Going Mall Shopping?

Below are various articles on mall shopping safety.

Q&A: How to stay safe at the mall

Trouble can strike fast at malls

Stay safe with these mall safety tips

Safety Tips for Shopping at the Mall



Q&A: How to stay safe at the mall

Hang up the cell phone, leave the purse at home and master the art of getting in and out of the car quickly. All can help a shopper avoid falling victim to the most common violent crime reported at area malls: robberies in parking lots and garages.

By Sofia Santana |South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 16, 2008

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reviewed hundreds of police reports and interviewed victims, investigators and experts to come up with ways to help you stay safe.

Who is most likely to be a victim?
Robbers tend to target people of all ages who seem distracted. Often, that means women who are loading bags into a car trunk, strapping children into a car seat or talking on a cell phone. Some robbers target senior citizens, pushing them to the ground before taking off with a purse or wallet.

Women are about twice as likely as men to become a victim in a mall parking lot, but men have also been targeted by robbers demanding jewelry, wallets and cell phones. In nearly all cases, men were walking alone when they were robbed. In at least 19 cases, robbers went after people who were visibly carrying portable electronic devices, such as cell phones and music players.

How can I tell if someone is looking to rob or attack me?
There are signs, but you must be keenly aware of your surroundings to pick up on them.

Be wary of cars trolling the parking area, particularly vehicles with two or more people inside. The drivers may just be looking for a parking spot, but many robbery teams slowly drive around until they spot a possible victim.

One robber will quickly jump out, snatch purses and valuables, and jump back in as the driver steps on the gas. In at least three cases, women had their purses stolen by someone who reached out from a passing car window.

Try to avoid people sitting in parked cars. Look between rows of cars as you move through the lot, and pay close attention to anyone walking through the parking area.

Look over your shoulder often -- most robbers in cases we reviewed approached victims from behind, and many victims said they never noticed the robber coming.

Where are people most vulnerable?
By far, the majority of the violent crimes reported occurred in parking lots and garages. Most victims were attacked while walking through the parking area, while others were robbed at or in their vehicles.

In at least 20 cases, robbers confronted people as they stepped into or out of their parked vehicles. Another 10 people were robbed as they sat in a parked car; four were carjacked and five accosted as they loaded shopping bags into car trunks.

Authorities think some victims were attacked because they left a car door open a few seconds too long after they got in. Experts recommend getting in and out of your vehicle as quickly as possible. Do not linger inside, even with windows up and doors locked.

What about parents who shop with children?
Some criminals won't shy from confronting a mother with kids. In fact, a few have used children to manipulate a woman to hand over her purse and valuables.

We found nine reports of women who were robbed as they walked through a parking lot with children. Two cases were at the Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines in October 2006, and at the time police said one man was likely responsible for both attacks. In both cases, the gunman said he would hurt the child if the woman didn't hand over her purse and valuables.

In 2007, there were also two extreme cases involving children, both at the Town Center at Boca Raton. In August, a woman and her 2-year-old son were abducted from the parking lot and robbed; and in December, Nancy Bochicchio, 47, and her daughter Joey, 7, were found dead inside their running SUV parked outside of Sears.

Where's the safest place to park?
It's hard to say. Many police reports didn't specify where crimes occurred in a parking area.

Parking as close as possible to a store or mall entrance shortens the distance you have to walk, reducing your chances of getting robbed while walking in the parking lot. But the increased traffic there could make it harder to spot and avoid suspicious people and vehicles.

The valet services offered at Town Center, Sawgrass Mills, Pembroke Lakes, the Galleria, Aventura Mall and The Mall at Wellington Green may be a safer option, though they cost at least $3.

The Town Center offers premium parking spots close to the main entrance for $3, as well as a free shuttle service that takes people between the parking lot and mall in small golf carts. Aventura Mall has a similar free shuttle program.

What should I do if I think I am going to be attacked?
One woman successfully fended off a group of robbers at Sawgrass Mills by pressing her car's remote panic alarm.

Some victims said they sensed something wasn't right immediately before they were attacked -- so trust your instincts.

If you don't see any warning signs but something still doesn't feel right, head for a safe place. If you're just steps away from your car, that may be the best option. Otherwise, head back to the mall, frequently looking around and over your shoulder, and ask a security guard to escort you to your vehicle.

Staff Writers Macollvie Jean-Francois, Jaclyn Giovis and Brian Haas contributed to this report.

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Trouble can strike fast at malls

Danger lurks in stores and parking lots

By Brian Haas and Jaclyn Giovis |South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 18, 2008

Almost once a week, a shopper finds herself face-to-face with a bad guy at a South Florida mall. And in nearly one of four cases, he's got a gun.

Eileen Cobb had just parked at Coral Square Mall in Coral Springs when a robber hiding behind two cars surprised her.

Tiffany Acosta was with her 10-year-old daughter and talking on her cell phone when a young man pulled a gun on her in the parking lot at Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines.

Ashley Rose Young was seven months pregnant when two teens pulled her from her car, threw her to the ground and stole her purse at Town Center at Boca Raton. "You go out thinking that you're just going to the mall," Young said. "But you don't think your whole life is going to change."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel analyzed the most violent crimes at South Florida malls over five years and found:

• Women are most likely to be targeted, and some robbers prey on mothers with children.

• Most crimes occur in daylight.

• Parking lots and garages are the most dangerous places at a mall, but security is often concentrated inside the mall.

• In four of five cases, surveillance cameras were non-existent, broken, or captured only flawed and useless images.

• In three of four cases, a suspect is not arrested or even identified.

From 2003 through 2007, more than 22,000 crimes were reported at 13 major malls in Broward, Palm Beach and north Miami-Dade counties, from Aventura to Palm Beach Gardens. Shoplifting and car burglaries were by far the most common incidents.

There were 508 violent crimes. About half of those involved scuffles between patrons, or between shoplifters and store loss prevention officers. The Sun-Sentinel focused on the other half — the most serious attacks on shoppers and mall employees.

Most mall companies declined to discuss specific cases or reveal details of their security programs, but all said security is a top priority.

"This is not your fly-by-night watch guard service," said John Petruzzi, vice president of corporate security for Simon Property Group, which owns 240 malls, including Town Center, Coral Square, Boynton Beach Mall, Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise and the Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach.

Determining which South Florida mall is most dangerous is difficult because of differences in foot traffic, crime in surrounding communities and other factors. But no mall has been immune to problems.

"We like to think of malls as refuges and places of calm but that's not reality, because they're wide open and they're part of the community," said Jonathan Lusher, managing partner for IPC International, a security company serving more than 400 U.S. malls, including at least five malls in South Florida.

Be aware

Extremely violent attacks are unusual, but do occur. In December, Nancy Bochicchio and her 7-year-old daughter, Joey, were found murdered at Town Center. In two cases two years apart at Coral Square, a teen and a young woman were abducted from the parking lot and raped.

The crime a South Florida shopper is most likely to face is robbery, typically a purse snatching, and some are more violent than others. Robbers confronted women with children at least nine times over the five-year period, including two cases at Pembroke Lakes in 2006, when a gunman threatened to shoot the children if the women did not comply with his demands.

More typical is Cobb's 2006 purse snatching at Coral Square. She was late for work that morning, and picking up a Christmas gift for her husband. When the young man demanded she get back into her car, "I didn't even know what was happening to me," said Cobb, 60, of Coral Springs. "I just said 'no' incredulously and stepped away."

He grabbed her purse. She turned to run and fell. A witness got a tag number, and an 18-year-old was arrested.

Today, Cobb carries fewer credit cards and parks far from clusters of cars, so there's no place for assailants to hide. "This is what life is today," she said. "You have to be aware."

Mall robbers strike fast, often working in pairs. They sometimes stump investigators by hitting malls in different cities and using, then ditching, stolen getaway cars.

Palm Beach County Sheriff's Capt. Greg Richter, whose jurisdiction includes the Wellington mall, said there's usually little evidence and no relationship between robber and victim, so it takes time to see a crook's pattern. "So it's a who-done-it," Richter said. "The suspect will have a chance to repeat the crime before we get a chance to catch them."

Victims must pay attention, police say, and memorize details — ideally, license plate numbers — for investigators to pursue.

Surveillance cameras provide another key investigative tool, said Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. Mike Nahum: "Video in court is unbeatable."

Camera trouble

Yet 83 percent of South Florida's most violent mall crimes either aren't captured on video or the video quality is too poor to be useful, the Sun-Sentinel found.

Most malls do not have security cameras monitoring their parking areas. A few malls do: Cameras are clearly visible in lots and garages at Aventura Mall, and in covered garages at Pembroke Lakes. Town Center has visible cameras on the outside of its parking garages, but not inside. At The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, about 50 cameras are split between common areas inside and parking lots, said Gary Frechette, director of security at The Gardens.

Malls occasionally erect mobile police observation towers to deter crime, and some large retailers have security cameras outside.

No camera caught two robbers punching Joyce Lichtenstein, 55, as she got out of her car in a handicapped space at The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale in 2004. The robbers chipped two of her teeth and sent a stream of blood from her nose before running off with her purse.

It remains unclear whether anyone was watching the Saks Fifth Avenue security monitors that captured images of the men casing the store entrance for at least 20 minutes before the attack, a police report shows. A Saks employee later told police she had noticed the men "loitering by the lobby area."

No one stopped them. There were no cameras in the garage to capture the attack itself, and there are none there today.

No one was arrested in the attack. Officials from The Galleria and its security company, Valor Security Services, declined to comment on the case. Lichtenstein is suing both companies.

At Coral Square, there were no cameras to capture the parking lot abductions of a 21-year-old in 2003 and a 17-year-old in 2005, both forced into vehicles, driven away and raped repeatedly. Both have sued the mall and its security company at the time, Control Security Services.

The teen was walking from the mall at 7 p.m. when the gunman struck, forcing her into her car and driving her to his apartment.

Where were Coral Square security guards?

All but one had rushed to the Big Tomato restaurant where managers feared a fired employee might start a fight, according to depositions in the lawsuit. The sole guard assigned to the parking lot that day, age 71, was nowhere to be found for four hours during his shift.

A suspect was arrested and awaits trial. The teen's civil case against the mall could go to trial this month, said her attorney, Bradley Winston.

In the earlier abduction at Coral Square, the woman was forced into a van by two men, driven around and raped. No one was arrested and the woman agreed to a confidential settlement of her civil suit, said her attorney, Barry Roderman.

Simon Property Group and Control Security Services, declined comment on the lawsuits. "They're unfortunate events," Petruzzi said. "They're very unfortunate events."

One former South Florida mall security director says some owners give shoppers a false sense of security. Michele Poling, head of security at Town Center from 2000 to 2002 then at Coral Square until March 2005, said it was common for both malls to under-staff parking lots.

Poling said she submitted her resignation before the attack on the 17-year-old, and her scheduled last day was the day of the rape. In the teen's lawsuit, Poling testified that she pleaded for more security to combat ongoing crime, but was repeatedly ignored. "They were more concerned with the appearance of security rather than actually having a safe environment," Poling said in a recent interview. "What came back from Simon corporate was it wasn't a good idea to put cameras in the mall because it could be a liability."

There are no cameras visible in the Coral Square lot today.

Unarmed guards

Mall security guards don't carry guns. They are trained to call police and protect themselves and shoppers by keeping a safe distance from criminals and violent situations, those in the industry say.

"Their primary responsibility is to observe and report," said Frechette, the security director at The Gardens. "Ninety percent of their job is customer service, giving directions, giving escorts and just being there. "Retail crimes such as shoplifting are handled by each store's loss prevention employees. Like mall security guards, loss prevention officers typically follow no-chase policies with suspects in an effort to minimize injuries, security officials say.

Frechette said mall guards are "the first line of defense" and work closely with police and play a key role controlling gangs, shoplifters and loitering teenagers.

Frechette was the only South Florida mall security official who would discuss specific placement of guards. He said his mall deploys six officers, about one third of its 20 guards, outside the mall.

The Gardens handles its own security, but most South Florida malls contract with security companies that specialize in shopping centers.

Petruzzi said Simon partners with three security companies in South Florida — IPC, Valor and Control. He said mall managers meet regularly with local police, and the company constantly reviews anti-crime measures and has made "multimillion dollar-investments in South Florida [security] in the past 12 months."

Experts say that shoppers must be vigilant. "You have to treat it like a hostile environment, unfortunately," said Los Angeles mall security consultant Chris McGoey.

Fighting back

Marie Fletcher, 84, heard the footsteps running up behind her and froze as she climbed out of her car at Coral Ridge Theater in Fort Lauderdale in May 2005.

The man shoved her back into the front seat while yanking hard on her purse, then jumped into a waiting black Nissan and sped off.

Fletcher knew she'd never remember the license plate number, so she focused on the make, model and color. The next day, she read a news item on a similar attack in Boca Raton, called police there, and helped investigators link the clues.

Fletcher's assailant, convicted in her case and others, is scheduled for release in 2015.

"I'll never forget it. The guy who snatched my purse just turned and grinned at me," recalled Fletcher, now 86. "I just made sure I got a very, very good look at that car."

Staff Writers Macollvie Jean-François, Tim Collie, Jerome Burdi, Leon Fooksman, Paula McMahon, Nancy Othón, Sofia Santana and Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

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Stay safe with these mall safety tips

May 18, 2008

Before you go:

Have a plan, noting where you'll likely park.

Share details with children and establish an emergency meeting spot at mall.

Leave your purse at home, or carry a small one that can be held tightly in your hand or under your arm. If you need a big purse, strap it across your body. (This won't deter all robbers, who have thrown women to the ground to yank purses away, but it makes you a less easy mark).

Carry limited credit cards instead of cash; keep a record of emergency account information.

At the mall:

Scan parking areas for suspicious people.

Do not linger in your car. Get in and out quickly, and teach children to do the same. Walk briskly and with purpose; have your keys ready.

Do not talk on your cell phone when walking through parking areas. Pay close attention to every person within a 30-foot zone ahead, beside and behind you.

Walk with purses and bags away from traffic to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.

Be wary of cars slowly trolling parking areas, especially cars moving toward you.

If you suspect you're being followed and can run, head toward the mall or a crowd. If you cannot run or have young children with you, make eye contact with the suspicious person — making it clear you will not be caught by surprise. If he comes close, yell, "Stop!"

If confronted by a robber, quickly hand over money and valuables requested. Do not fight back.

If confronted by a carjacker, hand over your keys and calmly exit the car.

If anyone tries to force you into a car, or otherwise take control of you, experts advise you to fight back as if your life depended on it. If an attacker can get you into a car and take you to another location, your chances of escaping unharmed drop dramatically.

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Safety Tips for Shopping at the Mall

By Julia Bodeeb White, published Jun 16, 2008

This article is written in memory of Nancy Bocchiccio and her daughter Joey, and Randi Gorenberg. In separate incidents, the two women and the 7 year-old-girl, Joey, were murdered after being carjacked at the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, Fla. Their killer has not been captured. A prior car jack victim at the mall, who was not killed, has described the killer as wearing a floppy hat and wraparound sunglasses. He has a small ponytail and his skin is a golden tint.

Stay Safe at the Mall

Does your mall have security cameras focused on the parking lot? If it doesn't do not shop there again. Mall parking lots are dangerous places. Many thousands of people pass through them everyday ; too often there are psychopaths among them, awaiting a victim. Do not shop at a mall or indeed any store that does not have security cameras in the parking lot.

The killer at the Boca Raton mall was in the victim's cars when they came out from the mall. So, before you get in your car look inside. Do not leave blankets or anything else a criminal could hide under in your car or SUV. If the lock on your car is broken when you arrive back at your car do not get in the vehicle. Go back in the mall and alert police.

When you are heading out to the mall turn your cell phone on so you may use it quickly in an emergency. Leave it in a pocket or somewhere else you may access easily.

Alert someone when you are going to the mall. Let someone know your schedule.

Do not go to the mall alone. Bring another adult to the mall with you. There is safety in numbers. Never go to the mall alone after dark.

When you are going into and coming out of the mall keep your hands free. Do not carry so much stuff you could never react quickly in an emergency.

If another vehicle has parked very close to yours on the side where you will enter the car do not approach your car. Someone could be hiding in the other vehicle about to jump out and kidnap you. Go back in the mall and ask security to come out and escort you to your car; have them check the car before you get in it or call the police.

Park as close to the entrance of the mall as possible. Take your time to find a safe parking space.

Do not dress in designer duds for the mall. Leave the fancy purse at home. Don't wear flashy jewels. Bling attracts criminals.

Be very, very aware of your surroundings at all times. While walking to and from your car do not yak on your cell phone. Do not rummage in your purse trying to find your keys. Do not leave the mall until you are equipped to make a quick, direct walk to your car and enter it as quickly as possible.

Crimes happen very quickly. Do not become a victim because you were too distracted to react immediately to an attack. Once a criminal has gotten you into a vehicle the odds you will be murdered greatly increase. If you see a predator approaching throw your keys to the vehicle as far away as you can. Throw the purse away from the vehicle too. If the carjacker just wants the vehicle or your money let it go; do not struggle with the predator over your purse or keys. Throw the items as far as you can then run in the other direction. Your life is worth far more than any money or possession.

Also consider taking a self defense class or googling self defense strategies to get tips on how to protect yourself. The flat base of your palm applied to the underside of the criminal's nose with force will probably break it giving you a chance to escape.

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