By Donna Gehrke-White
11:55 AM EST, November 20, 2012
'Tis the season to shop until you drop. Or is it?
You don't want to waste your money, bust your budget or even carelessly let down your guard for thieves to steal your credit cards -- and even your identity -- while you're shopping for door-busters.
Thieves prowl in parking lots and stores during the holiday season when many South Floridians may be frazzled, distracted or even careless, said Fort Lauderdale Dectective DeAnna Garcia.
“It’s a shame but the theft can be over in a matter of seconds,” she said.
So here are seven “Don'ts” to assure you have a memorable -- and safe -- holiday season without going over your budget.
Don't bring your credit cards with you during Black Friday or any other sale where you may be tempted to spend more than you have budgeted. "People spend up to a third more when paying with credit instead of cash," said Howard Dvorkin, founder of the nonprofit Consolidated Credit Counseling Services that is based in Fort Lauderdale. But keep your debit card and cash on you. A purse in a shopping cart is an open invitation to thieves, Detective Garcia said.
Don't deviate from a holiday spending plan you make in advance. "Without a doubt consumers are seduced by huge discounts and enticing ads," Dvorkin said, adding not "to be brainwashed by all the hype and how much money you can save." Be on guard for misleading ads. In fact, study the ads in advance before you shop, Dvorkin recommended.
Don't give out sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or your Social Security number to telemarketers calling you with "special" holiday deals. Make sure if you buy something online that it is a legitimate company -- and not set up to steal your identity.
Don't throw away receipts: Keep them in case of a potential dispute, recommends Scambook.com, a website set up to prevent fraud and help victims.
Don't forget to regularly check your online/mobile banking applications to make sure no one has attempted to charge anything or take money from your accounts.
Don't go online to order merchandise while eating at a restaurant or when you are in other unprotected public places where thieves can steal your identity.
Don't ignore your surroundings -- and the people around you -- as you shop for bargains. Thieves have prowled parking lots and even followed shoppers to break into their cars for merchandise as the shoppers take a break at a café or other rest area, Detective Garcia said. If you buy something expensive, take it home first and then go back to shopping, she said. Immediately alert police if you see suspicious activity.
The Hollywood Police Department, for example, will be patrolling busy shopping areas, such as Hollywood Mall, Oakwood Plaza, Sheridan Plaza and Taft Street Shopping Center. Dubbed Operation Reindeer, Hollywood officers -- including undercover ones -- will be guarding shoppers from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
dgehrke@tribune or Twitter @donnagehrke
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