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Tips for shopping safely

Sunday - 12/1/2013, 7:41am  ET

A Montgomery County police officer has tips to avoid being a victim of the larger number of thieves lurking around mall parking lots this holiday season. (Getty Images)

WHEATON, Md. - With the holiday season comes an increase in the number of shoppers - and the number of crooks.

These Grinches can hit you in a few ways: Many wait for you to leave gifts in your car as you go into the store, and many of them may wait for you to come out so they can grab your purse and run.

Lieutenant Sonia Pruitt, of the Montgomery County police, says you need to stay alert while shopping: "Don't get so caught up in the holiday season that you're not paying attention to what is going on around you."

Susan Hickey, from Kensington, Md., spent Saturday checking off her gift list. She says that when she's out, she doesn't linger in parking lots. "I open my car, get in, don't sit there and look at my phone or anything like that," she says.

While it is a great idea to have a fully charged phone on you at all times, it isn't a good idea to use it the whole time. "Don't talk while you are walking to your car - and that's the same when you are shopping, so you can pay attention to what is going on around you," Pruitt says.

This time of year, it isn't out of the ordinary to see smash-and-grab robberies. Pruitt's advice to avoid a car break-in is to shop in small bits: "Leave some of your packages at home if you can."

If you're traveling a long way to take in deals and have to leave stuff in your car, make sure it is hidden. "Put those packages in your trunk; don't leave them on the seat of your car," Pruitt says.

Thieves are looking for opportunity, she says, and if you leave items in plain view, they may view that as an "opportunity" to break in and take them.

If you plan to pack your cart or carts while at the stores, Pruitt says, shop with a buddy: "If you have a buddy with you someone can stay with the packages while you go and get the car."

If you plan to take purse along, make it a small one. Pruitt says big purses are easier for someone to grab out of your cart or pick something out of it. "I try to put my money and my credit cards in my front pocket," Pruitt says. "That makes it harder for someone to pick your pocket."

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