Tips on Reducing Theft over the Summer Holidays
Following on from my recent posting on the capture of a two gangs of thieves, I thought it appropriate to provide just a few tips based on my claims experience to reduce the chance of theft, particularly after getting and receiving all the Christmas presents and or braving the January sales.
Clearly the best recommendation of all is to make sure you have adequate and proper insurance in place should any of your prized possessions be stolen or damaged.
A new national survey by Trusted Choice® and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that 44% of respondents, representing more than 100 million people in the United States, said they have been a victim of burglary, robbery or another form of theft. Of those who said they were victims, only 40% said their stolen property was insured. With an estimated one in four homes not being insured in Australia and New Zealand and a much higher percentage of contents not being insured, I suspect the same percentages apply in our part of the world as found in the US study.
The reality is that no-one is immune to theft and we see with fire and weather-related events, far too many people find that they do not have adequate property insurance when ‘it’ happens to them.
With our hectic lifestyles, it is easy to overlook some of the basics. Having lived in Papua New Guinea for 3 years, I am particularly cautious about security, not only for property loss but also the safety of my family. I pass on to you some of the tips that I have learned.
At work or home:
- Lock all doors and windows even when leaving the home or your place of work even for a short period of time.
- Similarly, if the reception or the room immediately adjacent to the door is going to be left unattended keep the door locked.
- Consider installing window locks, an alarm system and/or CCTV. The cost of the latter are much cheaper than ever before. Even dummy ones are a deterrent against theft and graffiti.
- Keep gates and fences in good repair and keep them closed (locked if appropriate) at night and when away from the premises.
- Put up a ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign even if you do not own a dog.
- Break down boxes, especially for expensive electronics, into small pieces and discard them in non-clear garbage bags.
- Keep expensive items (including gifts) hidden from view from outside windows.
- Leave spare keys with a neighbour rather than hiding them outside, such as under doormats or in fake rocks. Worse still is the letter box or electric metre box. Burglars are not fooled by most hiding places. Another alternative is to purchase a secure key safe, such as in the photo. I have never seen one of these breached. They are available from good locksmiths and hardware stores and cost around $75. (Not cheap, but effective.)
- Indoor and outdoor lights on movement sensor or an automatic timer should be used whenever possible.
- When you’re away from your home for an extended period of time, have a neighbour or trusted friend watch your house and pick up newspapers and mail. As I am not very trusting, I do not tell the post office or the newsagent when I am away as you do not know who they tell. You should also continue to have the bins put out as normal.
- While still on the subject of holidays, be careful of tipping people off that you are away by putting up photos of you on holidays or on a business trip in another state or country. Thieves use social media too!
- Beware of strangers at your door. Criminals can pose as couriers delivering gifts or be soliciting donations for fake charitable causes. Ask for identification or information about the company or charity.
- As I suggested earlier, many renters have no insurance and fewer and fewer home contents policies cover temporary removal. Check your own policy if you are travelling and if you are having guests, check what cover is available for them.
- Valuable items, including, if you were luckier than me, gifts such as jewellery, antiques and collectibles may be limited under an insurance policy or worse still there may be no coverage at all under a standard homeowners policy. It is often necessary to seek and pay extra for an endorsement of cover or to take out separate coverage for such items.
- Consider insuring your personal property on the same replacement cost basis as your home.
In the Car:
- Lock all doors and roll up all windows, even when leaving the car for a short period of time.
- Bring expensive items, including recent purchases or gifts, into your home, temporary accommodation or workplace rather than leaving them in your car.
- While shopping, keep gifts in the boot or completely hidden from view in the interior of the vehicle.
- Put all of your packages in the boot before leaving one parking area and driving to another. Waiting until your next shopping destination allows others to see your purchases/packages go into the boot of your car and then you departing into the shops.
- Avoid parking next to vans and large trucks that block your space from the general vision of others. I hate getting dents in my car, which is more likely as the car parks seem to be getting narrower and narrower as they try and cram more cars in. I pick the furthest spot (even this gets difficult during peak holiday periods) and do a bit of extra walking but always within sight of other people. It is not only car doors, but shopping trolleys and vandalism I am trying to avoid.
- Make a mental note or write down exactly where you park your car to avoid wandering around for longer than necessary. What I now do is take a photo of my car on my iPhone so I know where I parked. I have also downloaded a free map called take me to my car. As most of my parking is at the airport, I am yet to use the App but the photo on the phone has been a Godsend.
- At night, avoid secluded areas and park directly under lights whenever possible.
- Look underneath your car before you reach it when returning from shopping; criminals have been known to lie underneath and wait, while drunks and the like do stupid things and get run over.
- Use a credit card in order to avoid thefts of large amounts of cash that cannot be replaced.
- Shopping with a single credit card is preferable—it is easier to cancel one, rather than several, if your wallet or purse is stolen.
- Do not let the credit card out of sight as skimming the card is getting more prevalent.
- Be careful with your PIN. Put your hand over the keypad while punching it in and keep a look out for people near you and video cameras, which may be hidden.
- Keep bags and purses closed/zipped up and in your possession and close to your body rather than leaving it in your shopping cart where it is more susceptible to theft.
- My wife, Helen, saved her bag from a very determined bag snatcher by having the strap over her head rather than simply resting it on the same shoulder as the side she was carrying the bag.
- Be sure to keep a reference list of phone and account numbers for all your credit cards in a safe place at home. I use ContinuityCoach.com to keep copies of my passport and things like this as I know it is secure and I can down load it from any computer or phone connected to the net.
- Try to carry keys, cash and credit cards separate from each other.
- For freedom of motion and clear visibility, do not overload yourself with packages when leaving a store and returning to your car. You cannot defend yourself with your arms too full of bundles.
- Use ATMs in well-populated, well-lit locations. Do not throw ATM receipts away at the ATM location.
- Remember there is increased safety in numbers. Avoid walking alone and leave malls and stores well before closing time to assure a more active parking lot.
- The holiday season often includes images of cute puppies under a Christmas tree or a kitten with a sparkly ribbon around its neck. New and potential pet owners need to understand that no matter what they paid for their pet, most homeowners’ insurance policies exclude animals. So if your pet is stolen, it is not likely you will be able to claim it as a loss with your insurance company. Not all pet insurance covers theft either.
I have two final hints in closing.
If you are having some time off, it is a good idea to conduct a home inventory during or immediately after the holidays and make sure that any new items in the home are properly insured.
I know there is a tendency to buy home and contents insurance off the net. More and more people are even buying their business insurance that way. Unless you are 100% sure of what you are buying, please consider using a competent insurance broker. I do, even though I have been a student of insurance for over 40 years and invented LMI PolicyComparison.com, which currently compares over 3,000 policies including over 200 home and contents policies.