Tis the Season…for Theft?
The days get shorter. Leaves transform seemingly overnight to the vibrant shades of autumn before falling for the winter. Sweaters and boots replace tank tops and flip flops. Houses warm with fires and holiday cooking. Families come together to celebrate love and thankfulness. When we think of the beginning of the holiday season, these are the images that come to mind. Unfortunately, the most wonderful time of year is also the most common time of the year to become a victim of theft. Home and auto theft inflates by nearly thirty percent, and identity theft increases a terrifying fifty percent. Luckily, the vast majority of these thefts are considered crimes of opportunity. By following a few simple guidelines you can protect your family from loss.
How can I protect my home while I am away?
There are nearly two million home burglaries each year. There are many precautions one can take to prevent inclusion with this statistic.
- When traveling for the holidays, whether for a winter vacation or a weekend trip with family, be sure NEVER to post your plans to leave home on social media. While it may seem harmless to post a quick tweet, status update, or photo showing off your perfect Thanksgiving turkey, new favorite Christmas gift, or fantastic ocean view, making these details public informs a potential burglar (who may have seen that status you posted about your new HD TV) that your home is empty. Even if you have privacy settings on your profiles, friends of your friends can still see some things you post. While it is tempting to show your friends what you are up to, wait to post until you are safely home.
- If you are planning to leave home remember to cancel your newspaper. If possible, also have the post office hold your mail. If you are unable to do so or forget in your haste to leave, ask a trusted neighbor to collect your mail and papers for you. Nothing says “We aren’t home” like a stack of papers on the stoop.
- Install timers for your lights. We often see timers used for outdoor lighting, but consider using a few inside as well. Lights on indoors give the illusion that you are home. This simple technique can decrease home theft by as much as sixty percent.
- Keep bushes and trees near the house trimmed. Unkempt bushes and trees make excellent hiding places for thieves. Tree limbs can even provide access to entry on the second floor.
- Consider purchasing an alarm system. While this may seem like a hefty expense at first, the system will eventually pay for itself. The vast majority of alarm systems also come with insignia for your yard or windows informing a potential burglar that your home is protected. As an added bonus, many homeowners insurance policies will give you a credit on your premiums when you can show proof that you have an active alarm system in place.
Okay, but what are the odds that my vehicle will be stolen?
Having your car stolen during the winter months actually isn’t a huge risk. A thief is far more interested in what they can find inside your vehicle. Current statistics show that more than one third of the American population will participate in Black Friday shopping. After purchase, the average shopper will place their gifts in the car and head to another store. Consider the following tips to prevent theft of your items as well as avoid vandalism to your vehicle:
- Close and lock your vehicle at all times. Be sure doors are secured and all windows are closed tightly.
- Be sure your car is clear of all items. It is tempting to leave bulky purses or electronics in the car. Items like this catch the eye of would-be thieves and make you a target. Some perpetrators have even stated that seeing a shopping bag that looked empty prompted them to break into a car; small items such as jewelry and cell phones take up very little space but are valuable nonetheless. For this reason you should be sure to keep your car clear of any trash as well.
- Keep purchases hidden. If you do not wish to carry your purchases with you, be sure to store them in the trunk of the car. Also consider bringing purchases home between different stores.
Can I really prevent identity theft?
Online shopping is becoming increasingly more popular. This is especially evident given the advent of Cyber Monday sales. Every day, tech savvy opportunists find inventive new ways to obtain your sensitive information for their own personal gain. While it is nearly impossible to eradicate identity theft entirely, there are steps you can take to protect yourself – especially when making purchases over the internet.
- Check the web address. When shopping online, be sure to check the URL; does it begin with “http” or “https”? A URL beginning with “https” means the page is secure. You should NEVER enter credit card information on a page that does not begin with “https”.
- Avoid storing your information on websites. Many websites offer the ability to save your credit card information for speedier check outs in the future. While it may be tempting to not have to enter this information repeatedly on sites you frequent, the amount of time it saves is not worth as much as knowing that you and your assets are protected.
- Use complex passwords. Many times, online retailers require user names and passwords. As with any other passwords, it is crucial that you create a complicated password using letters, numbers, and special symbols. Also consider changing your password a few times a year as a preventative measure.
- Keep personal items close. When shopping during the holiday season, carry handbags in front of you instead of carrying them on your shoulders. Wallets should be moved from a back pocket to the front. Pickpockets are skilled at removing wallets from back pockets or shoulder bags, as they are swift and out of sight. Once they have your wallet they have access to your credit card information.
Theft can be avoided!
It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday spirit. Unfortunately in our excitement we often become lax with protecting ourselves and our property. Always be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to avoid becoming a victim of holiday crime. By following these simple steps, you can ensure a holly jolly holiday season!