Christmas is coming, which means lots of people will be going off on vacations or visits to far-flung relatives. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for thieves, too. An FBI study found that more than 400,000 burglaries occur every year in the U.S. during November and December, and fewer than 15% of those reported are ever solved. Thieves are on the outlook for easy pickings. The easiest of all? Homes that are obviously unoccupied. Burglaries and subsequent claims to replace what the crooks made off with drive up the cost of your homeowners insurance. Protect your stuff and keep homeowners insurance premiums low with these tips.
Do not post your plans or your itinerary on social media. USAToday.com tech columnist Kim Komando says the bad guys with access to Google Street View and a rough clue of where you live can use the info to case and rob your home. She recommends that you check your privacy settings before you go and wait until you’ve returned to let everyone know what a swell time you had. She also warns that functions like Facebook Graph Search give others access to your old posts, comments, photo tags, location data and more, which criminals can use to collect valuable info about where you live, your work schedule, your recent purchases and more.
Look Like You’re There
You’ve heard these tips before but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them. SafeSoundFamily.com recommends that you:
- Cancel mail and newspaper delivery and pay a neighbor to pick up any packages or flyers daily so they don’t pile up on your doorstep announcing your absence.
- Set timers to turn lights and the TV or a radio on and off. Invest in a system that does this randomly and in different rooms to mimic the appearance of occupancy.
- If it snows where you live, arrange for someone to remove it. If the grass is still growing, have your gardener continue to mow it in your absence.
- Leave a car in the driveway. Maybe that nice neighbor can also move it once a day.
- If you have a security system, let crooks know. Put out the yard sign or the window stickers.
- Leave a couple cheap toys on the lawn.
- Don’t leave a message on your answering machine saying you’re away from home.
Batten Down Your Hatches
Don’t make it easy for thieves to get inside while you’re away:
- Install deadbolt locks and security hinges on exterior doors. Use slide locks for French doors and sliding glass doors.
- Install mechanisms to prevent windows from being easily opened.
- Store your jewelry, coin and stamp collections and other valuables in a safe, preferably one that’s located somewhere other than your home.
- Give the hide-a-key (the one under the flower pot by the front door) to a trusted friend or neighbor.
- If you have a security system, notify the company that you’ll be away. If you don’t have a security system think about getting one — it’s often good for a discount on your homeowners insurance.
- Install security lighting.
- Be sure to lock up any outbuildings, such as garages and storage sheds.
Hazard Proof Your Home
Thieves aren’t the only thing you need to worry about when you’re away from home on holiday. Travelers.com recommends that you take these steps to prevent damage from fire, storms and critters:
- Leave the heat on at 55F to prevent pipes from freezing. If you have fuel tanks, be sure to have them filled before you go.
- Open cupboards and cabinet doors slightly to allow warm air to circulate.
- Have your heating system and fireplace inspected before you go.
- Install blankets on outdoor spigots and pipes in areas prone to freezing.
- Have trees trimmed to prevent storm damage.
- Give a neighbor a key so he or she can check for any heating, electrical or water issues while you’re gone.
- Unplug small electrical appliances, computers, TV etc.
- Close the fireplace flue to prevent bats, birds, squirrels and other critters from gaining access to your home.
If you’ll be gone more than 30 days, check with your homeowners insurance company to see what their policy is regarding long-term absence. Don’t just assume you’ll be covered. Some policies have exclusions for property neglect or abandonment that kick in if your home has been empty for 30 or 60 days. You can cover this with a simple endorsement to your existing policy or with a vacant-home policy, also called unoccupied property insurance. You can shop for those as well as standard homeowners and renters insurance here.
 “Burglary risk rises during holiday season,” http://www.calaverasenterprise.com/news/article_b9c626a-56c3-11e3-9352-001a4bcf887a.html
 Kim Komando, “Tip: Burglars use social media to target homes,” http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2014/01/03/social-media-identity-theft-home-videos/4248601/
 Kim Komando, “4 ways burglars use social media to target you,” http://www.komando.com/tips/12469/4-ways-burglars-use-social-media-to-target-you/all
 Erin Raub, “10 Ways to Protect Your Home While You’re Away/On Vacation,” http://safesoundfamily.com/blog/10-ways-to-protect-your-home-while-youre-on-vacation
 “Attention Snowbirds: Protect your home while away for the winter,” https://www.traverlers.com/prepare-prevent/home-insurance/home-safety/snowbird-home-winterization.aspx