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One quarter of all home burglaries occur during the winter months, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That's when many homeowners are out-of-town for the holidays. Crooks will steal electronics and jewelry, even the presents under your tree! The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), urges everyone to make sure their homes are not an "easy mark" for thieves determined to steal their holiday joy.

"By taking some simple precautions, homeowners can prevent burglaries at this hectic time of year," says Alejandra Soto, spokesperson for the I.I.I. "This is a time of good cheer. We want to help homeowners keep it that way."

Residential burglaries accounted for 65.8 percent of all reported burglaries in 2002, with a third of those occurring during the months of November through January, according to the FBI. Furthermore, insurers pay over one billion dollars in homeowners insurance claims each year. Residential burglaries average $1,381 in losses per burglary, notes the I.I.I.

"We've seen the number of burglaries nationally rise slightly in past years," says Soto. "The struggling economy has influenced that to some extent. Add the surge in consumer spending that accompanies the holidays and it is a recipe for greater homeowner vulnerability and risk."

To keep your home safe, follow these preventive measures:

  1. Keep your home well lit. Mount exterior lights out of reach in your yard or on your house. Put indoor lights on a timer.
  2. Make it time-consuming to break into your home. Keep doors and windows securely locked. Install dead-bolts on all exterior doors.
  3. 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. The most effective alarm rings at an outside service, which alerts the police, fire or other emergency service. 
  4. Make sure you have strong doors. The best lock will not deter a burglar if it is installed in a weak door.
  5. Keep shrubbery trimmed. The landscape of your home should not provide a burglary-friendly environment. Shrubbery should be kept below window level so thieves can not hide behind them.
  6. Turn off your computer and disconnect it 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.
  7. Keep valuables under lock and key and well hidden. When possible, do not leave personal documents in your desk at home - burglars know to look for them there. 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. Expensive jewelry should also be hidden in another room besides the bedroom.
If you plan on traveling out of town, follow these additional steps:

  1. Have mail and packages picked up, forwarded or held by the post office. Stop newspaper deliveries and ask a neighbor to pick-up "throw-away" circulars.
  2. Leave blinds or curtains open in their usual position. Make it appear that you are at home.
  3. Ask a neighbor for help. Don't tell people you don't know and trust that you are going away. Instead, ask a 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. If you have replacement cost coverage it will replace a stolen item without deducting for depreciation. Actual cash value coverage will pay only what the stolen item is worth today. With replacement cost, which is only about 10 percent more than actual cash value, damaged property is replaced without deducting for depreciation. 

Most insurance companies provide discounts to policyholders who invest in home security. If you install dead-bolt locks on your exterior doors, you can obtain a discount of two to five percent. A sophisticated alarm system could result in an insurance discount between 15 to 20 percent.

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Posted 6:47 PM  View Comments

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