The holidays: They're a time for getting together with family, sipping chocolate by the fireplace, opening up presents, and…getting burglarized?
Surprisingly, that's a yes to all of the above. In fact, nearly 400,000 burglaries take place in the United States between November and December each year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In fact, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) says that families should be extra vigilant during the winter months, especially if your home is filled with shiny new gifts or if you have impending travel plans.
So what can you do to protect your family? Keep reading for five tips on how to keep your home safe during the holidays…
Tip #1 - Protect Your Home with a Home Security System
We've all seen the "Home Alone" movies that make Christmas break-ins look like fun and games. But there's nothing amusing about putting your family in harm's way.
That's why Ron Walters, director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), suggests that all families invest in a home security system.
"The biggest deterrent for burglars is an alarm system," says Walters, who's also a former burglary detective.
According to statistics from a 2009 study by the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, Walters may be on to something. The study found that an installed burglar alarm makes a home less attractive to intruders by 20 percent.
The study also notes that "Neighborhoods in which burglar alarms were densely installed have fewer incidents of residential burglaries than the neighborhoods with fewer burglar alarms."
Tip #2 - Don't Advertise Your Travel Plans
There's a reason why airports are a nightmare during the holidays - and it's not just the torrential winter weather. No, airports are a mess during the holidays because everyone is travelling. That is, everyone except burglars, who instead will be scheming ways to take advantage of your empty home.
In fact, burglars prefer to break into homes that are unoccupied because if they're caught in the act, it's considered by law to be less of a crime than if they were to burglarize an occupied home, says Walters.
Because of this, Walters offers this bit of advice for travelers: "However your house would normally look when you're at home, that's how you want it to look when you're travelling. If you could leave a car in the driveway, you should. "
Basically, the more "lived-in" your home can look - the better. The Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department offers some holiday safety traveling tips:
- Get an automatic timer for your lights.
- Ask a neighbor to watch your home, shovel snow, and park in the driveway from time to time.
- Don't forget to have mail and newspaper delivery stopped. If it piles up, it's a sure sign you're gone.
Tip #3 - Don't Show Off Your Gifts
Whether you're celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, it's almost a given that once December hits, presents will start rolling into your home.
Unfortunately, your kids aren't the only ones excited about their holiday gifts. Burglars will be keeping tabs, too.
For that reason, the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department notes that "Large displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through the windows and doors of your home."
The Police Department also says that you should keep your gifts under wraps - even after they've been unwrapped.
"In too many cases, residents make it easy for burglars to figure out which homes to target by putting boxes that identify their new gifts in plain view with their other garbage," says the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. "Some burglars actually look inside garbage cans for evidence of holiday gifts."
To avoid becoming a victim of holiday burglary, Walters says you should cut up the boxes that your presents came in - especially if they're related to pricey electronics, like a flat screen TV or laptop. Most importantly, he says not to throw boxes away on the street.
Tip #4 - Update/Secure Your Home's Entry Points
Burglars: They're lazy. Yes, you read that right.
As much as they want to steal our belongings, burglars prefer to take the easy way out and go after homes that are an easy target.
Less-than-sturdy windows and doors, for example, could attract burglars to your home during the holidays.
On top of that, Walters says the biggest misconception people have is that a deadbolt lock will keep them safe. However, "If you don't reinforce the area around the lock, it takes no strength to break into a home," he says.
A report on the burglary of single-family homes by the U.S. Department of Justice offers similar sentiments.
"Poor building materials can make houses more vulnerable to burglary," notes the report. "Older houses may have rusting, easily compromised locks or worn and decaying window and door frames, while newer houses may be built with cheap materials."
So, what can you do to better burglar-proof your home this holiday season?
"Go to the home improvement store," says Walters."Look at the different items that are there, talk to the salespeople, and ask them how you can secure your home and strengthen the area around your dead bolt lock."
Tip #5 - Be Very Aware of Your Surroundings
This tip sounds a little ominous, we know, but with safety and holiday cheer at stake - it's best to be overly cautious.
Here's why: "Most burglars live in the neighborhood where they commit the crime," says Walters.
"So you want to be careful when bringing in gifts or items into your home," Walters adds. Before unloading your car, make sure that you weren't followed back home from the shopping mall, or that there's no one suspicious lurking on your street.
Something else you might want to consider during the holidays: travelling in a pack.
"If there's any opportunity to have more people around you, then make sure you do," says Walters. "Burglars won't likely approach you if you're with three or four other people."
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