Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has become a major American shopping event. But the sad truth is Black Friday brings out the thieves in our midst – both those interested in stealing your stuff or simply your identity.
This dubious holiday tradition also seems to bring out the worst behavior from large numbers of bargain-obsessed – but inconsiderate – shoppers.
Avoid Black Friday Tragedy:
Safety Tips for the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year
Our advice as value-buyers is to stay home on Black Friday. We value our time and personally don’t care for crowds.
To entice the gullible to join this annual ritual, major stores advertise a nice price on select popular products. This, of course, adds to the zaniness, because stores as a matter of course usually stock only a small number of these “so-called” bargains. It results in a situation in which angry people are fighting and scratching for a handful of what they think should be “discounted” items.
Black Friday bargain hunters often end up with a more expensive alternative to the “discounted item” that was so widely advertised. And yet millions fall for this bait-and-switch every year!
Even with the continued bleakness of the economic picture, we suspect that we’ll see record crowds at stores and malls each year. People are desperate to make the holidays a special time, and in many cases, that means spending money they don’t have.
Violence is NOT in the Spirit of the Holidays!
Every year, people’s bad behavior makes the news on Black Friday – from shoppers threatening one another to engaging in actual physical violence.
In 2010, a woman at Toys’R’Us cut in front of several dozen shoppers in the check-out line. When people complained, she threatened to return to her car, grab a gun, and shoot those who didn’t want her to cut. Police intervened and arrested the woman for disorderly conduct.
At another Toys’R’Us, also in 2010, two women got into a violent altercation. The situation spiraled out of control and the men with the women pulled guns and shot each other. Both died.
At a Target in New York, numerous shoppers were trampled. When the store opened its doors to the crowd, the crush of people pushed those at the front of the line down and then stormed over them. Luckily, Target staff responded quickly and pulled the fallen shoppers to safety. The number of injuries from the incident is wasn’t clear, but it’s just mere luck that no one was killed.
Two years earlier, one Wal-Mart worker wasn’t so fortunate. The Black Friday shopping mob trampled him to death when the store threw open its doors.
Even people who avoid physical altercations and stampeding mobs may find their shopping day in ruins. In Southern California, three women finished a Best Buy shopping spree, dropped their purchases off at their car, and went to shop at J.C. Penny’s. When they returned, all their Best Buy purchases were gone – more than $1,000 in gifts were stolen from them.
There are three major safety considerations when you’re shopping on Black Friday:
First is dealing safely with the crowds, especially if they start to get pushy or violent.
Second is keeping your personal and financial information secure.
Third is protecting your purchases from theft once you’ve made them.
Handling the Crowds
If You Insist on Participating in Black Friday
The crowds present the biggest physical danger on Black Friday. When a waiting and impatient crowd surges forward through the newly opened doors of a department store, there’s a chance someone will fall and get trampled.
The easy solution is not to be first in line! Arrive at the store a few minutes after the doors open and you’ll be able to walk in and join shoppers without risking the press of the initial crowd. If you can’t resist the temptation of waiting in line and being the first one in, then call the store ahead of time and ask the manager what plans he has for crowd control if people are unruly.
Your goal is to hear that the manager has a plan – that he’s thought about the potential problems, staffed accordingly, and is prepared to keep the event safe. If the manager is clueless, maybe pick a different store as your “door-opener” for the day.
Once inside, people sometimes get into fights over products or their place in line at the register. The best way to avoid these situations is to be exceedingly polite and very direct. If someone cuts in line, you can choose to let it go or ask a question like, “Excuse me, why do you think it’s okay to cut in front of me?”
The trick is to keep your tone openly curious rather than being accusatory. When confronted in this manner, most people will apologize and go to the end of the line. Or, you can ignore the jerk, let her cut, and chalk it up as an amusing story you can tell later. Take the approach that’s most comfortable for you. Remember, whatever you’re buying isn’t worth a black eye or worse!
While you’re shopping, remain aware of your space. Avoid bumping into people and be mindful of people who are getting too close to you. It’s unlikely they’re making a move for your wallet, but certainly possible, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Identity Theft Risks Are Higher during the Mayhem
Some enterprising criminals use the long Black Friday checkout lines as an opportunity to collect credit card and checking account information. They’ll wait in line behind you and nonchalantly check over your shoulder to see your credit card number or the account number on your checks. They may even try to spy your pin number when you punch it in.
To avoid this kind of identity theft, keep your credit cards and your check book put away until you reach the cash register and the cashier has finished ringing you up. Re-check your personal space before pulling out your payment information. If anyone is too close, don’t be afraid to ask him to move back a little.
Also, keep track of your receipts during the shopping day. A dropped receipt can give identity thieves some of your personal and financial information, as well as their own “shopping list” of desirable items to pilfer from your vehicle. So, make sure the cashier hands you the receipt and that you put it into your wallet or into another safe place.
Protect Your Purchases
Predators Will Be Out in Force
Opportunistic thieves may attempt to relieve you of your packages after you’ve made your purchases.
The first step to prevent this is to stay aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on the people around you, especially the people that are closer to you than you’d like. Know how many bags the cashier gave you and keep track of those. If you have more packages from a single purchase than you’re able to easily keep track of or carry, ask the cashier to call someone to help you out to your car.
Once at your car, put your packages where they aren’t easy to see. A trunk is ideal. If you have a station wagon or an SUV with an open trunk compartment, consider using a cover to conceal your packages. And, make sure you lock your car before going into another store!
Safe Shopping on Cyber Monday
A lot of people avoid the Black Friday crowds in favor of Cyber Monday deals.
If you plan to do your holiday shopping online this year, we have another timely warning for you. The identity thieves are out in force and they have many creative ways of getting your credit card information.
One of their favorite tricks is to design a website that mimics a well-known site like Cabela’s or Best Buy. Then, they use Google AdWords to attract you to the fake site. When shopping on Cyber Monday, beware of following the links in search engine results. Only shop at trusted websites and type those website addresses directly into your browser.
Admittedly, we are sort of like the “Grinch” when it comes to appreciating Black Friday – which many people regard as a fun personal tradition.
It is true that Black Friday and other public events where crowds form is an opportunity to improve your situational awareness skills. You can begin by carefully weighing the advantages to you of voluntarily plunging into large crowds of zealous shoppers, braving heavy traffic, and working around the heavy hand of law-enforcement that must be deployed to cope with the thieves and scofflaws who always show up in force!
Some people enjoy the spectacle, and we say more power to them! If you do chose to play the Black Friday game, then be ready-for-anything and have a pleasant day of shopping.