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Andrea's column: Shoppers, beware!

A friend and I have had numerous discussions lately about people taking advantage of others. It started a few weeks ago when she told me about her encounter in a SuperTarget parking lot. She had been walking towards the store when a middle-aged woman drove alongside her and asked for help. The woman had just returned a coat at customer service but because she did not have a receipt, she was given a store credit for the value -- 60 dollars.

Could my friend help her? she wondered. She forgot her purse at home and was late for her chemotherapy appointment. She offered the credit at a bargain price. Fifty dollars.

"You'll probably spend at least that," she said, trying to cinch the deal. My friend said she wouldn't and walked away. Once inside, she told someone at customer service what had happened but after she finished shopping, my friend saw the woman was still driving around the lot trying to find someone to take her up on her offer.

"People should know about this," my friend said when she told the story at our book club meeting a week later. "This is a scam." And for sure, when she mentioned the chemo appointment, we all groaned because the story seemed implausible.

It is that time of year, folks. As a police officer cautioned a relative of mine a couple of years ago, tell your wives and daughters to hold on tight to their purses and backpacks. The malls and shopping centers are full of people who want to get their hands on your money.

Another friend learned that lesson while visiting New York during the holidays. After making a purchase with a credit card at an upscale department store, she returned the card to the wallet in her shoulder bag. A few minutes later, after an escalator trip to the next floor, her wallet was gone. No doubt slipped from its resting place by the person riding behind her on the moving staircase.

When I told that story to my other friend, she said something similar happened to her mother during a shopping trip. She had gone into a store's rest room and hung her purse on the hook inside the stall door. All she could do was watch as someone reached over the door and lifted her handbag off the curved piece of metal.

"That is why I never leave anything in my car," said my friend. "Especially, during the holidays, I put things in my trunk."

My husband and I did the same when we shopped for Christmas gifts. Between stores at the mall, he went to the parking ramp and locked our purchases in the trunk of the car. But then, a police officer told me crooks are on the lookout for that kind of behavior.

"It only takes a second," the officer said. When you are out of sight, they casually walk behind your car and pop the lock with a small hand-held tool.

"It makes me feel sad" said my friend. "Why do people feel it is okay? That their needs are more important than someone else's."

That is the start of a never-ending discussion, isn't it?