There’s still food and football left to be enjoyed this Thanksgiving, but the holiday shopping season is already underway as retailers try to get a jump on Black Friday sales.

“This time of year brings with it concerns for safety and security,” Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said. “Big crowds and extended store hours create distractions that can make you a prime target for crooks looking to steal your money, your merchandise or even your identity. It’s important to stay alert to protect yourself, your valuables and your personal information.”

Sheriff Koon reminded everyone to follow these safe shopping tips:

  • A single shopper is the best target for theft. Always shop with a friend or relative.
  • Tell someone where you’re shopping and what time to expect you to return. They should also know what you’re wearing and driving.
  • Keep cash in your front pocket rather than in a purse or wallet. This makes it much more difficult for a pick-pocket to remove. Carry car keys in a pants or jacket pocket. If your purse is stolen, you’ll still be able to drive home.
  • If you feel uneasy returning to your vehicle alone, find a security guard and ask them to walk you to your car.

“It’s easy to get distracted during this time of year with all of the comings and goings of the holidays,” Koon said. “Busy holiday shoppers can become careless and vulnerable to financial fraud crimes.”

According to Koon, the following preventive measures can help protect your credit card information from falling into the wrong hands.

  • Keep a close watch on your credit card every time you use it. Get it back as quickly as possible.
  • Never write your PIN on your credit card.
  • Never leave your credit cards or receipts lying around.
  • Shield your credit card number so that others around you can’t copy it or shoot a picture of it with a smartphone or other camera.
  • Only carry credit cards that you absolutely need.
  • Shred anything with your credit card number on it.

“Gift cards have become popular holiday presents in recent years,” Koon said. “They’ve also become popular tools for bad guys to take money out of your pockets and bank accounts.”

Koon said there are tried and true ways to protect yourself when buying a gift card for someone on your shopping list.

  • Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards might be counterfeit or might have been obtained fraudulently.
  • Read the fine print before you buy. Is there a fee to buy the card? If you buy a card by phone or online, are there shipping and handling fees? If you don’t like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
  • See if any fees will be deducted from the card after you purchase it.
  • Inspect the card before you buy it. Make sure none of the protective stickers have been removed. See if the codes on the back of the card have been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.
  • Give the recipient your original receipt so they can verify the card’s purchase in case it is lost or stolen.

To report any suspicious activity in or around a store, call 911. To report fraudulent financial activity, contact the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department at 803-785-2400 or Crimestoppers at 888-CRIME-SC.