Q: I love mall shopping, but a friend was robbed a couple of weeks ago in a well-lit parking lot. How do I buy holidays gifts in the stores and still be assured of my safety? -- Cautious Carla
A: Dear Carla: While Internet shopping may be physically safer, not so backbreaking and usually faster, nothing beats the excitement of in the store where we can feel the merchandise and see it up close and personal. Unfortunately, bad people pop up, so it's necessary to do whatever possible to keep their threats at bay.
n Watch where you park. Yes, even well-lit lots don't always afford protection. So if you can't park extra close to an entrance, ask a security guard to walk you to your vehicle and stand there until you're locked in and cranked up ready to go. If a guard isn't available, then do as I've done in the past and ask a family who's exiting the mall at the same time to walk with you to your car. Same precautions, please, and also I'd be very hesitant to ask a solo person or even a couple to be your protector -- you may end up needing a guard from these folks!
n Ladies, hang onto your purse if you must carry one. Keep it zipped and close to your body. Guys and gals, leave all but one credit card, a bit of cash -- and a checkbook if necessary -- at home. The best place for a man's wallet is your front pocket; it's the least likely place for a pickpocket to snatch and run.
n As I've cautioned a gabillion times, don't pull out your credit card until time and do not ever lose sight of it after the salesperson takes it until the card's back in your hot little hand. (Be certain the one returned to you is yours and check to see the receipt matches up with the purchase price before walking away.)
n Watch what you carry around. If I plan to buy several gifts at one time, I always take a large bag with me. This way, my purchases can (mostly) be consolidated and tucked into the big bag. If a shopper is loaded down with a bunch on each hand, both elbows and several fingers, you're a lot more likely to entice a thief than if you're striding confidently along and able to see exactly where you're headed.
Editor's Note: Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at consumerwatch@timesfree press.com