Simple precautions promote safe shopping

The Michigan State Police at the Iron Mountain Post, reminds holiday shoppers that following a few safety precautions can help this season remain fun for all.

“A primary factor in crime prevention is being aware of your surroundings and potential areas of danger,” said Community Service Trooper Geno M. Basanese of Iron Mountain State Police. “By staying alert and following a few safety tips, most holiday crimes can be avoided.”

Mall shopping safety tips:

– Avoid shopping alone. Use the buddy system whenever possible.

– Park in well-lit, well-trafficked areas. Always lock your vehicle and put away any valuables.

– Have your keys in hand before exiting the shopping area and returning to your vehicle.

– Do not keep packages in plain view in your vehicle; keep packages in the trunk of your car or covered by a blanket.

– Be alert, pay attention to your surroundings and move with a purpose; don’t dally.

– Carry your purse close to your body. If at all possible, do not bring a purse. Keep your wallet in a front or zipped pocket.

– Do not carry large amounts of cash. Bring just one credit or debit card.

– Do not count cash in open areas, especially after leaving an ATM machine.

– Remain vigilant of your environment by paying close attention to where you are and knowing what you would do if something happened.

– Remember where you are located within buildings and where the nearest emergency exit is.

– If you see something suspicious, immediately notify law enforcement.

Online shopping safety tips:

– Shop only on internet sites of companies you know and trust.

Only use secure websites. To determine if a web site is secure, look for a key or closed padlock at the bottom browser window and a URL that begins with “https,” not just “http.”

– Protect your personal information. Read the retailer’s website privacy policy and never provide your Social Security number, birth date or mother’s maiden name.

– Ensure your computer has the latest anti-virus software installed before shopping online.

– Beware of e-mails offering cut-rate prices on popular items; if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Other shopping tips from the Better Business Bureau include:

– Plan ahead. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Also make a list of the gifts you would like to give. This helps you to avoid buying on impulse gifts that may be inappropriate or too expensive.

– Compare prices and shop carefully. Holiday “sales” and “markdowns” sometimes are not the bargains they appear to be. Read catalogs and advertisements to compare prices for the same or similar merchandise to determine whether a holiday price is really a bargain.

– Before making a purchase, ask the merchant about its refund and exchange policy. A store is not obligated to accept items for refund, exchange, or credit unless the item is defective or was misrepresented. Never assume that the merchandise can be returned. Refund and exchange policies vary from store to store, so before making a purchase inquire about and completely understand the store’s policy. To make the process easier, be sure to save all tags and receipts and bring the merchandise back in good condition and as soon as possible. Remember that some stores have a time limit for returns.

– Guard your PIN number. If you are using a debit card or withdrawing money from an ATM, stand between the next person in line and the debit card machine when entering your pin number. Do not worry about being impolite, it is rude to stand in view of another person’s personal banking information.

– Make smart gift card purchases. Gift cards have become a very popular during the holiday season and Michigan has some very specific regulations to protect consumers who use them; but these rules don’t apply to gift cards purchased or used in another state or those that are issued by financial institutions versus those from retailers and restaurants. Be aware that some gift cards have expiration dates, activation fees, or conditions on how they can be used.

– When shopping by mail, beware of exaggerated claims for products or unrealistically low prices for merchandise. Compare prices with similar merchandise you could buy at a local retailer (be sure to add in the cost of shipping and handling in your comparison). Carefully read the product’s description. Don’t rely solely on the picture for information about the product’s size or quality.