Well, here we are - Christmas is only eight days away. For many of us that means it's time to kick up our holiday shopping effort.

This also is the busy season for criminals to take advantage of shoppers.

Reports of items stolen from parked cars can be expected. Thieves are bold. It doesn't seem to matter whether you're parked next to a store or farther away in a large parking lot.

Here are some tips to ensure a safe shopping experience...

• Always be aware of your surroundings. When you're in a crowd of hundreds of other shoppers, it's easy to make silly mistakes such as leaving your shopping cart unattended with your purse or jacket in plain view.

• Keep your car locked at all times. Conceal all purchased items in your vehicle's trunk or keep them hidden out of sight in the vehicle.

• If shopping at night, know your surroundings and position yourself near a well-lit area. Shop in pairs.

• Break your shopping up into smaller trips or go with a friend. Struggling with a large number of shopping bags makes it difficult to get to car keys or maneuver out of a threatening situation. If the store has shopping carts, take your shopping to your car in a cart. This will free your hands for self-defense, if necessary.

• Don't make trips to your car between stores if you can help it. Thieves may be watching to see which cars have merchandise to steal.

• Look around the parking lot before you go to your car. If you see anything that doesn't seem right, or even if you feel like something is wrong but don't know what it is, have someone from store security walk with you, especially at night.

• Have your keys ready before you reach your car. Open only the trunk or door you need to open to put your packages into the car.

If you're alert and take a few special precautions you are less likely to become a victim.