(BPT) - During the holidays, family and friends will be gathering to share stories, hand out gifts and enjoy time spent together. It is also a season with houses left empty and large piles of valuable gifts often sitting out in plain sight through the windows – making this time of year ideal for would-be burglars.
"Taking steps to protect your home during the holidays isn't radically different from what most people should be doing the rest of the year," says Thomas Leman, a retired 27-year police force veteran and criminal justice professor at Argosy University, Online Programs. Yet, according to the FBI, victims of burglaries suffered a loss of $4.7 billion in 2012 alone. "The problem," says Leman, "is that most people get lured into a false sense of security and tend to let their guard down thinking that crime won't happen to them."
Just as the holidays seem to start with the change in your home decor, so should your view on safety. When it comes to holiday decorations, modesty is definitely the best policy, says Leman. "While you may love the look of a Christmas tree in your front window, expensive decorations on display can be a signal that there are valuables inside your home worth a criminal's time. Gifts under the tree are the most blatant of these displays and are a welcome invitation for thieves." Leaving gifts tucked away until the last possible minute is a quick and easy safety precaution.
Whether you are home or out and about, take care to close and lock all doors and windows and set alarms. "Given that most people have extra valuables and gifts in their homes during this time, it's a good idea to practice home safety whether you're there or not," says Leman.
USAA, a leading provider of banking, insurance and investment services to the military community, advises customers to install tapered inch-long deadbolt locks on exterior doors to make it harder for a wrench to twist the door open. Leman adds that a simple dowel placed in a sliding glass door or window can be an inexpensive way to secure those entrance points as well.
"Alarms or closed circuit video surveillance systems are a great and inexpensive way to protect your home," says Leman.
A well-lit and well-groomed home not only shows well, but provides an important measure of safety. "The better the lighting in your home and yard, the fewer places there are for criminals to lurk," says Leman. USAA recommends homeowners use the "3 foot/6 foot rule," trimming branches to 6 feet off the ground and shrubs down to 3 feet to minimize hiding places for burglars.
While leaving the box for your new 55-inch flat screen on the curb will win you cool points with the neighborhood and the title of host of the next big football party, it could land you in trouble with potential burglars. "When it comes to big ticket items and valuables, boxes on the curb can be an advertisement for the new valuables in your home," cautions Leman. "Take the time to break down boxes and recycle them or put them on the curb over time and inconspicuously," he advises.
If you plan on traveling for the holidays, you need to plan ahead for home safety. Whether you opt to have a neighbor collect mail and newspapers or have your service stopped by calling the post office and your neighborhood delivery person, be sure neither piles up at home. "Set your lights and television on timers," suggests Leman, who also advises homeowners to have a neighbor park their car in your driveway intermittently to keep up the appearance someone is home.
While keeping your home safe may not top the list of your holiday to-dos, taking a few extra precautions can go a long way to make sure your season stays merry and bright.