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Black Friday & Cyber Monday Shopping Tips: Stay Safe and Still Snag the Best Deal

With horror stories of 5am store stampedes and identity theft scams making headlines, many shoppers are left wondering: Is Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping worth it? If the idea of fighting through crowds to chase down the best deals doesn't float your boat, then you may be better off opting for Thanksgiving leftovers. But if you're a devoted shopper, help protect your safety by considering the following precautions:

Shopping bag.

1. Shop smart.

A mad rush of shoppers can literally knock the wind right out of you. Unless you're adamant about scoring an early bird deal, don't risk becoming a stampede victim by lining up for the store's opening. Wait until after the most frenzied shopping has died down. Your life isn't worth risking over an electronics discount.

Before heading out to shop, put together an action plan. Decide which stores you'll be visiting and set a spending limit. If you're shopping with friends, designate a meet-up spot in advance as cell service can sometimes be poor inside crowded malls. By creating a plan in advance you'll know where you need to be at what time to score specific deals.

2. Conceal you purchases.

Theft is a crime of opportunity. Staggering out to the car with overloaded shopping bags may mark you as a prime victim. The Los Angeles Police department reminds shoppers to "lock-it, hide-it, keep-it." Be vigilant when hiding items in your trunk, especially if you plan to continue shopping. Criminals watch from a distance and then break in to steal your items once you return to the stores. Keep an eye out for loiterers around your vehicle. When returning to your car, stop, listen and look around. Stay alert and have your keys readily available to access your car.

3. Reduce your risk for identity theft.

While identity theft is a year-round problem, the holiday shopping season can leave us especially vulnerable. We're tired, stressed and running around trying to get to the next sale as quickly as possible.

Plan your purchasing strategy in advance, shop with retailers you trust, keep all receipts and cross-reference credit card and bank statements carefully. Don't give out more information than you're comfortable sharing. While retailers often ask for your phone number or email address at checkout, you're under no obligation to share this information.

4. Watch out for pickpockets.

Yes, even with high-tech ploys for identity theft and data mining, good old-fashioned pickpocketing is still a legitimate threat during the holiday shopping season. Be extra vigilant of your surroundings. Pushing and shoving to grab a coveted toy? The shopper next to you may actually be going for your wallet or smartphone while you're distracted. Pickpockets generally work in teams: One person will bump or otherwise distract you while an accomplice lifts your valuables.

Avoid touching or fiddling with the pocket that holds your wallet as this tells pickpockets exactly where to grab. Don't count your money in public and close your wallet before leaving the sale register. Finally, don't assume concealment will keep your valuables safe. Minimize your potential loss by only taking one credit or debit card and a form of ID with you when shopping. Leave the rest of your wallet at home.

Before returning home with your new purchased items, check in with your independent agent to ensure you are properly protected should you become a victim of identity theft or have your new toy stolen.

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ECC Monitor: OK