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Shopping safety tips: While you're shopping for the holidays, crooks are shopping for victims

"These criminals, they’re walking, strolling through parking lots," an HPD loss prevention commander said. "They’re looking through windows.”

HOUSTON, Texas — Smash and grabs and other crimes are a constant concern in big cities like Houston. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said the holidays may be especially hazardous. 

"Everybody has to shop during this season,” Finner said. "Don’t leave valuables visible in your cars, OK?”

That was among the main messages during a news conference on how to stay safe while shopping this holiday season.

One man learned the hard way recently when a thief stole $1,300 in cash from his truck after a quick trip to the bank. 

Police say while you're running errands or shopping for the holidays, thieves are shopping for victims.

"These criminals, they’re walking, strolling through parking lots," an HPD loss prevention commander said. "They’re looking through windows.”

Police recommend you buy your big ticket items last so you can go straight home. 

"Here's a mistake a lot of people make, they think that when they come out, they can put it in their trunk and cover it up [but] it's already too late," HPD Detective Tracy Hicks told us. "The crooks are in the parking lot, and they know where you're hiding it."

Hicks said there's a high chance they will follow you to your next stop and break into your vehicle. 

Finner warned women to avoid carrying flashy handbags that could bring the kind of attention you don't want. 

"Designer purses, large purses, let’s travel lightly when we can," Finner advised.

If you need a purse, a crossbody is your best option. Don't carry a lot of cash -- just your ID and the credit card(s) you'll be using.

Finner said firearms are another popular target for criminals so keep them properly locked up and secured. Over 3,600 guns were stolen from vehicles last year and we're on pace to surpass that number this year.

Any time you're out, you should pay close attention to your surroundings. When you leave, make sure you're not being followed. 

"If you know for a fact you are being followed, I want you to call 911 immediately, from the freeway," Hicks said.

Finner said extra officers will be at malls and other shopping areas. 

"We’re going to have a lot of officers out here, seen and unseen," Finner said.  "Uniform and plain clothes.”

The chief said that in the spirit of the season we should all try and keep each other safe as well.

"We all have a part, all of us,” Finner said.

Online shopping safety tips

Safety not only applies to in-person shopping but what’s done online as well.

"Make sure you use secure payment methods,” "High Tech Texan" Michael Garfield told us.

The online safety expert said phishing emails and texts that claim to be from legitimate delivery companies are popular with cyber crooks.

“I generally would stay away from texts or emails that you didn’t sign up for because, odds are, they could be a little leary,” Garfield said.

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