Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Don't let the Grinch steal your spirit — or your stuff

BCAA offers advice to help you protect yourself from holiday theft

BURNABY, BC, December 14, 2010 /Canada NewsWire/ - While the holiday season is regarded as a time for giving, thieves see it as a time for taking. And, as visions of expensive presents dance in burglars' heads, the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA) warns shoppers and families to be extra vigilant with possessions, credit cards and any suspicious activity you may see at shopping centres and around your neighborhood.

According to BCAA, the holiday season brings about more break-ins, stolen credit cards and other theft-related insurance claims as retail shopping increases and families are away from home attending social gatherings or on vacation.

"A burglary of your home or vehicle, or having your credit card stolen can shatter your peace-of-mind," says Brooke Moss, BCAA Home Insurance product manager. "So, it's good to know what thieves are looking for and how to avoid common mistakes."

Most burglars check for four things, says Moss: something worth stealing, easy access to your home or vehicle, low visibility, and a home that is unoccupied. If all of these conditions are met, you become a target.

BCAA claims data shows items stolen during the holidays are typically high in value, light and portable making them ideal for thieves seeking an easy cash sale. The ten most stolen items reported to BCAA's claim department include: jewellery, digital cameras, home theatre equipment, iPods, CDs, DVDs, cash, gift certificates, video games, and computer equipment. According to BCAA, the average theft claim over the holidays is around $3,000.

BCAA offers the following tips to help prevent burglars from stealing your holiday goods:

While you're shopping and using credit cards

...Don't leave any valuables visible in your car, or even in your trunk. Thieves pay close attention to items being loaded into a car. Also, try to park in well-lit and high traffic areas.

...Beware of strangers approaching you. Con artists may try various schemes to distract you, with the intention of nabbing your wallet, handbag or parcels.

...Be discreet when entering your pin numbers. Identity thieves may use cell phone cameras to take photos of credit cards or video footage of cardholders keying in their codes.

...When purchasing online, always use trusted, secure websites. Look for a padlock or key symbol, typically located on the bottom corner of the screen.

...Keep an eye on credit and debit card balances to be sure that the charges listed are correct.

At home

...Store gifts in a room so they're not on display and cannot be seen from outside your home.

....After Christmas, don't leave packaging from expensive items in the recycling, garbage, outside your door or at the curb. Thieves can tell from packaging what you now own inside.

...Consider installing an alarm and/or motion-sensor lights around your home. Alarm systems may save you money on your home insurance. Check with your insurance advisor for details.

...Make your home look occupied. Change which lights you leave on when you're away. Use timers for lights, or a TV and/or radio. Lower the volume of your phone ringer and answering machine. Hearing an unanswered phone or answering machine tells thieves you're not home.

...Prevent easy access to your home. Ensure tools or ladders are stored away and never leave a house key hidden outside. Keep the door between the garage and the house locked.

Going away for the holidays?

...Ask a friend or neighbour to park in your driveway on occasion, and either stop delivery of your mail and newspaper, or have them collected daily.

...Never post your plans to travel away from home on any social media space such as Facebook or Twitter, or on your voicemail/answering machine.

...Be advised that most home insurance policies do not cover loss caused by leaking or frozen pipes while your house is unoccupied for more than four consecutive days, unless you have taken reasonable care to maintain heat in the building and arranged for someone to check on your home OR you have shut off your water supply and drained your pipes.

Consult your insurance advisor to make sure you're protected

...Ensure newly purchased items, or items such as special jewellery that might only get used at this time of year, are adequately covered for theft or loss.

...Keep an itemized list and original receipts of gifts you've purchased. If gifts are stolen from your home or car, having a record will help make the insurance claims process much easier.

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