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As you and your family are out enjoying the festivities of the holiday season, you are at risk of being a victim of theft in two major ways. The holiday season brings a significant increase in property theft crimes and identity theft crimes during this time of year.
A large number of home burglaries occur during the winter months when many homeowners are out-of-town for the holidays and the house is full of gifts received and to-be-given. Crooks will steal electronics and jewelry and even the presents under the tree.
"Everyone needs to make sure their homes are not an ‘easy mark' for thieves determined to steal their holiday joy," said Renee Carter, state director of the Alabama Insurance Information Service. "By taking some simple precautions, homeowners can prevent burglaries at this hectic time of year."
But in today's technology driven society, the presents under the trees are not the only items at risk of being stolen. Thieves take information from identifying documents and use it to impersonate a victim, steal from bank accounts, establish phony insurance policies, or open unauthorized credit card accounts.
Theft of personal possessions and damage to the home caused by a break-in is covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy. If you have replacement cost coverage, your insurer will replace a stolen item without deducting for depreciation. Actual cash value coverage means you will only be reimbursed for what the stolen item is worth today. Identity theft insurance, when purchased as a stand-alone policy, often provides reimbursement to crime victims for the cost of restoring their identity and repairing credit reports. It generally covers expenses such as phone bills, lost wages, notary and certified mailing costs, and sometimes attorney fees (with the prior consent of the insurer).
The following tips can help keep your home and your identity safe from holiday thieves:
Keep your home well lit. Mount exterior lights out of reach in your yard or on your house. Put indoor lights on a timer.
Make it time-consuming to break into your home. Keep doors and windows securely locked. Install dead-bolts on all exterior doors.
Make it noisy to break into your home. Invest in a burglar alarm - over 90 percent of burglars say they would avoid a home with an alarm.
Make sure you have strong doors. The best lock will not deter a burglar if it is installed in a weak door.
Keep shrubbery trimmed. The landscape of your home should not provide a burglary-friendly environment. Shrubbery should be kept below window level so thieves cannot hide behind them.
Turn off your computer and disconnect it from the internet. If you save personal information in your computer, make sure it is difficult to access. You don't want a hacker at work while you are on vacation.
Keep valuables under lock and key and well hidden. When possible, do not leave personal documents in your desk at home - burglars know to look for them there. Put critical documents in a lock box somewhere else in the house. Also, keep copies of important documents at another location - a relative's home for example - for quick access in case you need to report identity theft. Expensive jewelry should also be hidden in another room besides the bedroom.
If your holiday plans take you out of town, follow these additional steps:
Have mail and packages picked up, forwarded or held by the post office. Stop newspaper deliveries and ask a neighbor to pick-up "throw-away" circulars.
Leave blinds or curtains open in their usual position. Make it appear that you are at home.
Ask a neighbor for help. Do not tell people you do not know and trust that you are going away. Do not post your absence from home on social networking sites, such as Facebook. Ask a neighbor you trust to keep an eye on your home while you are away.
Keep the amount of personal information in your purse or wallet to the bare minimum. Avoid carrying additional credit cards, your social security card, or passport, unless absolutely necessary.
Guard your credit card when making purchases. Use your hand as a shield when using automatic teller machines (ATM) or making long distance phone calls with phone cards.
Always take credit card or ATM receipts. Do not throw receipts into public trash containers, leave them on the counter or put them in your shopping bag where they can easily fall out or get stolen.
Proceed with caution when shopping online. Make sure you are buying from a reputable, familiar retailer with a secure network. And never buy anything online from a site that does not have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed—at the very least. You will know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://).
Monitor your accounts. Do not rely on your credit card company or bank to alert you of suspicious activity. Carefully monitor your bank and credit card statements to make sure all transactions are accurate. If you suspect a problem, contact your credit card company or bank immediately.
When entering names, numbers and addresses into your electronic device, keep them as generic as possible. Include only as much information as is necessary, and never use monikers like "Hubby," "Sweetheart," "Best Friend," or "Mom and Dad." Do not store important social security or banking information on your personal digital assistant (PDA) or cell phone—if it is stolen, the thief will have all the necessary information to use your identity.
Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. When creating a password, avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, any part of your social security number or phone number, or any series of consecutive numbers.
Do not give out personal information. Whether on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet, do not divulge sensitive information or your social security number unless you initiated the contact, are familiar with the person or company, and are confident that they have a secure line.
Shred, shred, shred. Tear or shred any documents that contain personal information such as credit card numbers, bank statements, charge receipts or credit card applications, before disposing of them.
AIIS is a non-lobbying, not-for-profit industry association providing information about homeowners, renters, automobile, business and workers compensation insurance to the state's news media and the public.
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