The official start of the holiday shopping season has become increasingly blurred over the past several years.
But there is no doubt it is under way with the coming and passing of Black Friday.
The hustle and bustle that surrounds the holiday shopping season means shoppers must practice common sense and have an awareness of their surroundings in order to make sure it is a safe shopping season.
It is supposed to be the happiest time of the year but thieves look for the opportunities the season brings. They prey on the easy targets.
Here are a few things to keep in mind so you don't become one of those targets.
One of the most basic safe holiday shopping tips is to avoid carrying large sums of cash. If you do have to carry cash, distribute the amount among several different pockets. Flashing a wad of bills is just asking for trouble.
Keep receipts separate from bags of gifts. Receipts can sometimes contain account information that can be used in identity theft.
Shop in a group. There is always safety in numbers. Also, try to leave the mall or store with a group of people, especially when it is dark.
Shop at malls or stores that you are familiar with and avoid dark hallways or corners.
Bring along a cell phone and make sure it is turned on.
Thieves also target vehicles loaded with holiday gifts.
Clear out all that junk in the trunk to make more room for gifts. Keep all doors locked in the vehicle. Thieves make it a practice to walk through parking lots checking door handles. Don't store valuable gifts in the backseat in plain view. It is only a temptation. Have vehicle keys in hand and ready to use. Many vehicle keychains have a panic button that will sound the car horn and flash the lights.
Don't laden yourself with an armful of packages. Ask for help from a store worker or even a security guard when walking to a vehicle in the lot. Park in well-lit areas as close to the store as possible.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department will have patrols around the Fort Steuben Mall and other shopping centers as part of its annual safe shopper program.
The holiday season is about sharing gifts. Don't give a thief an easy gift.
Be safe and smart while shopping.