Holiday Safety Tips

The Christmas holiday is one of the most anticipated times of the year.  Unfortunately, criminals also look forward to the season as more people are out shopping and leaving their homes unattended during holiday travel.  Here are a few holiday safety tips to protect you and yours this season.

Safety Tips Around the House

Before traveling, contact your local law enforcement agency and ask to have your home placed on “vacation watch.”  Most municipalities offer this service.  The nearest patrol officer will ride by your home for a safety check once during their shift.  Be sure to notify authorities when you have returned.  Note, please do not call 911 to discuss this service.  A non-emergency number should be listed in your phone book. 

Try to make your house look lived in while you are away.  Consider picking up some inexpensive timers for lights and radios, and have them come on at times when you are normally home.  I even suggest staggering the timers so that living room lights come on and off early in the evening and bedroom lights come on later.  This is consistent with most schedules, but adapt it to fit your family’s routine.

Do not broadcast your plans to everyone.  You may be proud that you are taking your family on a week-long cruise over the holidays, but don’t brag too much.  You never know who might be taking note of your travel plans.

Leave a spare key and emergency telephone number with a trusted neighbor or friend.  In an emergency it may be necessary for someone to enter your home (water heater busted, etc.), so it is a good idea to leave a key with someone local. 

Pay someone to rake up leaves and/or blow off your drive way.  Tall grass in the summer and down leaves in the winter are a sure sign of an unoccupied house.

Silence the ringer on your home telephone.  One trick of the criminal trade is to stake out a house and call the phone number.  If the phone rings and rings with no answer it is a safe bet no one is home. If the phone doesn’t ring at all, crooks may suspect they are dialing the wrong number, or someone is home and using the phone.  Do not mention your travel plans on voicemail or answering machines.

Remove garage door openers from cars parked in the driveway.  It is a good idea to leave a second car parked in the driveway, but be sure to remove the garage door opener.  Burglars can easily bust out a window and open your garage with the click of a button.

Lock garage entry doors.  If you live in a home with an attached garage, lock the door from the garage to the home when leaving for Christmas vacation.  Garage doors have been known to malfunction, or be manually forced up, allowing access to your home.

Trim shrubbery and trees close to your home.  Overgrown shrubs provide the perfect cover for a burglar working to pry open a window.

Do not leave remnants of Christmas morning by the curb.  Large appliance boxes and containers are a sign Santa was really good to someone in the neighborhood!  They are also a sign to theives that the house just got a new plasma television for Christmas.  Break down boxes and put them in cans or black garbage bags to conceal the products that were inside them.

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

Use the buddy system.  It is always a good idea to shop in pairs as theives are less likely to target two or more individuals. 

Lock your gifts in the trunk.  An electronics store bag filled with goodies sitting on the back seat in plain view is tempting for a smash-and-grab burglar.

If shopping at an outdoor mall or outlet stores, consider moving your car when you drop off presents.  No one likes to lug around too many items from store to store, so most people return to their cars several times to drop off purchases and resume shopping.  When you do this, consider moving your car a few lanes away.  Thieves like to stake out parking lots for people leaving purchases in their car and returning to stores.  If they see you get in and drive away they will likely assume your shopping trip is over and look for another target.

Ask for a security guard escort.  If you approach your car and see an unsavory character staked out nearby, return to the store and ask for someone to walk you to your car.  Most store security personnel are used to this, so there is no need to feel embarrassed.  Besides, better to be safe than sorry!

Have keys ready, and don’t take your time getting in your car.  There is nothing I hate to see more than a single woman approaching her car while digging through a purse for her keys.  With her head down and her attention diverted she is such an easy target.  Find your keys before you leave the store and have them in hand.  Walk quickly and confidently to your vehicle, and unlock, enter and lock the doors in quick fashion.  Once safely inside you can verify receipts, store away purses, etc.

Park in well-lit areas.  If you know you will be shopping for a long time, anticipate coming out into a dark parking lot and look for light poles to park under.  Besides providing light, light poles also serve as a reference point in a crowded parking lot to remind you where you parked your car.

Parents, park next to the shopping cart return area.  When you are finished shopping it is nice to put Junior in the car seat and return the shopping cart one lane away, rather than walking fifty feet away with Junior alone in the car, or you toting him and three bags of groceries.

These are just a few things to keep in mind while out and about this holiday shopping season.  Actually, they are good tips for any time of the year, but especially during times when criminal activity is high. 

I’d like to hear from you.  Please add any additional holiday safety tips in the comments below.

Comments

  1. I really appreciate these tips. The best one for me personally is the “Park next to shopping cart return area.” I don’t like being one of those people that just leaves my cart abandoned in the parking lot where it can bang into someone’s car, but I have a child and don’t like to walk far from the car she’s buckled into to return it. So, I park near the cart return and when I’m finished shopping I buckle my daughter into my locked car, and with keys in hand I return the cart. It’s tough to be conscious of those things when I’m absorbed in mommy-world, but I know how cute my kid is so I do my best to remain vigilant :)

  2. Awesome post, and great site (I just found it today)!

    Our house is set up so with our kitchen blinds open you can see we have a very large tv from the street. I am constanly arguing with my better half about keeping the blinds closed. call me paranoid but i don’t feel the need to advertise the fact that we have a nice tv. . .

  3. Another tip would be to have the neighbors collect your mail and newspapers for the week so they don’t build up. That’s the first sign that no one is home.

  4. @Craig: Yes, great tip! I meant to include that one, but it got lost in the shuffle. Besides signaling potential burglars that you aren’t home, accumulated mail leaves you at risk for identity theft as people like to swipe mail from boxes hoping to find credit cards, statements, etc.

  5. In our city we have cardboard recycling but we have to take the boxes to the dumpster – usually set up at schools, firestations, etc. Saftey issues are an added incentive for us to recycle the boxes of any big ticket items that enter our house.

  6. Great advice. I’m going to link to this post over at my blog’s new address.

    One other thing to add to your terrific list: lights on a timer. Might seem passe but I think it’s probably pretty important to remember, too.

    Leah

  7. @Frugal Dad Absolutely. Also if you can’t find a neighbor, a lot of people just call up their newspaper company and ask to have their account frozen for the duration. More of a process though, glad I could contribute.

  8. I place my keys in a zipped pocket, and my charged cell phone in another when shopping. My fear is someone will grab my purse while I am shopping and will end up with the keys to my home. If this should happen I will at least be able to use my cell phone to call for assistance and still have the keys to my car and home in my possession.

  9. Great tips, FD. Good for any time of the year as well when traveling or shopping.

    For your readers who are on a cash only system, don’t pull out that envelope in front of people- I have seen people whip out envelopes full of cash to pay for their purchases- put what you are going to use in your pocket or wallet out of view.

    Also, if you are by yourself, especially at night, try to park as close to the front door of the store as possible.

  10. Or when protecting your home while away, you can just leave one of your younger male children at home and he will protect your house even better than an armed policeman would. He may also learn a valuable lesson about independence and growing up.

    Wait… what? What do you mean movies aren’t real???

    Timers on interior lights, definitely. Have someone pick up your papers/mail, check. That’s a good tip about the phone ringer — I’ll keep that in mind next time I travel. Of course, I do have a rather sensitive security system in place so that’s the first line of defense.

    On the parking/shopping part, I would agree with RC in that I’ve seen people whip out wads/envelopes of cash to pay for stuff and it’s like, man, do you really want people seeing that you have that much money on you? If I use actual cash (I mainly use plastic when shopping) I keep the bills folded in half in my pocket with the fold towards the top of the pocket. I know I keep large denominations on the outside, so I just reach in and pull off a 20 or two from the outside of the folded cash. This way no one sees how much I really have.

    Small tip, I read somewhere (I think a self-defense website) that when you have your keys out to get into your car, put one of your fingers through the ring and wrap your hand around your keys. That way you can hide the keys in your hand and you should be able to hold on to them if anyone were to try and grab them from you. For added protection (for those interested in self-defense), you can pass a single key (still on the keyring) between your 1st & 2nd or 2nd & 3rd fingers to act as a jabbing/scraping weapon against attackers.

  11. Removing the garage door opener from vehicles parked in the driveway is an excellent tip, not just for vacations but for ALL the time. I have two vehicles sitting out in the driveway right now, both belong to the kids and both have garage door openers inside. From now on, the openers come in at night because I just never thought about the (obvious now it seems) potential for someone to come right into the house – so easily!

  12. Another piece of advice… In addition to lights on timers, there’s a simple LED device (called FakeTV, I think) that simulates the blue flicker of a television. We have one on a timer in our upstairs bedroom, so it looks like we’re watching the TV at night when we’re out-of-town.

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