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Keep safe this festive season: Be vigilant while out shopping – plan your trip better

| Crime and security

With the festive season fast approaching, there are busy days ahead. Parking areas are going to be busy, with increased foot traffic into shopping centres, and crime rates will also increase, with criminals targeting unsuspecting, distracted shoppers.

The festive season always sees one of the highest peaks in criminal activities, as it is the busiest time of the year. While shoppers are busy with their festive shopping, criminals are also busy during this time - on the lookout for unsuspecting shoppers.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) in its recently released crime statistics for April – June 2023, reported 5 488 carjackings and 4 541 robberies in non-residential areas. In the previous year, the number of robberies in non-residential areas was 4 983 in October 2022 – December 2022, while the number of carjackings was 5 608 in October 2022 – December 2022. These figures are expected to increase during the coming holiday season.

Hilton Ellaya, Operations Director for Parking, from facilities management company Servest’s parking business unit, warns that there is a trend, usually in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and the holiday season, for shopping centres across the country to experience a significant increase in traffic. Malls are crowded, presenting an opportune environment for criminals. In the parking lots, vulnerable pedestrians and impatient cars mix together, causing shopping centres to buzz with activity.

It is imperative for shoppers to be extra vigilant during this period and have a clear plan for their shopping trip, to make sure that they don’t fall prey to criminal activities.

Ellaya says that it’s easy to forget to check if car doors are locked or windows properly closed when you are in a rush, that’s why it is important to plan for shopping properly – and make sure you slow down and do all the necessary checks to keep your vehicle safe.

Ellaya has the following tips to help busy shoppers stay safe during the busy shopping season:

  • Put valuable items like laptops and cameras in the boot of your car.
  • Always lock your vehicle’s doors and keep the windows closed. Do not leave your vehicle unlocked, even if you think you will be away for only a minute.
  • Be aware of people coming to you and informing you that you have a flat tyre - the intention can be to steal items that they see inside the car or take your car. Practise the same prevention skills you apply in parking lots or garages at home.
  • Parking lots with a parking attendant or supervision or someone patrolling are best, otherwise try to park in locations that are well lit and/or well populated and not close to bushes or buildings where offenders might hide.
  • It’s important to eliminate any distractions and to be alert, always.

“It’s easy to forget where one is parked after a long day out and about. It’s important to always be aware of where you left your car. Take pictures of your vehicle, the parking bay and parking number, to avoid the trouble of looking for your vehicle after a long day of shopping when you are tired. This will help you avoid looking discontented and confused, which could leave you a target to criminal activities,” says Ellaya.

For shoppers with children, try to organise your luggage and walk together to avoid distractions. Zip your bags up and make sure you stow away your wallet, cell phone and cards. Always avoid, walking around with valuables on your hands, especially when walking with young children, as you could be an easy target for criminal activities.

Busy pedestrian crossings are usually easy places for criminal activities during high peak traffic. Remain cautious of pedestrians on crosswalks and pedestrian crossings – and make sure that your bags are secure.

He shares that technology has made paying for parking easy, seamless and quick. With cashless solutions and Licence Plate Recognition (LPR) Apps that allow shoppers to enter and exit parking spaces without a ticket. These mean shoppers can be more vigilant, especially during high peak seasons.

Ellaya urges that shoppers avoid paying for parking using cash and should rather opt to use cashless payment solutions. This is safer and helps shoppers avoid showing bystanders that they have cash on hand – which could set them up as an easy target.

In less busy parking lots, be vigilant when loading your groceries in the boot. At night, park in well-lit areas so that you can be aware of your surroundings.

Check your mirrors when driving out of the garage and watch out for cars tailgating you.

Hilton Ellaya cautions, “Always double-check that doors are locked when leaving your vehicle as criminals use remote jammers that can interrupt signals to block remote signal to your vehicle.”

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