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'Just be alert' shopping this weekend


From left, Fred Shelton, Brent Swan and Tony Cooper

From left, Fred Shelton, Brent Swan and Tony Cooper



Isabelle Altman



With the shopping crowds out for Black Friday, local law enforcement are gearing up to increase patrol and doling out tips to shoppers who want to stay as safe and comfortable as possible. 


Columbus Police Department will be increasing patrols, Assistant Chief Fred Shelton said -- there will foot patrols downtown and heavy patrolling of Leigh Mall, Walmart and other business parking lots along Highway 45. There will also be extra security at Walmart on Thursday for a special Thanksgiving sale, he said. 


In Starkville, police officers have the Egg Bowl football game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss to worry about in addition to the county's busiest shopping holiday. Starkville Police Department will increase patrols at shopping areas throughout town while also patrolling the parking lot of Davis Wade stadium during the game, Investigations Sgt. William Durr said. 


But even with the added security, law enforcement officers stressed, there will be huge swaths of people out shopping. Tempers may run high, fights could break out and people will be out looking for valuables to steal from cars or shopping carts. 


When shopping around town, law enforcement officers have the same suggestions every year, reminding consumers to lock their car doors, keep packages out of sight, park in crowded or well-lit areas and shop in groups where possible. 


"Do not put a purse or anything where someone can see it," said CPD Investigations Capt. Brent Swan. 


Don't even place them under car seats or hide them under coats, he added -- shoppers think their valuables are concealed when they tuck them under the passenger's seat, but criminals can still catch a glimpse of them, break the car window and reach through to snatch what items they can. 


That goes for being in the store as well, said Lowndes County Sheriff's Office Deputy Tony Cooper.  


"Don't set your purse or wallet, things out like that, where somebody can walk by and grab them," he said. 


If a suspect does steal a wallet or a purse, Swan said, the victim should cancel whatever credit cards were in the wallet as soon as they can. 


"(Suspects will) go to stores and try to use that card as long as they can before it's canceled," Swan said. 




Beware of identity theft 


And while it's uncommon, it is possible for suspects to use skimmers on ATMs or gas pumps to steal credit card information, Durr said. That's happened in Starkville in the last year. 


Criminals looking for credit card information will attach skimmers to the parts of ATMs where credit cards are swiped and can steal the information that way, Durr said. They may also hide cameras pointed at pin pads. 


"Most likely it's not going to happen, but it's not going to hurt to (check around) the ATM," Durr said. 


For shoppers who find Cyber Monday more appealing than Black Friday, there are still safety tips to consider, Cooper and Durr said.  


"It's easier for a crime to get away with online identity theft," Durr said. 


With crimes like identity theft and scams on the rise, it's important for consumers to only use sites they trust. He suggested using only websites affiliated with well-known retailers. 


"I would say the better sites are going to have security built in on their sites so that your information is encrypted," Cooper said. "For example, ebay: when you log in, if you look at the upper left hand corner, you'll see there's a padlock on there. That tells you that site is secure and that they're using software to protect all your information." 


He also said to watch out for "too good to be true" deals. 


"If you see something that's absolutely priced out of the norm, I'd be really careful who you're dealing with," he said. "Because there's going to be phishing and there's some other scams going on out there where they want you to put all your credit card information ... in there. It's not a legitimate site. It's just they're actually out there stealing all your information. They're going to use it again, steal your identity." 


The bottom line, the officers said, is to be alert -- and to not be afraid to call law enforcement if need be. 


"Just look around," Swan said. "If you see something suspicious or something uncomfortable, call 911. Ask someone to send an officer to ride through the parking lot. It's not going to bother us at all." 


Cooper had another piece of advice for shoppers: Be patient and be tolerant. Remember everyone else is trying to shop too. 


"Just remember it's the holiday season," he said. "Goodwill toward men does not mean everybody grab the same TV all at the same time."




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