Holiday Safety Tips for Home and Away

The Christmas holiday season 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. Combine this season of opportunity with yet another holiday in a bad economy, and crime rates for things such as burglary, theft by snatching, etc. are particularly high.

Here are several holiday safety tips to protect you and yours this holiday season, and into the new year.

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.

Ask a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail. And while they’re at it, maybe your newspaper and garbage can, too (if you left it by the curb). It is possible to have your mail and paper delivery held, but doing do may just be another tip off that you are away. Don’t forget your neighbor’s act of kindness when shopping for souvenirs.

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. Don’t mention your trip on Facebook or Twitter until you have returned. Ask kids not to discuss holiday travel plans at school.

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 leak, 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 thieves 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 thieves 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.

Don’t flash your cash. I love to see others shopping with cash instead of plastic, but I don’t like to see their entire wad of cash when paying for a $15 DVD at the electronics store. Remember, others are watching. Leave your cash envelope locked in the glove box of your car and only take into the store what’s necessary, or keep some cash in your pocket and the rest in your wallet, so you don’t have to show your entire hand at the register.

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!

Keep credit and debit cards close. One of the most popular forms of counterfeit credit card fraud is to swipe a credit card in a “dummy” reader to capture the magnetic strip information before swiping in a legitimate card reader. A counterfeit card is then produced offsite using this electronic data, and before you know it, you are shopping the streets of Thailand while the real you is home in Nebraska. This is much easier to pull off if you hand your card over to a restaurant server, or a clerk who has to “go to the back” to run the charge. Consider using cash, and if using cards, alert your credit card company to any suspicious behavior by merchants.

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 your purse, 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.

Have any additional holiday safety tips to share?


  1. Also, when using credit cards, always check to see if it hasn’t been swapped out. The name on the card might not be yours. Have a safe holiday season.

  2. if you can’t park near the cart corral leave junior in the shopping cart while you stow your groceries then return the cart and head to the car with junior.

  3. This may seem obvious, but when you pull your full buggy up to your car, before unloading, women, place your purse inside the car and shut the door (make sure you have keys in hand!) Do not just leave your purse in front of the buggy while your head is in the trunk! I watched a team of snatchers drive up to a woman’s buggy while she was distracted, grab her purse and speed off.

    Even better, find a way to not carry a purse when shopping. Use a fanny pack (not fashionable I know!) or maybe a small across the body bag, or stick your wallet in your pocket!

    Some other great tips here that I never thought of!

  4. Great post…and comments! Just want to add to this one that you can get your paper stopped temporarily as well. But in my experience, the paper carriers usually need to be called more than once, so be sure someone swings by your house the first few days to see…

    • Many of them do, but don’t be bummed if your local area does not. City/county budgets are stretched thin these days, so patrols may be stretched thin as well.

  5. I’m not sure about the vacation watch. It doesn’t really net you that much protection, does it? A cop *might* drive by while you are gone (maybe your municipality is different). And if there is any corruption in the department you’ve just announced that you won’t be home to a potential burglar.

  6. Great tip on not announcing on Facebook that you are going to be away on vacation, as tempting as it may be. It always amazes me what people will share on Facebook.

    While I know most of my Facebook friends very well, almost 100 of them are people I graduated with from high school 25 years ago, and haven’t seen since. You are also taking a chance that no matter how much you trust them, that all of your Facebook friends will sign out or otherwise be the only one viewing their account when they are done, either at home or on a shared PC like in a library. Can you vouch for their teenage kids, their kid’s friends, and the next person on the PC at the library in case one of your Facebook friends forgets to sign out?

    • Tell as few people as possible your vacation plans. I used to work for newspapers and it was common knowlege that burglars look for announcements of people’s trips and even their honeymoons. (Never put your complete home address in the paper or phone book!) Other places that would “leak” this info can include your church and club newsletters (“The Jones family are going with us on our mission trip”, “Bill and Judy Smith will be our delegates to state convention,” etc.) and at your work. Make sure your jobsite doesn’t announce that “Bob Greene is going out of town for two weeks,” only that “Bob is going to be off work for two weeks” — make ’em think you’re at home painting the family room, or something.

  7. I see women walking to their cars while talking on their cell phones and not paying attention to what’s going on in the parking lots all the time. Pay attention!

    Also, women who leave their purses in the shopping carts when unloading their packages into their cars. Better yet the women who leave their purses in their carts while they are grocery shopping. They leave the purse sitting at the top of the cart and turn their backs to the cart to look at something on the shelf. If your purse is too big to carry on your body at all times, it’s too big. Get a small cross body bag to at least carry your cash, ID and cell phone. This way your hands are free and you don’t have to worry about anything getting stolen.

  8. It also helps to place alarm company stickers on your doors and ground accessible windows or an alarm sign. I keep an ADT sign posted near my front door. I also keep a “beware of dog” sign posted on my fence gate. I know this may seem a bit extreme but the idea is to present a harder target to would be burglars and hopefully convince them to target another neighborhood. Their are other strategies too. I saw a doorbell chime online that rings but also incorporates a wildly barking dog sound which can be turned on and off. Pretty cool maybe Santa will bring that for me.

  9. I didn’t know about the vacation watch, either. My house sits near a 3-way stop intersection, though, so there’s usually a cop there anyway … just waiting for someone to run the stop sign. But free security is a good tradeoff for making complete stops!

  10. When I was a kid coming home from college for Xmas break, my parents’ next door neighbors asked me to park my car in their driveway. The neighbors were going to leave on an out-of-town holiday trip and would be gone for a couple of weeks — just about the exact amount of time I’d be visiting my folks.The neighbors did all the other tips, but thought having my car sitting in their driveway some of the time (but not parked in the same place 24/7) would make it appear that they were home. This was a win-win situation: I got to park my car where it’d be safer than parking it on the busy street, especially after dark — and they got a free “lived-in” look for their place. ( P.S.– This trick also works well for folks who have moved away, but whose house hasn’t sold yet. )

  11. It also helps to place alarm company stickers on your doors and ground accessible windows or an alarm sign. I keep an ADT sign posted near my front door. I also keep a “beware of dog” sign posted on my fence gate. I know this may seem a bit extreme but the idea is to present a harder target to would be burglars and hopefully convince them to target another neighborhood. Their are other strategies too. I saw a doorbell chime online that rings but also incorporates a wildly barking dog sound which can be turned on and off. Pretty cool maybe Santa will bring that for me.