Don't Be a Victim: How to Protect Yourself from Crime

As moms, we're so focused on keeping our kids safe in public places that we often ignore our own safety. Thieves choose their victims carefully. And when you're in distracted-mom mode, you're a prime target -- especially for crimes like purse snatching or carjacking. Here's how to stay alert and safe everywhere you go.

In the Parking Lot

Look people in the eye. Lose the victim vibe -- eye contact shows you're confident and in control.

Watch other shoppers. If you recognize someone suspicious from the store walking near you, return to the store to be sure he's not following you. When you get to your car, stay aware of your surroundings while you load your things. And don't overload yourself with bags; make two trips if necessary.

Ask for help. If someone makes you uneasy, go back to the store and ask for an escort. "Don't worry about how it looks or whom you're insulting," says Samantha Wilson, a safety expert and former police officer.

    At the Park

    Go in a group. Try to plan playdates so you aren't alone. If you do go by yourself, pick a time of day when there will be plenty of people around. Another benefit of going with friends: You can keep an eye on each other's stuff while you take turns pushing the kids on the swings.

    Don't feel pressured to talk. "Often, a criminal doesn't just jump out at you," says Amy Tiemann, PhD, author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family. He'll take advantage of your impulse to be polite by starting a conversation so you'll let your guard down. If someone chats you up in an overly friendly way, be blunt if he makes you feel uncomfortable.

    Be prepared to leave. It may disappoint the kids, but if you feel uneasy, head home. "Intuition and instincts are a big deal," Wilson says. "If something makes you uneasy, you don't need to know why. Just trust yourself."

      At the Mall

      Protect your purse. If you wear your bag across your body, it's harder for a thief to grab it and bolt. Avoid the temptation to cram your purse or wallet into the stroller -- which allows someone to swoop in and snatch it.

      Focus at the checkout. Keep your hand on your wallet at all times. This way, you can grab and go if you need to run after your wandering toddler. And always take the time to put your cash or credit card away after transactions, says Dr. Tiemann.

      Plan your ATM runs. Avoid going at night, and choose a busy location. Better yet, ask for cash back at the checkout.

      Stash your belongings. When you eat at the food court, don't hang your purse over the back of your chair. "I always put my purse on my lap, and I make sure I can feel my shopping bags with my feet at all times," says Wilson.

        On a Walk

        Ditch the headphones. Talk to your child instead. "One of an attacker's tools of the trade is the element of surprise," says personal-security expert Robert Siciliano. If you can't hear someone coming, he'll easily catch you off guard.

        Tell someone where you're going. Let your husband or a friend know your route and when you'll be back. Always carry your cell phone, but only use it for emergency calls -- it's easy to get caught up in a conversation and ignore everything else.

        Be aware of your surroundings. "Most people only look five to 10 feet ahead of them at the most," says Siciliano. But you need to be aware of 50 to even 100 feet all around you. Try playing "I Spy" with your child as you stroll, to get in the habit of taking in your surroundings.

          When You're Driving

          Don't give carjackers an entrance. Always drive with your doors locked. And if you're at a stop sign and someone approaches your car and asks you to roll down your window for directions, talk through the glass instead.

          Hide your purse. Stash it in a secure place where a potential carjacker won't be able to see it, says Wilson.

          Be wary of "accidents." If someone hits you from behind, don't automatically get out of your car. If the situation makes you feel uncomfortable, keep the doors locked, the windows up, and call 911, says Siciliano. Some criminals use this ruse to get you out of your car so they can hop in and steal it -- even if your child is still inside.

            In Your Home

            Lock up. Criminals think nothing of walking through an unlocked door -- even when owners are there. Make a habit of bolting your doors as soon as you get home (give a neighbor a key if you're afraid you'll get locked out). Be sure to latch your windows too.

            Trim your hedges. Don't give criminals a place to hide as they try to break in or wait for you to come home. Trim bushes and remove large tree branches close to your windows.

            Keep the door shut. "If someone knocks on your door, keep it closed unless you feel comfortable with that person," says Wilson. If a stranger says he's from a utility company, for example, ask to see ID. Or if the person asks to use the phone, keep the door shut and offer to place the call for him.

            Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the March 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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