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Make mall safety a priority

Malls have become targets for criminal activity in South Africa. In the Cape in the last six weeks there have been more than 15 armed robberies in malls and the rest of the country isn't lagging far behind. With the festive season ahead of us, it pays to take some safety measures and keep your wits about you when you hit the shops. Here are five tips to keep you safe at the shops, especially among the holiday crowds.

1. Be aware
Malls are designed to distract you. Every shop front, restaurant and display clamours for your attention. If you know that you become scattered and inattentive at shopping centres, rein yourself in. Make a list before you go, plan your route and try to stay aware of your personal space and possessions and especially your children at all times.

2. Keep your handbag close
The safest way to carry a bag is with a strap diagonally across your body, and with all zips and pockets closed. The extra seconds it takes you to open and close your bag properly each time you need something could save you hours of heartache if your wallet and cell phone are stolen. Remember that thieves will try to distract you, so don't be taken in by attempts to engage or jostle you. Women are as likely as men to pickpocket you, so don't let your guard down.

3. Banks
Any time that you visit a bank but especially at month-end when you're likely to withdraw a large bundle of cash be extra vigilant. Put the money away quickly and carefully and proceed to your next destination whether it's your car or a shop directly. If you are feeling anxious for any reason, ask the mall security to accompany you.

4. Restaurants
If you stop for a bite to eat, don't let your vigilance lapse. It's very easy for thieves to swipe your stuff when you're focused on your chicken salad or cappuccino. If a restaurant offers those under-the-table hooks to hang your handbag from, use them. Otherwise put your bag on your lap or on a chair that's in your line of sight but not accessible to the flow of human traffic.

5. If you are in an armed robbery
In the terrifying event that you are held up in a shop or a bank, take note of these safety measures:

  • Do your best to stay calm and avoid eye contact even if you are threatened
  • If you have children with you, hold them close and try to keep them calm
  • Hand over any valuables to the robbers at their request
  • Don't try to be a hero or to escape
  • Listen carefully to try and pick up clues that may help the police in their investigations
  • Seek trauma counseling after the robbery. You may feel fine or relieved in the short term, but trauma can take months to become obvious.

6. Parking lots
Parking lots are often the places where you are at your most vulnerable because you are carrying shopping, paying for your parking, fumbling with your bags, looking for car keys, searching for your car and then unloading your trolley. Don't forget the tips for keeping your handbag safe just because you're nearly home free. If an attendant helps you to unload your bags, remember to keep an eye on your belongings. And if your car is in an isolated spot, ask a security guard to accompany you. 

Don't let your vigilance lapse when you leave the parking lot either. Thieves can trace your movements in a mall and follow you home. If you have any reason to believe you are being followed, drive straight to your nearest police station.

Don't live in fear
The purpose of these tips is to keep you vigilant when you need to be, but is not intended to make you fearful every time you visit the shops. Malls generally have good security measures that include CCTV and security guards, so while it's advisable to be careful you should still be able to relax and have fun. 

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