As the busy holiday season approaches, so does the chaos that goes along with it. This is one of the most wonderful times of year; unfortunately, it can also be one of the most dangerous. We run from errand to errand, shopping mall, to shopping mall, and something happens that makes us really attractive to criminals. We are preoccupied, scattered and definitely not focused on what is going on around us; perfect prey for an opportunistic thief.

I have trained with all different types of professionals in personal safety, from ex-navy seals to SWAT officers. There is one common thread that runs throughout any self-defense or security training; common sense. With all the hustle and bustle throughout the holiday season, that is the one thing that people loose all sight of. The following are some safety tips you need to be aware of to keep you and your family safe this holiday season…

How to protect yourself from being a victim of credit card fraud:

Many criminals do their shopping on someone else’s tab. They usually get their card number of choice from an unsuspecting victim’s discarded receipt. Make sure any credit card slips or receipts are tucked safely in your wallet. Do not throw them away at the mall. If a store clerk asks you for personal information such as address, telephone number, or driver’s license number, be sure to ask why they need the information, and any information you give them should be out of earshot from other customers lurking behind you. Department stores like to input all your private information to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing fees, that way they can develop a mailing list or do market research, all on your dime. Never give out your private information to a store clerk unless it is related to the transaction. For example, when you return an item, many stores will mail you the refund. Another risk of giving out your personal information is identity theft. 500,000 people a year are victims of identity theft. Many people’s lives have been destroyed by their personal information falling into the wrong hands. Simple information such as an address, driver’s license number, or most dangerous, a social security number, allows a criminal to assume another persons identity complete with credit cards, new bank accounts, and even a new home or car loan. Be sure to question why a clerk needs to have your personal information. Remember, you are the customer; it is your right to keep your private information private.

How to stay safe at the mall:

How many of you have rushed to your car after a marathon day of shopping; bags wrapped around your wrists like handcuffs? Or how many of you have thrown all your packages in the back seat, hopped in your car, and started to back out, only to find you had left the back door wide open? Criminals love to attack in parking lots the darker and more isolated the better. So this holiday season, use common sense. Park in a lighted area, the more people the better. Use a shopping cart to carry your bags to the car, or at least make sure you hands are free if an emergency should arise. As you walk out to your car, look around the parking lot. Be aware of who is in front of you and in back of you. As you get towards your car, look to see if anyone suspicious is standing close by. Is your car the way you left it? If you notice anything unusual, do not go to your car. Go back in to the mall and find a security guard. This should not feel like you are being paranoid, just Street Smart. From the time you leave the mall to the time you get home safely, don’t let the preoccupation of daunting holiday tasks take you away from using common sense and focusing on your surroundings.

How to get home safely:

Many carjackers like to follow their victims home. As you leave the mall, glance in your rear view mirror to see if anyone is following you. If you feel like you are being followed, make a turn and then another. If the car is still behind you and you have a cell phone, dial 911. No matter what, drive straight to a local police station. There aren’t too many criminals brazen enough to commit a crime in a police parking lot. These safety tips are not meant to scare you or make you paranoid, they are to empower you and make your holiday season crime free. There are some personal security devices to assist you in keeping safe. Pepper spray or foam can be attached to your key chain and is as easy to use as hair spray. When sprayed into your assailant’ eyes, it causes their mucous membranes to swell, their eyes to shut, and they have difficulty breathing. This gives you time to get away and get help. A personal safety alarm is also helpful. It looks like a pager, and can attach to your purse or belt. It has a little pin on the top that when pulled, causes a very loud, high pitched shrieking noise that will either make your assailant run or attract attention from other people in the area to come to your aid.

Traveling During The Holidays:

If you are planning a trip out of town for the holidays, put your holiday lights on a timer. Also be mindful that if you run extension cords to your outdoor lights, the window providing access to the cords may not be properly secured.

Try not to advertise your plans to be gone for the holidays online. Broadcasting the location or duration of your trip on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be dangerous. It may be something exciting you really want to share, but be aware that you could be blatantly telling criminals, “I’m not home.” The AAA organization suggests asking a neighbor to check on your home (and your mail) while you are out of town. This is a great way to give you peace of mind that all is well back home.

Make sure your close family and friends know where you'll be and how to get in touch with you in case of an emergency on either end. Outfitting your family with the Virtual Halo app will help everyone keep in touch - especially when going to a big place like Walt Disney World. The Check In feature is ideal for famlies to be able to rendezvous at a specific location.

Remember, simple common sense actions can keep you from becoming the next crime victim. Don’t live in fear, relax, make smart personal safety choices and ENJOY the Holidays!

Reprinted from and Johns Eastern Blog