For majority of people, the most important part of the holidays is celebrating the season with loved ones. This usually means traveling out of town to be with friends and family.
If you are planning to leave home for the holidays, it’s crucial to take some steps to ensure your home’s security. An essential thing to do is think like a thief. What about your property makes it look unoccupied and ripe for a burglary? Many of the steps below are designed to give your home the sense that it is occupied and will encourage a criminal to avoid the risk and move on.
1. Pause your mail delivery
Piled up mail, newspapers on the driveway, or packages on the porch will create a tempting target for thieves. You can have your USPS mail delivery paused while you are away on vacation, and if you sign up for FedEx Delivery Manager and UPS My Choice, you can get real-time alerts about impending package deliveries, and change delivery dates and locations.
This is all to avoid the appearance that no one is home to bring in the mail. If you don’t have your deliveries paused, a pile of uncollected mail will be a beacon to anyone looking for an easy theft target.
Besides looking like no one’s home, your packages themselves might be of value, and a “porch pirate” could take off with something important or very valuable. Even your mail is a high-value target as it may include credit card numbers or other personal financial information. Be sure to take the time to pause your mail before you leave town!
2. Recruit a friend or family member
If you can arrange it, have a friend, neighbor, or family member come by to check on the house while you’re away. Make sure they clear any flyers off of your front doorknob and pick up any newspapers, phone books, or circulars that have been delivered while you’re not there.
This is vital since it’s not unheard of for thieves to go door to door and leave flyers as a way of seeing who’s in town for the holidays. If they come back by in a couple of days and their flyer is still hanging from your front door, then your home just became a prime target for theft.
If you can get someone you trust to check in while you’re away, give them a key and have them walk through the house. Besides theft, you’ll want them to look out for any safety issues—was something plugged in that shouldn’t have been? Do they smell gas or observe any plumbing leaks?
3. Shovel snow/rake leaves
Hire someone to check on your yard and walkways while you’re gone. If a major snowfall comes and no one shovels the drive, that could be a signal to a thief that no one’s home. The same goes for falling leaves—if too many leaves pile up, you’ll want to have those cleared up so it doesn’t look like the house is unoccupied.
Safety is a factor as well. Dry leaves near your home’s foundation are a fire risk, so having those cleared does more than just deter thieves.
In addition to leaves, have branches and brush cleared. Look for low-hanging branches near the house that someone could use to climb and get into your home through the second story. Anyone brazen enough to break into a stranger’s home and steal is certainly willing to climb a tree to do so.
4. Hire a sitter for the pets
You might be considering boarding your pets at a kennel while you’re away. If possible, see if you can get a pet sitter instead. Someone who comes by a few times per day to feed and walk the pets will be a great way to show a lot of activity at your house. This will steer burglars away from your home.
For one thing, having the dog at home instead of a kennel acts as a deterrent to thieves. Even if your dog is not a breed typically used for security, a barking dog draws attention and will scare off anyone wary of being observed.
It’s also good to have cars in your driveway whenever possible while you’re away. If your pet sitter drops by a few times per day, that’s more chances for a potential thief to see that someone’s home, and move on to another target.
5. Don’t update your status online
People want to talk about their vacation and travel plans and post photos from their trip online. But this kind of posting is a big security risk. Don’t advertise that no one is home by posting live updates while out of town.
If you do want to show off your vacation, do so after you get back—and post in a way that makes it clear you’re back home now but had a great trip.
And while you’re on your trip, limit your apps’ access to your smart phone’s location services. Especially all of your social media apps and web browsers. Don’t risk Facebook or Twitter automatically posting your location—make sure those apps don’t know where you are. While you’re away from home, your phone’s Maps app should be the only thing that has permission to know your location.
6. Secure your documents
Most of us instinctively secure our most valuable possessions before we leave the house for any extended period of time. It’s best to have a small safe you can put valuables in and not leave things out where a thief could quickly grab them.
But jewelry and the like aren’t your only valuables that should be secured. These days, thieves can get more from stealing your identity than from stealing your property. So, make sure they don’t have quick access to anything with personal info on it. Protect your social security number, credit card numbers, and any other account numbers someone could use to steal your identity.
We offer a free course on Identity Theft Prevention through our FIT Academy. This online course is a great way to make sure you understand this issue and can take all the steps necessary to protect your identity while you’re protecting your personal property.
7. Tend to your electronics
There are a lot of things to remember when securing your electronics before leaving town. For one thing, decide what should even remain plugged in and disconnect everything else. Don’t risk a power surge damaging your computers or TV while you’re away.
For those essential things that will remain plugged in, make sure the cords are securely plugged and there is no fire risk. Plug them into GFCI outlets if you can—you won’t be home to smell burning wires, so you want things to shut themselves off if there’s a power issue.
Besides those things that are plugged in, inventory your battery-powered devices. Remove batteries from things you won’t need—batteries that sit too long can swell and leak acid. For important things like security systems and smoke/fire/gas detectors, ensure your batteries are fresh and in good working order.
8. Set your heating and appliances to vacation mode
Your water heater and refrigerator may have a “vacation mode” where they use less power. Switching to this mode is a good idea if the fridge or freezer aren’t going to be opened for a week or more.
You can also set your thermostat lower than usual as there’s no point in paying to heat rooms no one is occupying. But don’t set them too low—the last thing you want to come home from vacation to are frozen and burst plumbing pipes.
You might even turn your water main off if no plumbing is going to be used for a long stretch. If you have a gas stove, dryer or water heater, shutting off your gas valve might be a good idea too.
The final thing to do before you leave is make a list. Jot down all of the things you disconnected or adjusted before your trip. When you get back, you’ll want to plug things in, reset system clocks, re-insert batteries, etc.
We want everyone who travels for the holidays to have a safe and fulfilling trip. But it’s also important that the home you leave behind is safe too.
And if your financial security is a concern, we’re here to help. Call us or chat online through our website to talk to a financial coach so you can start the New Year on the best possible financial footing.