Across the nation, shoppers will be out in force searching for big bargains in the stores and on the World Wide Web, but criminals will be out too.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, commonly referred to as CID, is warning the greater Army community about the potential dangers during the holiday shopping season and what you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

The following CID recommended safety tips and resources are provided to help ensure that everyone has a safe and secure holiday season:

AT THE MALL:

Avoid becoming an easy target for thieves by not purchasing more than you can safely carry. Plan ahead by taking a friend with you or ask a store employee to help you carry your packages to the car. If leaving a store late at night and by yourself, ask security to walk you to your car if you feel threatened.

Wait until asked before taking out your credit card or checkbook. An enterprising thief would love to "shoulder surf" to get your account information.

Do not leave packages visible in your car windows. Lock them in the trunk or, if possible, take them directly home.

Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. Check the back seat and around the car before getting in.

Deter pickpockets. Carry your purse close to your body or your wallet inside a coat or front trouser pocket.

Tell a security guard or store employee if you see an unattended bag or package. The same applies if you are using mass transit.

If you are shopping with children, make a plan in case you get separated. Select a central meeting place and make sure they know they can ask mall personnel or store security employees if they need help.

Park in well-lit areas and as close to the store as possible.

ONLINE COMMERCE:

Purchase merchandise only from reputable retailers and merchants.

Obtain a physical address and phone number rather than a post office box, and call the seller to confirm if the information listed is correct and working.

Send an email to the seller to make sure that the address is monitored and active.

Before making a purchase, inquire about the retailer's return and warranty policy.

Be wary of international retailers, who may not be subject to U.S. law enforcement or laws.

Don't judge a company by its website. Impressive-looking websites can easily be set up and taken down quickly.

Use a credit card for online purchases rather than a debt card. Also, check to see if your credit card company allows you to dispute charges should something goes wrong.

Ensure that the website is secure. This is annotated by "https" in the address bar.

Shop around to educate yourself about the average price for an item. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.

Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges.

Victims of internet crime should report incidents to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, also known as IC3, at www.ic3.gov.

The Christmas shopping crush has evolved into the busiest shopping period of the year. As such, it is crucial that Soldiers, civilians and family members protect themselves throughout the holiday shopping season.

By having a personal safety and security plan, consumers act as the first line of defense to protect themselves from losing their hard-earned money by being ripped off.

For more information on Army CID visit www.cid.army.mil

Page last updated Thu December 5th, 2013 at 00:00