Ten Ways You Can Protect Yourself From Bad Guys During Holiday Shopping Trips

About ten years ago, I was doing some early Christmas shopping at my local Walmart. It was about 9 o’clock in the morning, and for some strange reason the parking lot was practically empty as I walked out of the store pushing the shopping cart to my truck. I noticed in the corner of my eye a man rapidly approaching me from my right and slightly behind me.

He was yelling and seemed very agitated. Of course, my “radar” went up, and I turned around to face him, putting my shopping cart between the two of us.

He was in his twenties, very muscular, and clearly upset:

Can you believe that? Did you hear what they called me?

I had no idea who he was talking about.

I just needed some money for gas, and they called me a —

He let loose with a string of expletives. I responded:

Hey, man how can I help? What can I do for you?

I still clutched the cart, making sure it was between us. (At the time I was not carrying a concealed firearm or any other weapon.)

The angry young man said he ran out of gas (I didn’t see where his car was) and needed some money to get to Pennsylvania (the border is about a two-hour drive from my house).

So … what do you do now? No one is around.

Yes, I am a black belt in karate, but I do not want to fight anyone. I don’t see any friends with him, but they could be around. I want to get out of this situation as peacefully as I can. If he wants to rumble, however, I can use the cart as a battering ram or some kind of barrier so I can make my escape.

Well, I’d love to help you, but all I have is this.

While holding on to the cart with my right hand, I pulled a folded five dollar bill out of my left pocket. I dropped it in the basket of the cart. He reached down and grabbed it.

Man that’s all you got?

Yep, that’s all I have. It’ll pay for something. Sorry. Oh wait, here’s something else.

I pulled out a Gospel tract and handed it to him (I am a pastor, after all).

I hope this helps.

He seemed very baffled by the Gospel tract, but took both the money and the tract and walked away … less irritated, but very deflated. I kept scanning my surroundings, got into the truck and left as quickly as possible. I thought I made the right decision. Maybe he really did run out of gas. Maybe not. But it seemed to me that I did the right thing to get out of a sticky situation without any harm coming to anyone.

But the main lesson from that story is to practice situational awareness. I saw a potential threat coming and did what I could to avoid a physical confrontation and leave safely.

I hope you are not accosted this Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas season, so to better prepare you, here are some tips:

1. Learn how to practice situational awareness

Assume that violence can occur anywhere. Have your head in the game. Scan your surroundings as you are leaving your car, walking to the store, and walking back to the car with your presents.

Do NOT walk around looking at your cell phone! If it rings, get to it later once you are home.

Look confident! Our world is filled with vicious predators who are sizing you up to see if you are an easy target. So be aware — occasionally turn around to see if someone is following you. Notice who or what has parked next to you. Look under, around, and through the windows of cars parked next to you as you approach your vehicle.

2. Do not let strangers get close enough to grab you

I’m a friendly guy, but I also know that some thugs like to play the “knockout game.” This is where they get dangerously close to unsuspecting victims and brutally punch them, knocking them out cold. This kind of attack can be lethal, of course. Here’s a video about it.

How do you prevent it? You practice situational awareness, and do NOT let strangers who look threatening get close enough to you. Someone may approach you and ask you to fill out a survey — while their partner is coming up behind you. Someone may come up and ask you for the time — (everyone has a cell phone, so why are they asking?).

3. Do not leave valuables out in the open

Ladies, do NOT leave your purse or handbag on the front seat of the car! Put your stuff in the trunk or hide it somehow in the car.

Any presents you buy? Hide them.

4. Let people know where you are

When you are going out for a while, it’s a good idea to tell a close friend or relative that you’ll be gone, where you’re going, and when you expect to return.

Of course, NEVER post on Facebook that you’re going on a shopping trip that day. That’s an invitation for someone to pay a visit to your home while you’re gone.

5. Be street savvy IN the store

Know escape routes. Ask yourself: “If I had to get out of this store as quickly as possible, do I know where all the possible exits are?”

Be wary in public restrooms. Do not carry more credit cards than you plan to use that day. If you are in a restaurant, it’s a good idea to sit with your back to a wall. When standing in a line to check out, be alert.

The time to zone out is when you are home.

Do not get on an elevator by yourself if there is a lone male inside, if you can help it. If you are getting out of the elevator and a lone suspicious person is waiting there, don’t get out of the car. If a suspicious person enters, get out if possible. If you are attacked, push all the buttons on the wall; that should jam the doors open thus denying your attacker privacy.

6. Be careful about the information you give out

When you are at a bank, if they ask for your Social Security number, never give it out audibly. Write it on a piece of scrap paper, let the teller see it and then take it back and rip it up immediately, and keep the scraps to throw away later.

I have had cashiers at department stores ask for my phone number or zip code. I always tell them, “That’s OK, you don’t need it,” and then I complete my purchase. Be careful about PINs and debit cards. When I type in my PIN, I always make sure no one is standing around me.

7. If you must use an ATM (I have not used one in almost 30 years and have not missed it), go only to well-lit ones in high-traffic areas

If you are in your car, make sure you keep an eye on the side and rearview mirrors. Thugs like to approach during a transaction. If you are attacked, drive off immediately. I wouldn’t even put the car in park, but just keep my foot on the brake just in case I gotta scram.

8. If you are attacked, and you cannot escape — you must fight ferociously

Strike hard, repeatedly hitting vulnerable targets as hard and as fast as you can. Run as soon as you can. Call the police immediately.

Here are two articles I wrote some time ago on fighting back.

If you can legally carry a weapon, do so, but ONLY if you have been properly trained.

Although I carry a firearm on me nowadays, I recommend pepper spray for those who do not wish to carry a gun. Pepper spray is not lethal, but can deliver a powerful punch to a would-be attacker. The “Sabre” brand is excellent. A small canister that fits on a key chain and shoots a spray up to 10 feet only costs about $10. Here’s what it looks like.

I especially recommend teenage young ladies carry this. However, it cannot be buried in the purse somewhere. You MUST be able to retrieve it in a heartbeat — or it is useless.

When you shoot it, spray from ear to ear. The Sabre brand I use has tear gas, OC (pepper spray), and a dye in it to identify the attacker. Here is a good video on how to use this weapon.

If you doubt its effectiveness, watch this video of U.S. Marines being pepper-sprayed. My son was a Marine embassy guard and got sprayed as part of his training. He said it felt like 10,000 burning needles going into his eyes. It definitely will slow down an attacker and give you the second you need to escape.

However, do not depend entirely on one weapon. Tazers, stun guns, and pepper sprays can malfunction. Make sure you have a backup plan — like knowing how to fight for your life!

9. Once you are in your car, drive off

This is not the time to do make-up, pay bills, read a book, or communicate on Facebook. If you are casually sitting in your car and zoning out, you are possibly making yourself a target for a thug.

If you are finished with your shopping, go home. If you have to wait for someone, don’t zone out. Listen to music, but be looking around. Make yourself a hard target.

10. Watch these safety tips from Officer MacConnell of the Phoenix Police Department

Be safe out there and have a Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas!