(MONTGOMERY)— As Black Friday approaches, Attorney General Troy King warns shoppers to be cautious as they shop during the busy holiday season, and gives tips to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud or theft.

"As we plan to share this festive season with gift buying for family and friends, it is a sad fact that criminals will be waiting for an opportunity to steal from you," warned Attorney General King. "They know that shoppers become distracted, tired and stressed, and vulnerable to thieves who would prey upon them. Be wary of old-fashioned thieves who will snatch your purse, grab your packages or break into your car; but also watch out for internet scams, or thieves who use technology to steal your information. I urge Alabamians to be mindful and protect themselves, and take steps to preserve a safe and happy holiday season for themselves and their loved ones."

Attorney General King offers the following suggestions for safe holiday shopping:

• Do not announce your holiday shopping or travel plans on your blog, Facebook, MySpace, or any other social networking site or other website, or through an email auto-reply message. It allows potential thieves to know when your house is vulnerable to a break-in.

• Be very careful while shopping online. While some online sites are operated by reputable businesses, many online sites are not. Only shop with those you know are reputable.

• Using "secure" Web sites will help ensure that personal information, such as your name, address and credit card number, is transmitted to the merchant safely, without being intercepted by a third party. Identify secure Web sites by looking for Web addresses that begin with "https" and look for a small padlock symbol at the bottom of the page.

• Avoid leaving packages or shopping bags visible in your car – lock them in the trunk out of sight if you must leave packages in your car unattended. Return to your vehicle periodically to check on it and to reduce the amount you are carrying with you.

• When possible, have purchases delivered instead of taking them with you; many businesses offer free delivery during the holiday shopping season.

• When purchasing your gifts, be aware of the store's refund/exchange policy. The store should have it posted or listed on your receipt. Be sure to find out what the policy is before you leave the store.

• Shop with friends or relatives if possible; there is safety in numbers. As you shop, be alert in crowded places. Among pickpockets' favorites are revolving doors, jammed aisles, elevators, public transportation stops and vehicles, especially at rush hour. Carry the day's most expensive purchases closest to your body, and don't carry so much that you lose the ability to react quickly.

• If possible, leave your children with a baby-sitter while you are shopping. For holiday shopping, consider making arrangements with family or friends/neighbors, and take turns baby-sitting. If you take your children with you, keep a close eye on them while shopping. Teach your children to go to a store clerk, security guard or police officer if they get separated from you in the store or mall, and be sure they know their first and last name so they can tell someone who they are. It is best to keep children under age four in a stroller.

• Using a drive-up ATM (automated teller machine) is usually safer than walking up to an ATM. Remember to look around you as you make your withdrawal. Many ATMs now have "fisheye" mirrors mounted above the keyboard to enable you to view the entire surrounding area while conducting business. Try to patronize ATMS equipped with these, and remember to use the mirror.

• Never drive with your purse on the front seat. A crook can break your window and steal your purse in a matter of seconds.

• Be careful of scammers approaching you in parking lots disguising themselves as needy. People like to be extra generous during the holidays and scammers love to take advantage of generosity. Be aware of persons claiming to be in need of "quick" cash and wanting to write a check in exchange for a lesser amount of cash—for example, offering a $100 check for $50 in cash. You usually end up holding a bad check and the crook will have disappeared.

• Travel and conduct your business during daylight hours if possible. Lock doors and windows when getting into your car and keep them locked while driving.

• Be aware that thieves can photograph your PIN numbers and account numbers with their cell phone cameras from behind you while you are making your purchases.

• Keep conversations private and casual in public. You never know who is nearby and listening to steal your information.

Attorney General King urged consumers to report any problems of consumer fraud or identity theft to local law enforcement or to his Consumer Protection Division, by calling toll-free to 1-800-392-5658, by visiting his webpage at www.ago.alabama.gov., or by writing to 500 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36130.


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