Holidays increase risk of burglary: here's how to better your odds

burglaryThe holiday season is full of parties, travel and gift-giving. According to noted security expert Chris E. McGoey, AKA the Crime Doctor, these same joys can also make your home a more alluring target for burglars.

Fortunately, he has suggestions on how you can minimize the risk.

How is the risk of burglary increased during the holidays?
  • Many of you will have carpet cleaners and other strangers in to help spruce up the house for the holidays.
  • You or you children may be hosting parties attended by people you only casually know.
  • Many of you will travel overnight, leaving your home vacant.
  • You'll be piling new, alluring presents under the tree, and burglars like presents, too.
  • Schools will be on holiday, leaving teens with lots of free time.
  • December nights are the longest of the year.
  • The UPS and FedEx people may be delivering boxes of goodies to your door.
  • You may be hosting overnight guests unfamiliar with your security system.

According to the FBI, in 2007 the U.S. experienced 1,187,318 residential burglaries with an average loss of $1,991. So how can you minimize the chance that yours will become a statistic?

I asked this question of McGoey in a phone interview. He first responded with couple of surprising (to me) facts: "Contrary to popular belief, most burglaries occur during the day. The most common time is the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m." The perpetrator? It is more likely to be a teenager than a hardened criminal, and frequently one who lives within walking distance.

Frequently, the burglar is someone who has been in your home before. "[Those] people are familiar with your home," McGoey said. "They've been in it as a house keeper, someone delivering furniture, someone cleaning carpet, someone painting... anyone that gets a peek inside your home -- for two reasons; they see you have good stuff they want, and feel more comfortable now, because they know their way around...".

So what steps does he recommend to discourage potential burglars? First, consider your house from the burglar's point of view. Do you open your drapes in the evening to show off the brightly lit tree surrounded by a bounty of gifts? Do you display your gun collection (a burglar magnet), or high-end electronics or let it be known that you keep large amounts of cash and/or expensive jewelry in the house? Anything you can do to reduce temptation would be helpful.

Consider who you let into your house. Grill the companies you hire about the employees who will be working inside your home, and don't leave them unattended. McGoey cautions that its not uncommon for companies overburdened with work to take on casual labor without vetting them. Also ask your children about the people they are bringing into the house, and make sure those friends aren't left to wander the house unescorted.

If you expect deliveries, have someone to meet the delivery person. To discourage any that might be casing houses for a later, surreptitious visit, you could even game them a little; McGoey says he's been known to tell them he had to lock the dog up before he could answer the door. He doesn't have a dog.

After dark, take a walk down your street and compare the security your house to your neighbors. Burglars "have lots of people they can steal from, lots of choices of homes they can burglarize", McGoey says. Which houses on your street look like soft touches (no security, bushes by the front door, flimsy doors or windows, and the like)? You don't want to be the weakest house in the neighborhood.

Get to know your neighbors. Sadly, as McGoey points out, many of us barely know the people living next to us. Neighbors who look out for one another are a great tool to fight crime, he says. For example, he often parks his car in the driveway of a neighbor that is away, just to give that house the appearance of someone at home.

Beef up vulnerabilities. McGoey says " "First in priority is the doors. They would rather come in through a door. And they'd rather come in through the front door."

Make sure doors are well secured and window latches are latched. Exterior lighting is important (but don't leave your porch light on 24/7; "If you leave a porch light all day that's code in the criminal world to know you're gone.") Prominent alarm system signs and keypads will warn off potential thieves.

Don't leave other signals that you're gone, either. A garbage can put out on Thursday when pickup isn't until Monday? Mail and newspapers piling up? Unshoveled snow? A mostly dark house with lights that never go on or off? Might as well put up a neon sign proclaiming "No one home; help yourself."

And after Christmas, don't set the empty boxes that those new big-screen TVs and video game systems came in out on the curb. Break them down and put them in your trash can.

The main piece of advice McGoey gave, though, is to make and follow a security plan for your home and your family. We'll cover that in our next part of this series, Home (security) for the Holidays.

For a wealth of detailed suggestions for home security, and other security issues, visit McGoey's Web site.
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