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How to protect yourself from thieves targeting holiday shoppers in parking lots

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 26:  Shoppers look for sale items in an H & M store December 26, 2007 in New York City. Deep discounts were being offered nationwide by retailers on the day after Christmas during a holiday season that has been slower than expected.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 26: Shoppers look for sale items in an H & M store December 26, 2007 in New York City. Deep discounts were being offered nationwide by retailers on the day after Christmas during a holiday season that has been slower than expected. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) (2007 Getty Images)

HOUSTON – It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Holiday parties, white elephant gift exchanges, and shopping to find just the right gifts for those you know and love. But, it’s also the time of year when predators are on the prowl, looking for soft targets who are not paying attention to their surroundings as they are out shopping—especially when in shopping center parking lots.

Safety expert, Jerome Pokroy says now is when shoppers should pay extra attention and be aware of those looking to take advantage of them by robbing, assaulting, or even kidnapping them. Pokroy is the creator of the SWIFT (Self-Defense, Wellness, Instinct, Fitness Transformation) Method, and says being armed with information before you shop will help you stay alert and safe during this holiday season, and beyond.

“The biggest problem during the holiday season is that people are euphoric. They are shopping, and people are buying shoes and everyone is excited. The challenge is that when people are that excited, they drop their guards,” Pokroy said. “In that scenario, they become soft targets. They’re not aware of their surroundings.”

Pokroy offered us simple, yet, life-saving tips to put into practice during this holiday season:

Be alert and plan ahead

As you gather and organize information on which stores are offering the best sales and deals, also make a safety plan. Pokroy says shop with another adult if you can. And if you can, Pokroy advises that you get your holiday shopping done during the daytime, if possible. And he warns, never, ever, ever become distracted by your cell phone as you leave stores and walk to your car. Being distracted allows predators to catch you off-guard more easily.

Trust your instincts. They are your survival signals

“Be mindful of where you are, and who’s around you. Who shouldn’t be in a place? In other words, there could be an inconsistency of someone being in a place where they shouldn’t be,” Pokroy explained. “Trust your gut, and say, ‘I don’t like this.’ If something feels off, trust your gut.”

He also says it’s okay to not be nice if you feel at risk. That includes making direct eye contact with suspicious people who you encounter.

“There is a time perhaps when you have to be a little rude. Rude, in that you protect yourself.”

Let your belongings go and run away

On Oct. 17, a woman was followed from the ATM where she had withdrawn money. She then drove to the Saks Fifth Avenue at the Galleria Mall. As she was going up the escalators, she was jolted back when an unknown man tried to take her purse from her.

He dragged her to the doors which led back out to the garage area, and the woman let her purse go.

“Unfortunately, in that situation, don’t see the bag as important. It may be that you got your money, you got your cards. But your life is more important,” Pokroy said. “If you can, let it go and remove yourself from the situation.”

If attacked, fight back

“There’s a scenario where you cannot just simply let your belongings go. They are after you. Your life’s in danger. Immediate danger. They perhaps are gonna put a knife to your throat, may want to kidnap you. Or, they want to take you, and your vehicle,” Pokroy described.

Pokroy acknowledges that most people will go into shock at first, but he says it will also throw off the attacker when the victim fights back. He says most attackers never expect a victim to fight back—so fight!

“You have to fight with your life. Your life is important. You’ve gotta fight back, and then remove yourself from the situation.”