The holidays are here and for many of us, that means there will be travel in our plans over the next several weeks. This means many of us will be leaving our homes empty and unattended more than usual, and more than we did last year due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when thieves are looking around more and more for easy access to empty homes and unattended packages and holiday gifts. Don’t allow your home to be an easy target for these criminals. Instead, follow our tips for keeping your home and belongings secure, whether you are headed out for an evening holiday party or a full two week vacation. Many of these tips are common sense ideas that you are already doing, but during this time of year even the most diligent of us may forget.
Lock It Up
This one sounds like a no brainer, right? After all, you always lock all of your doors before you leave the house. But given that criminals are often even more brazen than usual this time of year, now is the time when you will want to double check that all of your windows are also locked, especially those on the ground floor. If you do not normally lock the door to your garage, begin to get into that habit now. If someone is able to get into your garage, you don’t want them to be able to get all the way into your house. Also be sure to check on any seldom used doors, such as that of a basement or storage shed. And of course, lock your cars when you are home, even if you feel that you live in a safe neighborhood. At this time of year thieves will often begin checking out new and different neighborhoods to find just the right easy victim.
Don’t Let Mail or Packages Pile Up
There’s nothing more of a dead giveaway that you are out of town than a stack of newspapers piled up at the end of your driveway, an overstuffed mailbox, or numerous boxes hanging out on your doorstep. Professional thieves often ride through neighborhoods specifically looking for these telltale signs of an unoccupied house. Not only is that stack of Amazon boxes at the front door tempting to thieves looking for an easy target, but while they are loading up your packages, they may also decide to find a way into your home to help themselves to other treats inside.
If you have set dates that you plan to be out of town, contact your post office to hold all mail until you return. If you are a frequent Amazon customer, you can have those deliveries held for you as well by using the Amazon Locker service. Intercepting newspaper and package deliveries might not be as easy, so enlist the help of a friend or neighbor to make sure these items are stored out of sight until you return home. If you don’t have a close friend who can take care of this for you, check your neighborhood Facebook page or community website. There are many teenagers looking to earn extra money by helping with tasks such as dog walking, watering plants and babysitting during the holidays. Most would be happy to gather your mail and packages for a nominal fee while you are away.
Ditch the Hidden Spare Key
You may think you are being inventive with the places you come up with to stash spare keys outside of your home, but most career criminals have seen it all, and can easily guess which hiding places you choose. Under a doormat or a fake rock are the most common places that a criminal will think to look, but many have also been known to nose around in outdoor planters and underneath yard decor. It is safer to skip leaving a key out altogether.
If you must keep a spare key in an accessible location, instead leave one with a trusted neighbor or family friend. Even if it is someone who is not just around the corner, this is safer than leaving a key out where a thief can find it and help themselves to the contents of your home. And really, we recommend having someone look in on your home from time to time anyway if you have someone you trust who can do this. So give them a copy of your key in person and ask them to keep it in a safe location.
Continue Home Care Services in Your Absence
Don’t use your vacation as an opportunity to give your lawncare or landscaping service the week off as well. Thieves who are on the lookout for empty houses will notice if your grass is overgrown compared to that of your neighbors, or will see the piles of leaves that have not been blown away. If you normally take care of such tasks yourself, consider hiring someone to do this for you while you are away so that the exterior of your home still looks as clean and clear as that of your neighbors.
Another reason why it is good to keep your normal home maintenance schedule in place? You don’t want to let those services know when you will gone either. Of course we don’t want to insinuate that the people who provide service to your home could have nefarious intentions, but the occasional bad apple can fall through the background check cracks. The safest plan is to not let anyone know you will be out of town.
Use Your Lights Wisely
Smart lights can be incredibly useful for many reasons, but the added convenience they provide is not their only benefit. When you can control the lights in your home from an app no matter where you are, you can make it appear that your home is occupied at all hours of the day and night. You can turn lights on and off whenever you like, or set a schedule, though we recommend randomizing the times so that potential thieves do not pick up on a pattern. Some smart light apps even have this as a setting called vacation mode, where you can mimic what would normally happen if you and your family are at home.
Outdoor lights with motion detectors are also very useful for protecting your home, especially when you are away. If you do not already have these, consider installing them before your next major vacation. Lights that turn on automatically whenever motion is detected will deter most thieves, as no one wants to draw attention to their crimes. Most thieves know that these lights often come with cameras that will record their bad deeds leading to a positive identification later.
Don’t Publicize Your Plans
While it may be tempting to allude to your upcoming trips on social media, it is safer to not mention that you will be away, even if you think no one can see your posts but close friends. Privacy settings can be tricky on sites like Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes you’ll find you have shared information with far more people than you might realize. When you are posting while away, turn off any location based features so that even if your status doesn’t mention travel, the location won’t be posted, thereby giving your plans away.
Does this mean you can’t post all your wonderful holiday travel pictures? No, but you should delay posting until you have returned home. Once you are safely back in your secured house, feel free to show off your travels. It is better for potential thieves to see where you have been rather than know that your home is empty while you are away.
Don’t Publicize with Your Trash and Recycling Either
You might be surprised at this enterprising idea some thieves have for deciding which houses to hit. Some will cruise through neighborhoods on trash day to see what sort of packaging has been put outside to be thrown out or recycled. While some criminals will be so brazen as to actually dig through your refuse bins, most are merely looking to see what sort of cardboard boxes you’ve recently emptied of their valuable contents. Items like new computers, televisions and even bags from local jewelers should be hidden out of plain view while you are waiting for your trash and recycling pickup. This is especially important just after the holidays when the packaging for all of our new toys needs to be thrown away.
Trust but Verify Charitable Requests
Even if your neighborhood has rules and regulations against solicitation, many charities are more active during the holiday season and you may find that people are going door to door in your neighborhood seeking donations. The unfortunate thing is that you can’t really be sure about whether the people who come to your door really represent the organizations that they claim to. Their stop by your home could be a sham where they try to get some money out of you, or they may be fishing for information that can help them know when would be the best time to break into you home and what sort of valuables they may find. Even during the holidays, continue to research charities before donating, and continue your usual method of charitable giving.