. Knowing if the merchant accepts cards over cash will enable you to limit the amount of cash you must carry. In case you do need cash then knowledge of the nearest secure ATM will be helpful.

Practice the following and reduce your risk exposure:

— Carry only a minimum amount of debit or credit cards

— Do not flash large sums of currency while settling your bill

— Use your debit card instead of carrying large sums of cash

— Ensure that you’ve setup a transaction alert system linked to your mobile phone

— When using a debit/credit card with a pin always cover the keypad while punching in the code

— Use ATMs inside the malls or in a well secured bank branch close to where you have to shop

— Do not use wall mounted ATMs by the kerbside

— Use an ATM in a cubicle that can be locked from the inside and preferably with a guard posted by it

— Be mindful of persons watching you when you enter/leave the bank/ATM

— When your transaction is complete immediately leave with your card, receipt and cash. Count your money later at a safe place

— If you lose your cards, immediately notify the concerned bank Getting to and from the mall or market is equally important and you must not let your guard down. Whether you are driving yourself or being driven, there are certain steps you must adopt to secure yourself and your vehicle:

— Park in the regular parking lots; irregular parking attendant scams are not uncommon and you are at the risk of losing your vehicle

— Be wary and if unsure confirm from the nearest traffic warden on the right park zone in order to avoid:

• Your vehicle being towed away

• Your vehicle being broken into or stolen altogether

Remember: A secure or regular parking spot will be well lit and patrolled by authorities thereby reducing the chances of muggings.

— If you are aware that the parking area may not be close to your shopping area then use a chauffeur driven vehicle (personal driver, taxi, etc)

— Do not stay in the car when waiting for someone

— Lock the car and stand at a nearby vantage but safe point

— If the car has an alarm ensure that it is activated

— When approaching your car, and if alone, walk along with other shoppers to avoid going alone

— Have your vehicle keys ready and in your hand before you reach the car

— No matter how tired or rushed you are stow the items in the car trunk

— Do not leave valuables in the car in plain sight; it invites unwanted attention when on the road

— When approaching your final destination always check that you have all your belongings before letting go of your hired transport

— If possible, call ahead and have someone waiting to help you take your items from the car or to open the gate to allow you to quickly park and secure your vehicle.

Shopping should be fun for all; some preplanning will significantly improve the experience. Stay safe out there.

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