Criminals 'are shopping for you,' Manatee shoppers warned

rdymond@bradenton.comNovember 25, 2013 

MANATEE -- "They are not shopping like you. They are shopping for you."

Those chilling words, uttered Monday by Lt. Kathryn Estabrook of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office's Crime Prevention Section, are meant to educate Manatee shoppers about a small but determined group of perpetrators likely to be eyeing them like Black Friday bargains during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Why are some people targeted and others not? Estabrook has answers.

Likely victims include someone:

• fumbling head down with keys as they walk out of a store at night;

• walking alone, arms filled with packages;

• walking without a determined air of purpose;

• who leaves shopping bags in plain sight in a car;

• with gifts apparent in their residence windows;

• who leaves empty flat screen TV boxes at the curb; and

• who buys "a great deal" online from an unfamiliar company.

"They are looking for people who are careless," Estabrook said to come up with one word which describes holiday shopping victims. "These thieves are often just

people who easily give in to temptation. Make sure they can't see anything that will ignite their temptation."

Estabrook and Sgt. Brian Thiers of the Bradenton Police Department are leaders in their departments when it comes to shopper education.

They say people can protect themselves, their purchases, vehicles, homes and credit cards during the upcoming holidays season.

"One of my biggest pieces of advice is to go shopping with a buddy," Thiers said. "Thieves sometimes will travel in packs and look for people alone.

"I know it sounds strange, but lock your car," Thiers added. "Put the windows up and take your purse out. Thieves will simply go car to cars in a parking lot, trying doors. They are looking for an easy prize and they do get rewarded."

Ladies, leave the big purse and expensive jewelry at home when shopping. Keep money and credit cards in a small bag as close to your person as possible, Estabrook said.

Men and women should avoid making cell phone calls as they leave a shopping area. They should have vehicle keys firmly in their hands and walk heads up with an awareness of their surroundings, Estabrook said.

There are also special precautions for online and credit card shopping.

"Make sure your security software is updated," Estabrook said. "Keep your personal information private and your passwords secure and be wary of bargains from companies with whom you are unfamiliar. Get background information on a company if you are not sure. Beware of emails that ask you to verify a password or credit card information. A legitimate company would not ask you to verify that."

Estabrook recommends shoppers use their credit card rather than debit card when shopping.

"The money immediately comes out of your checking with a debit but with a credit card you don't pay until the bill comes in," Estabrook said. "You would hope that if you see fraudulent charges come in on your debit card the bank would pay you back, but it might tie up your money, which the credit card won't do.

"Either way, review your statements after holiday shopping and if you see fraudulent charges, definitely call and dispute it," Estabrook added.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office will do a free crime analysis of your home by calling 941-747-3011, ext. 2500, Estabrook said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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