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Block That Bag Burglar!

Don't let handbag hoodlums hinder your holidays

'Twas the week before Christmas, and I was walking through Grand Central Station on my way to work. That's when one of New York's finest — thieves, that is — slipped his hand inside my chic new bag and snatched my wallet and Filofax. (Don't worry, darlings, this all went down in the Big Apple in 1985, not this week.)

The wallet contained IDs, credit cards and $500 in cash. The Filofax held all my business and personal contacts.

I blamed the mishap on my trendy, easy-access tote bag, but my lack of street sense was just as responsible. Either way, I've chosen only rip-off-resistant bags since then, and I clutch my purse in public like a woman suffering from pickpocket paranoia syndrome. (Which I am — and so should you hold on tight, for the reasons I detail below.)

Style comes second. My personal protection starts with a sturdy, synthetic-fabric, cross-body messenger bag that offers a buckle snap over a hidden full-zipper closure. There's no way, theoretically, anyone can snatch it out of my hand or off my shoulder, sneak a hand inside or slice through the industrial-strength shoulder strap.

I bought my original version of this bag back in 1985, so I don't feel too guilty planning to purchase a new one for my upcoming birthday. As I see it, my options are three:

1. Splurge on a Prada. (My beat-up current model did last 30 years.)

Prada, Vela Flap-Front Messenger Bag

Prada Vela Flap-Front Messenger Bag

2. Opt for a more moderate designer model by the likes of Tory Burch, Marc Jacobs or Calvin Klein.

Tory Burch	Nylon Swing Pack Crossbody Bag

Tory Burch Nylon Swing Pack Crossbody Bag

3. Choose a low-cost style from a retailer such as Target, the Gap or L.L. Bean.

LL Bean, Osprey FlapJack Courier Bag

LL Bean, Osprey FlapJack Courier Bag

A few more tips to ward off thieves:

Practice crowd control. If you're in the habit of carrying an open-top bag of any kind, your neighborhood bandit will delight in seeing you walk into a busy mall, a subway train, an airport line or an elevator car. To remove yourself from his target list, choose a cross-body strap, or keep a firm grip on the shoulder strap or handle of a satchel.

Especially in elevators and on escalators, where someone can easily grab your bag and quickly disappear, keep your hand over flaps, latches and zippers. If you must carry a zip-top bag, hold it with the zipper pull in front. And no matter how tempting it may be to leave snaps, zips or flaps open to easily reach your phone or shopping list, don't!

Sit, shop and drive safely. When you sit down, no matter where you park your tuchus (in a restaurant, doctor's waiting room, hotel lobby or theater), keep your bag in your lap. If it's too big or bulky, stash it securely between your feet — never on an adjacent empty seat, under your chair or hooked over the back of it. Never put your bag in the kiddie seat of a grocery cart, either. I did that once while perusing the spinach and turned back to find a well-dressed woman "just admiring" my bag. Finally, stash your bag safely out of sight on the floor when you're driving — please, not on the passenger seat.

Don't get rooked by a run-in. Bag boosters love sales and selfies. They "shop" for victims they spot rifling through clothing racks, waiting in line to check out or taking photos. That's when they dispatch a decoy whose job is to "accidentally" bump into you, then distract you with questions or compliments while her accomplice roots through your handbag (not a difficult task since it's usually dangling on your arm at this point).

My fashion tips for women 50-plus can be found in my latest book, The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love After 50.

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