GREENSBORO, NC – The holidays are fast approaching and many people are already out and about shopping for gifts and groceries but police say crowded parking lots create more opportunities for criminals to take advantage of innocent people.

Police in Cary, NC are warning about a crime ring targeting people just pushing along their shopping carts in parking lots.

Several women over the age of 50 have been robbed in shopping centers over the last few weeks.

Police say these crimes could happen to anybody, anywhere.

Corporal Neal with the Greensboro Police Department says the key to preventing yourself from becoming a victim is to be alert.

Neal says the most important time for you to be alert is going to and from your car.

Make sure you carry your keys and your cell phone in hand instead of having to fumble around through your purse or pocket in case something happens.

“More people are out shopping,” said Neal. “That's more opportunities that someone may look at to break the law and steal things.”

It’s still early in the holiday season, but many people were out shopping in Greensboro on Saturday afternoon.

“I love it when there's not a lot of people,” said Dominique Clark. “So I try to go first thing in the morning.”

“I usually try to get my holiday shopping done before all the madness starts,” said Amber Lemons. “I feel like it's much safer that way.”

While out shopping, police say park in well-lit areas, keep your packages in your car, shop with others, and plan ahead.

“Most people don't think like a criminal because most people are not criminals,” said Neal. “They don't think what could be hiding here or what could be hiding there.”

Police say a lot of criminals like to use an old trick -- working in teams.

One person will approach their target as a distraction, then another person will come from behind and steal their wallet or purse and they take off before the victim even knows what happened.

Shoppers like Donna Chase know they can’t fall into a false sense of security out in public.

“I do want to be smart and I want to be aware of my surroundings,” said Chase. “Especially during the holiday season, that's extremely important to be more aware of that.”

Even if you consider your favorite shopping center a “safe place,” police say you can never be too careful.

“People assume that ‘I shop on this side of town and it's safer or I shop on this side of town and it's more dangerous.’ The location is irrelevant,” said Neal.

For shoppers like Dominique Clark, keeping a close eye on her son is the top priority.

“I used to be one of those people that used to shop and didn't think about it but now that I'm a mom, I keep everything close to me,” said Clark. “I make sure he's close to me.”

Another thing to keep in mind, be confident.

Police say you should make eye contact with people as they pass by.

It may feel awkward, but police say it lets potential criminals know that you’re on high alert.

Neal says don’t be afraid to call police if you see something suspicious.

“By you calling us, that may prevent a crime from occurring,” said Neal. “It may prevent you from becoming a victim or may prevent somebody else from becoming a victim.”

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