How to avoid becoming a target for thieves while holiday shopping

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The holiday shopping season is here, and that means it's also prime time for thieves to target you while you are buying gifts.

To make shoppers more aware of how easy it is to become a victim, we teamed up with Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen to demonstrate the best ways to protect yourself.

"I am looking for packages, I am looking for computers, I am looking for cell phones -- anything of value that a thief would want to steal," Constable Rosen said.

At the Meyerland Plaza shopping center, it didn't take long to find dozens of cars with valuables in plain sight. Anyone with an unlocked car or visible belongings gets a failing grade on the Constable's report card. It's just a warning - but the note on the windshield is meant to make shoppers more alert.

"I passed by and I completely missed you guys," shopper Janet Alamendariz said after we surprised her. "Where'd you guys come from?"

We were able to ambush several shoppers, and they never saw it coming. Constable Rosen ambushed shopper Francis McShan, and attempted to take her purse. She reacted by screaming -- a good move, to bring attention that something is wrong. But like so many other shoppers we encountered, McShan had been distracted by her cell phone.

"I know I will pay more attention to my purse and pay more attention to my surroundings," McShan told us after the experiment.

And if a thief is grabbing for your purse, the Constable says you should simply let it go.

"Let them take your purse. Your life is certainly not worth whatever is in your purse," Constable Rosen said.

Shopping with children makes you an even easier target for thieves, because you are more likely to be distracted.

"It definitely makes it more difficult because you are worried more about your child than your stuff," shopper Andrea Macco explained.

If possible, team up with another parent, so someone can keep an eye out.

Constable Rosen also says especially if you make a larger purchase, be sure to look around to make sure no one is following you to your car. You can also ask for a security escort if you ever feel uncomfortable.

If you are purchasing an item online via Craigslist, Facebook, or other websites, be sure to arrange a safe place to make the transaction. Precinct 1 is offering two separate locations to meet buyers and sellers:

--The parking lot at 1302 Preston

--The Patrol Annex at 7300 North Shepherd

Cameras will be running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at specified parking spots labeled "Safe Zone." The zones will be active Black Friday through Christmas Day.
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