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Protect yourself at the mall.

As you navigate the mall parking lots during this holiday season, you may think that squeezing into an open space will be your biggest challenge. But Consumer Reports suggests that you think again.

That's because parking lots are where most mall-related crime occurs. Drivers and walkers navigating the lot are vulnerable to theft, and unattended vehicles loaded with packages are often open invitations for break-ins. Consumer Reports offers this advice from law enforcement officials who patrol the country's busiest malls on how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim:

Be choosy where you park. Sure, that isn't always easy. But it could be worth driving around a little to find a spot in a populated area instead of settling on one in a dark, remote location, especially if you are alone. "Park in a well-lit area because criminals hate light; they don't want to be identified,'' says Officer Heidi Miller of Bloomington, Minn., home of the Mall of America.

Lock and stow. Many parking lot thefts occur because drivers neglect to perform the simplest task: locking the car and closing the windows. Don't allow your car to be an easy target for thieves. Hide valuables such as GPS devices, cellphones, laptops and iPods. If your GPS is mounted to your windshield, pull it off and try to clean off the suction marks so that thieves don't break into the car looking for it. "Don't even leave the GPS cable,'' Miller says, because criminals think you're simply putting the device away in your glove box or center console. In addition, if you have an aftermarket stereo with a removable faceplate, Miller suggests removing the face and taking it with you.

Stay focused. "People walking through the parking lot don't pay as much attention as they used to,'' says Capt. Robert Guidetti of the Paramus, N.J., Police Department. Instead they are checking email or making calls. Look to your front, side and rear when walking to and from a store. Being aware of your surroundings lessens your chances of becoming a victim or getting struck by a car, Guidetti says.

Assume you're watched. Criminals watch for shoppers who put purchases in their car or trunk, then walk back into the store. Once you're gone, it can take only moments to break in and grab items. If you need to stow packages while shopping, repark your car in a different location, away from anyone who could have been observing, says Det. Bob Welsome of the New York City Police Department. Other options are to find out whether the mall has storage lockers available or ask security to hold your packages until you're ready to leave.

Don't dally. "Walk like you have a purpose. Don't wander, even if you don't know where your car is,'' says Officer Harry Nuskey of the Upper Merion Township, Pa., Police Department, near the popular Mall of Prussia. Have your car key in hand before you leave the store. It can also act as a weapon if necessary, Guidetti says. Once in your car, lock the doors immediately and drive off. Don't sit and do other things. That will lessen the chance of you becoming a target.

Beware of stranger danger. If you are approached or chased, Consumer Reports recommends yelling or screaming to get attention or going back to the store and alerting security. If you are followed while driving, go to an open gas station or a populated area with plenty of light, Miller says. "Your best defense is a well-charged cellphone. Get on the phone and call 911.''
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Title Annotation:Living
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 8, 2013
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