Don't start your holiday shopping without reading this...

As consumers prepare for the holiday shopping season, they'll hear countless tips that claim to help keep criminals at bay.

Shoppers, however, don't just go to the big box retailers or malls anymore; they patron small businesses and shop online.

That means how shoppers protect themselves, while celebrating the holidays, has also changed.

Toledo Police have already set up one of their mobile SkyCop cameras at the Westfield Franklin Park Mall to discourage thieves and potentially catch them in the act.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWineâ??s office also provides local law enforcement agencies with a Bait Car, which is wired with cameras and recording devices allowing police to watch activity remotely.

â??We want Ohioans to have a safe and happy holiday season, free of scams and thefts,â?? Attorney General DeWine said. â??Itâ??s a busy time of year, and distractions can put us at greater risk for problems. Fortunately, taking a few proactive steps can go a long way to keeping you and your family safe.â??

Consumers in Ohio who want report a potential scam or file a complaint are urged to contact the state Attorney General's Office directly at 800-282-0515.

The Ohio AG's office also has some other advice for staying safe while shopping at stores, malls and online:

  • Reduce distractions, such as using a cell phone, while walking to your car, especially at night.

  • Check your accounts regularly. This may help you identify fraudulent charges or identity theft.

  • Make sure a website is secure before entering your information. The web address should say â??https.â?? The â??sâ?? indicates that the connection is secure. Limit the number of valuables you carry to minimize potential loss.

  • Never leave personal items or packages in plain sight in your vehicle. This includes money (even loose change), credit cards, cell phones, laptops, tablets, purses, and GPS units.

  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. At this time of year, con artists may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.

  • Check a websiteâ??s reputation before making a purchase. Look for complaints filed with the Attorney General and Better Business Bureau and do a basic Internet search with the websiteâ??s name and the word â??scamâ?? to look for potential red flags.

  • Only give out personal information that is necessary to complete the transaction.

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