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Safer shopping is smarter shopping

Even though most stores were out of TMX Elmo, PlayStation 3 and other hot holiday desirables, Tampa Bay area shoppers behaved fairly well in the opening days of the season.

The exception seemed to be an incident in Largo, where a young man knocked a woman to the ground in the Largo Mall parking lot Friday evening and took her grandson's newly purchased PlayStation Portable game system.

The shoppers had just left the Target store when a teen toppled the woman and snatched the game, said Largo police Lt. Brad Seale. She was not seriously injured.

The theft serves as a reminder for shoppers to take necessary precautions this holiday season. Many retailers have intensified security patrols. Police also have increased patrols in shopping areas, sometimes using unmarked cars and dressing in civilian clothing, Seale said.

Law enforcement and retail security personnel offer these tips for shoppers. They say their advice may sound simple, but paying attention to the basics may save shoppers a lot of heartache.

- Shop during the day, preferably on a weekday, when retailers are less crowded. Don't shop alone.

- When parking, lock your car and take your keys with you. Keep all valuables, including cell phones, purses and packages, out of sight. Park in a well-lighted area, and have your keys in your hand when returning to the car. Look inside and underneath your car before getting inside. Lock your doors promptly.

- Be aware of your surroundings. If you sense that you are being followed, do not go home or to a remote area. Go to a well-lit, populated area. Use a cell phone to dial 911 and report an emergency.

- Keep valuables and money in a front pocket or a small purse with a strap that can be worn across the body. Keep purses closed and secured. Do not put them down anywhere. Take only one or two credit cards, and a limited amount of cash. When using your debit card, make sure no one can see you enter your personal identification number.

- Make a list of major credit cards, their account numbers and the phone numbers to call if they are stolen or lost. Keep the list at home, in a locked place.

- If possible, rent a stroller or shopping cart to help carry large packages. Avoid making multiple trips to your car with packages; you may be watched. Consolidate as many packages as possible, and don't allow yourself to become so burdened that you become a tempting target.

- Always keep an eye on children. Remember to let them look around and have fun while they shop, but insist that they stay nearby. It is a good idea to have a sitter, friend, relative or older child to watch the youngest, especially when waiting in long lines. Teach children to look for a security guard or police officer or to go to a guest services booth if you become separated.

- Stick to automated teller machines in populated places, and be aware of what is going on around you. Try to use ATMs during daylight hours. If you must use them at night, pick machines that are well-lighted and visible to passing traffic. If anyone is lurking nearby, pass up that ATM and move to another.