Its that time of year again when we swallow the very large pill of dinner with the in-laws, awkward political conversations, and receiving a gift that you gave to someone last year as a re-gift. That's right, its the holidays! What's more American than increasing the spending cap on your own debt just to make little Timmy happy for ten minutes? Maybe the fourth of July... maybe. Household HQ has put together a few helpful tips while you are shopping for your loved ones to make sure you stay safe this shopping season.
In Person Shopping
In person shopping is finally starting to come back, especially with shopping small businesses (hint, hint - shop here or call us for a quote). Granted, its not the same as it used to be: lining up at 3AM to get a good spot at Wal Mart, only to get trampled within the first 5 minutes. All in all, in person shopping is great for deals and also to enjoy the season. Here are a few tips while you are out in person doing your shopping.
Keep in mind that large groups of people, no matter the reason why they are gathering, are generally considered soft targets. This means that there is very limited, if any, defense against any type of violent attack. Aggressors seek these out because they are easy targets and they
don't want to be challenged. The important thing is to stay vigilant where ever you go. Make sure you have a plan for many different scenarios and be prepared to defend yourself. The last thing you want to tell yourself is "I'm not worried, what could happen at Target?" A lot can happen. Step 1 is don't be naïve.
Use the Buddy System
To ensure your survival in this cruel world, it is always a good idea to incorporate a buddy system. No, this does not give you the excuse to drag along your significant other against their own will. Maybe take someone that enjoys going. There are many techniques that can be incorporated while using this system: contact and cover, 6 o'clock coverage, and exit coverage just to name a few. Contact and cover allows one person to shop or browse while the other monitors the surroundings. Most people do this already without even realizing it. Using the technique takes practice, but is very effective. The 6 o'clock coverage is similar except mostly when both people are watching each other's backs. This is useful in lines, crowds, or just for general conversation. Again, most already do this, but to master it takes practice. Exit coverage is a little different. There is a reason why exit signs are all over the place, doors are painted red, and there are arrows and signs pointing in the direction you need to go: exit coverage is a skill that is learned more than inherited. Since this is developed, it takes consistent practice. Monitor the exits, know the closest one, know the next closest, know where you will come out of the building at incase you use these exits, etc. It will make all the difference in the chaos of an emergency. Don't worry, we cover these techniques in our Mobile Security class, so schedule before you go shopping this season!
This brings us to the next topic: know before you go. Unless you are a mall walker with your New Balance shoes, you probably have not been to the mall recently. Even still, with the pandemic impact, you may have not been to too many stores at all. Take a quick trip to scout out the place in case of changes or updates made to the store. Understand routes and parking situations before you go, too. If you choose to carry a firearm for defense, make sure you understand the weapons policy for the store or location. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR FIREARMS IN YOUR CAR! This time of year, especially in these high traffic areas, there is a huge increase in smash and grab break ins for vehicles. Either take it and shop somewhere else, leave a buddy in the car (as long as you still have one to spare while shopping), or stick to online shopping. More to come about vehicle safety in a bit.
Since you may leave a buddy in the car, make
sure your communication strategies are up and
running. For the love of all things that are holy: answer the phone! Keep the ringer up and loud in case someone tries to get ahold of you. It may be an emergency or someone giving you vital information. Of course there are specific instances to go silent but only do so if you must. Have a back up way to communicate. Be careful with public wifi, but a secondary connection to an online messenger is helpful. Connect at your own risk, perhaps only if you must, too.
Make a List
To limit your time in areas that are higher risks, utilize lists. Crazy idea, I know. Who ever thought having a set plan will make everything go smoother? Knowing where you are going will allow you to conduct intelligence gathering for safety, but also for the best deals. Knowing where your items are in the store will also allow you to get more of those door busters for which everyone hunts. For those of you that wait until the last minute and "get inspired while shopping," there is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, you are putting yourself at higher risk for two crucial factors: safety and spending too much money. Do yourself a favor and save the money and spend it at Household HQ; learn how to be safer in life.
Vehicles are very important while shopping during such a busy time. They provide a rendezvous point, storage for purchase, and, of course, transportation around the giant concrete sea that is the mall parking lot. To keep your car more secure, make sure you have coverage for your purchases. If you can, put your new items in a trunk. If you drive a van or SUV, it may be smart to use a blanket or shade structure to hide your items. As mentioned previously, smash and grab theft is up during this time of the year and is a crime of opportunity. If criminals can't see the loot, then they won't likely break into the vehicle. Where are you going to get the blanket? You should already have one in the car! Come on people, focus!
Location of parking is key for the rendezvous and also for getting to and from the vehicle. The quicker you locate and get to the car, the quicker you can drop off the goods and get back to being Santa's little helper. Make sure you know the exits and what store/entrance you will be using while going to and from the car. An easier exit out of the parking lot is better than a closer spot to the store. Don't bother walking the 2 miles to and from the building, but strike a balance. Remember that transitional spaces are a high risk area for you to be in. Keep a vigilant eye and defenses ready for the most brazen of criminals. You are a target, especially when loaded down with bags.
Personal Care While Shopping
On that topic, lets move onto what you can do as a person to stay safe. Keeping key items in your pockets is a great way to keep them near. Try to avoid off person carry of just about anything. This includes purses, bags, backpacks, etc. This can be ripped from your hands or used against you in a physical altercation. If you have kids, consider a fanny pack. Restock diapers when you go to the car. Keeping with the kids theme, if you do dare to torture yourself and bring children on this adventure, make sure you take a picture of them that day. Include in the picture their face and clothing that they are wearing. Remove hats to show hair color. Take off sunglasses to see eye color. Get on their level to get a more accurate picture. Its doesn't have to be fancy, just a clean picture incase they get lost. If anything it will be a nice reminder to bring a friend next year, instead. No, taking a picture with mall Santa does not count.
First aid kits should always be with you, on your person, where ever you go. This is not an
exception but rather an exclamation that you need to have this with you. Soft targets are targets and since you are there, you may become a target, too. Keeping a quality first aid kit with you can prove life or death if a serious event occurs. Luckily for you, I have no shame in plugging our awesome affiliation with MyMedic. We each have a first aid kit that we carry (my wife hates it), one for the car, and another at home. Check out our link to MyMedic to shop directly on their site for great deals during this time of the year. Get the advanced packages, you will thank me later. They come with a ton more stuff that is well worth it. Don't know how to use a med kit so advanced? Call us at Household HQ to set up medical training and get certified through the American Red Cross. Both are great gifts if you are thinking about something unique that people will actually use. We can work with you and have discounts for training entire households. We can even rent out a meeting room and train extended family and friends if you want!
Lastly, for in person shopping, make sure to take care of yourself. I'm not talking about carbo loading the night before like it is some big triathlon, but it is that time of year. If you were that crazy, you would do a Turkey Trot or something. Make sure you eat breakfast, hydrate, wear good shoes, and get good sleep. Take your time and get some lunch out. Make a day of it. If you don't and you have a blood sugar crash, it will ruin the day. Coffee will help you wake up but it will also drain your fluids and more. Keep up with hydration, your body is not likely used to such movement. You will lose more than you think.
Making a Purchase
OK, so that was a lot. But what about the actual shopping part? Well lets combine this portion in a Segway to online shopping. If you are in person shopping, it is smart to keep limited cash on you. Maybe a $20 bill for emergencies or Auntie Anne's pretzels, but it is best to use a limited fund card. Same for online shopping. Limit your exposure and risk by cutting off the theft at the account level. You don't have to use a separate checking account. A prepaid card is a great way to keep safe and stay within budget.
A credit card may be safer than a debit card because you can still pay your bills with the 'real' cash in your account but aren't going to be too upset with a credit card purchase that gets removed later. It may be a longer process than you think. Make sure that if you do choose to use some kind of bank card to monitor your transactions on a daily basis well into January. The sooner you catch an anomaly, the sooner you can get to work on fixing it. Also, know your purchase limits. Most banks will limit how much you can spend for security purposes. Let's be real: no one reading this has a Black AmEx in their wallet. Take a few minutes and review the card agreements. Call the bank for larger purchases so they don't block it when you go to buy that fancy new piece of jewelry.
Online shopping may be safer for your person, but don't think that it isn't without risks. Incorporate the purchasing techniques discussed in the previous section but also take steps to prevent intrusive monitoring of your online activity.
Hidden Theft and Fraud Prevention
Utilizing a VPN will keep you safe to a certain point. Even if you are on your home Wi-Fi, anytime you make a purchase online, you should do it over a VPN. ProtonMail has free VPN access when you open a secure email (all for free). Its not hard at all. Third party payment processors, such as PayPal, are also great to keep yourself safe from unwanted sharing of information. Again, use a non affiliated card if you can because even these services get hacked from time to time. Any time you read about a 'data breach' means someone potentially has access to your banking information.
So its real scary when someone takes your card information, but what if you give someone your information. This is a scamming operation. Beware of ads when you do a Google search for something or on social media. Many times this is the actual store that you are looking at, however, sometimes they are dummy sites that skim your card information and do not send you what you want. If the ad is too good to be true, then it likely is not worth pursuing. Phishing emails and coupon emails can do the same thing. Do not click on the links, rather, go directly to the store website and use the codes, if one is provided. If you are looking for something artistic or from a small shop, Etsy is a good choice. If you are shopping on a second hand store online or Craigslist, make sure you meet in a public place. Do not have them deliver to your house. Again, limit a potential crime of opportunity if you can. Look at ratings whenever they are available. Some scammers may not care enough to delete the poor comments or may be too slow to delete them before you can read them.
All this work to stay safe online and then out of no where someone takes your package?! Porch
pirates are the worst kind of thieves. It would be cooler if they actually had an eye patch and hat, but they don't. Don't be afraid to raise the jolly roger against these people. Try your best to keep the cannon inside, though. If you are so lucky to have returned to office and there is no one home, monitoring with a high definition security camera is your best bet. Getting a quality camera system will help you identify when someone unwanted is approaching your home. Reolink has a great set up that you can see from your mobile device and own your own data. You don't have to pay for online viewing and have full control over what can be recorded. Contact us for more information and how we can set you up to keep your whole home safe.
Meanwhile, hiding the packages will help, too. Using something like an outdoor patio furniture padding storage container helps. Some people are going full Bob Villa and making custom locked drop boxes to keep their packages safe. Smart idea. One thing I would caution against: booby traps. A raise in your insurance premiums is really going to cut into that pony you promised little Sarah for next year. It does not matter how many times you have seen Home Alone this season. The FedEx delivery person is going to be real mad when he moves your booby trapped box to a safer place only to get hit with a confetti bomb. Leave the enforcement to the professionals. Try not to confront unless its through a speaker system like those found on Reolink cameras. Prevention is the name of the game on this one.
Overall, this is the time of year for happiness and cheer. Keep it going by taking a few extra steps while shopping this season. If you need help, contact Household HQ for more ideas, training, and full on safety assessments of you and your home. Remember to know your limits on the eggnog, leave the politics to the talking heads (not the dinner table), and enjoy the company of all those weird relatives that remind you why you moved away so long ago. Have a safe and happy holiday season!