How to stay safe this holiday shopping season

As Black Friday approaches, Jacksonville malls to add extra security

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Not only are shoppers getting ready for Black Friday, so are crooks who use the holiday shopping season to steal from you.

As malls -- including the St. Johns Town Center, The Avenues and Regency Square -- prepared for thousands of shoppers, News4Jax crime and safety expert Gil Smith offered advice on how to protect your family this holiday season.

The first piece of holiday shopping advice: If you use credit or debit cards, only use one throughout the season, so if there's any type of security breach, not all of your cards are affected. 

If you use cash, keep it in a secure place in your wallet or purse and don't pull it out until you're at the register. 

On Wednesday, parking lots off Town Center Parkway on Jacksonville's Southside were already crowded. Father Greg Austin was out shopping with his two daughters, 6-year-old Rayma and 15-year-old Virginia, on the day before Thanksgiving.

The father of two said the girls love to shop, but he reminds them safety is No. 1.

"(Use the) buddy system. Make sure you stay together," Austin said. "Usually, when she's with us, she holds onto us, onto the cart or onto our shirt. My older one has a cellphone to keep in contact."

Smith offered several pieces of advice on how to avoid being ripped off, saying criminals are looking to take advantage of distracted shoppers this time of year:

  • Park as close to the store as possible.

"I know that's difficult because the stores are usually crowded, but even just wait a few minutes," Smith said. "A space will open up."

  • Remember where you park by using isle numbers or landmarks around your parking spot. 
  • Have your keys and cellphone ready when walking to your car.
  • If it's nighttime, park your car under a light so it's well lit.
  • Hide your bags if you leave them in your car.

"Put your bag someplace in the car where it can't be seen," Smith said. "Now, if you go to another store, if you continue shopping (and) someone walks by your car, they won't see your bag in plain view."

  • Don't put your child in the car first when loading up your car after leaving a store.

"Some people want to put their child in (the car) first, but if someone carjacks them and takes the car, they'll have the child," Smith said.

  • Have a store escort accompany you to your car.

"It's best, this time of year, to utilize the services the stores may offer some people, say 'Can we walk to your car?' Quite often, we say, 'No, that’s OK. I’ll get it,' this time of year," Smith said. "Take that assistance because robbers won’t usually attack someone or rob someone or try to carjack them when there with other people, someone they can help fight against them. So take whatever assistance is available to you and, if they don’t offer it, ask for it."

The Regency Square Mall said it will provide extra security and police throughout what it's expecting to be a busy holiday sales season. Regency Square will also have escorts available to accompany shoppers to their cars to insure their safety.

Simon Malls, the owner of the St. Johns Town Center and The Avenues Mall, said during the holidays, its malls will have “enhanced security measures and procedures, some of which are visible to the public, with others intentionally less noticeable.”

If you’re skipping Black Friday and shopping online from your phone or computer, make sure to stick to retailers you’re familiar with to avoid scams.

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