Preventing holiday theft

Preventing holiday theft

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Source: MGN Online Source: MGN Online

Experts are warning consumers about crooks looking to take advantage of this season of giving.

Many burglaries happen over the holidays when homeowners are out of town or otherwise away. In addition, thieves are also looking for opportunities to steal consumers' identities. The Alabama Insurance Information Information Service offers the following tips for keeping your property and identity safe:

- If you get a big gift like a TV for Christmas, leave the manufacturer's box inside your home until garbage day. You don't want to leave it on the curb for several days and alert thieves that you have a brand new, expensive item in your home.

- Keep your home well lit with exterior lights and use a light timer for those indoors.

- Keep doors and windows securely locked. Install dead-bolts on all exterior doors.

- 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 window level so thieves cannot hide behind them.

- 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.

- Keep valuables under lock and key and well hidden; do not leave documents in a home desk. but instead in a lock box somewhere else in the house. Also, keep copies of important documents at another location  for quick access in case you need to report identity theft. Expensive jewelry should also be hidden in another room besides the bedroom.

If your holiday plans take you out of town, follow these additional steps:

- 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.

- Leave blinds or curtains open in their usual position. Make it appear that you are at home.

- Ask a neighbor for help. Do not tell people you do not know and trust that you are going away. Do not post your absence from home on social networking sites, such as Facebook. Ask a neighbor you trust to keep an eye on your home while you are away.

Identity-theft prevention:

1. Keep the amount of personal information in your purse or wallet to the bare minimum. Avoid carrying additional credit cards, your social security card, or passport, unless absolutely necessary.

2. Guard your credit card when making purchases. Use your hand as a shield when using automatic teller machines (ATM) or making long distance phone calls with phone cards.

3. Always take credit card or ATM receipts. Do not throw receipts into public trash containers, leave them on the counter or put them in your shopping bag where they can easily fall out or get stolen.

4. Proceed with caution when shopping online. Make sure you are buying from a reputable, familiar retailer with a secure network. And never buy anything online from a site that does not have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed—at the very least. You will know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS:// instead of just HTTP://.

5. Monitor your accounts. Do not rely on your credit card company or bank to alert you of suspicious activity. Carefully monitor your bank and credit card statements to make sure all transactions are accurate. If you suspect a problem, contact your credit card company or bank immediately.

6. When entering names, numbers and addresses into your electronic device, keep them as generic as possible. Include only as much information as is necessary, and never use monikers like "Hubby," "Sweetheart," "Best Friend," or "Mom and Dad." Do not store important social security or banking information on your or cell phone—if it is stolen, the thief will have all the necessary information to use your identity.

7. Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. When creating a password, avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name.

8. Whether on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet, do not divulge sensitive information or your social security number unless you initiated the contact, are familiar with the person or company, and are confident that they have a secure line.

9. Tear or shred any documents that contain personal information such as credit card numbers, bank statements, charge receipts or credit card applications, before disposing of them.

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