Dear Heloise: In my years as a police officer, I took a lot of moonlighting jobs in retail security. In about 95 percent of the cases, when you find an item completely out of place, like a package of steaks with the canned goods in a grocery store or earrings in the underwear section in a department store, that item is there because the person who intended to steal it felt security was too close to get away with it.

Shoplifters, for the most part, are well-practiced and well-trained. If they feel the heat, they'll dump the goods. They know they can't get busted for shoplifting unless they actually pass the checkout and attempt to exit the store with the goods. If they see an employee or an apparent customer (who may be plainclothes security) giving them the eye, they'll dump the goods and usually leave the store within five minutes or so.

I caught one shoplifter who had rigged a purse with a fake bottom. When apprehended, there was nearly $1,000 worth of small, high-end items from several stores in the mall. They could have been sold, netting the thief several hundred dollars. — C.E., via e-mail

Shoplifters cause BILLIONS of dollars of theft annually, and that cost gets passed on to us, the consumers. Readers, if you suspect someone of shoplifting, alert a store employee. — Heloise

P.S.: I'd be happy to print comments from people in retail about this subject.

Dear Heloise: We live in the D.C. area and like to go to museums and festivals as a family. My children are 4 and 6 and have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), so it is extra hard to keep them next to us. Wherever we go, we establish a meeting place for anyone in the family who gets lost. I also write my cell number on their arm, stomach or wristband where no one can see it. The girls know that if they truly are lost, they need to find a mother or someone in uniform, tell the person they are lost, and show them my cell number. — Janet, Reston, Va.

Dear Heloise: When I am in a store parking lot and have to load items into the trunk, the first thing I do is put my purse in the car and lock the car. Just be sure to keep your keys in your hand or pocket. Now my purse cannot be easily snatched out of the buggy while I am distracted putting my bags in the trunk. — Lynn, North Jackson, Ohio

Dear Heloise: I live in San Diego, where water is at a premium. When I blanch asparagus or broccoli and then rinse it in an ice bath, I save the water, cool it and use it for my houseplants. Since the water is green, I suspect that some of the vitamins are in the leftover water. — Brenda in California

Send a money-saving or timesaving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, TX 78279-5000, or you can fax it to 1-210-HELOISE or e-mail it to I can't answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column. © King Features Syndicate Inc.