Over half a million South Carolinians will be traveling during Thanksgiving, and many more will be traveling during the next several weeks, leaving their homes empty for burglars. One quarter of all home burglaries occur during the winter months according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and most people spend an average of three nights out of town during the holidays. Most home burglaries occur when homes are left empty. Thieves will steal jewelry and electronics and even the presents under your tree. The South Carolina Insurance News Service urges everyone to make sure their homes are not an easy target for crooks determined to steal their holiday joy.
Theft accounted for about $789.6 million of homeowners' insurers incurred losses according to the Insurance Information Institute in 2004 (latest year for which data is available). Residential burglaries average about $1,725 per burglary according to the FBI. Most insurance companies give discounts of 2 to 15 percent for devices that make a home safer – deadbolt locks, window grates, bars and smoke/fire/burglar alarms.
"Nine out of ten household burglaries are preventable. Light, time and noise make the difference," says Allison Dean Love, Executive Director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service. "By taking some simple precautions, homeowners can prevent burglaries at this hectic time of year."
The South Carolina Insurance News Service offers the following tips to keep your home safe from burglars during the holidays:
- 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 deadbolt locks on al 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. Shrubbery should be kept below the window level so thieves cannot hide behind them.
- Keep important documents well hidden or under lock and key. When possible, do not leave important personal documents in your desk at home. 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.
- Make sure valuables are not in easy view from outside your home. Don’t leave any gifts under the tree visible through a window. Keep expensive jewelry hidden somewhere other than your bedroom where thieves know to look.
- Turn off your computer and disconnect if 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.
If you plan on traveling out of town during the holidays, follow these additional steps:
- Have mail and packages picked up, forwarded or held by the post office. Stop newspaper deliveries or ask a neighbor to pick up newspapers and mail.
- Leave blinds or curtains open in their usual position. Make it appear that you are home.
- Ask a neighbor for help keeping watch over your home. Don’t tell people you don’t know and trust you are going away. Instead, ask a friend or neighbor you trust to keep an eye on your home while you are away.
- Theft of personal possessions and damage to the home caused by a break-in is covered under a standard homeowners' insurance policy. Actual cash value coverage will pay only what the stolen item is worth today. With replacement cost coverage, which is only about 10 percent more than actual cash value, damaged property is replaced without deducting for depreciation.
- With identity theft on the rise, make personal information on your home computer hard to access, and avoid keeping personal papers in your desk or home office.
- Don't broadcast your absence in a voice mail or e-mail greeting or to others you don't know or trust.
- Don't put your home address on luggage.
For more information on homeowners insurance, contact the South Carolina Insurance News Service at www.scinsnews.com or 803-252-3455.
For 30 years, the South Carolina Insurance News Service, a nonprofit organization, has been providing free insurance information to consumers and the media about property and casualty insurance issues. The News Service is funded by insurance companies doing business in South Carolina.