Christmas is on the horizon and, for many of us, that means travel plans. Whether you’re heading out to stay with relatives, or fleeing the chill and snow of Ontario for sunnier climates, it’s an exciting time.
However, it’s also a time to be cautious. Burglaries always spike around the holidays, and thieves go out of their way to target empty homes. Coming home from a relaxing trip only to find your home in shambles and your belongings looted is a nightmare nobody should have to suffer through. But, with a little extra planning and a few small security steps, you can greatly reduce your risk and travel without worry.
Make sure your home is locked tight
This might seem basic, but make sure you lock every possible entry point to your home before heading out the door. While it’s unlikely you’ll forget to lock the front and back doors before leaving, it’s all too easy to forget about windows, patio sliding doors, and attached garages. These secondary entry points are common targets for burglars looking for soft spots to access a home.
Don’t make it easy for any would-be criminals. If you store a spare key in a hiding spot (in a shed, under a mat, in a flimsy looking plastic rock that looks suspiciously out of place), take it inside before leaving. Make sure to bar any basement windows and patio doors to make them less appealing targets for thieves who are looking for an easy way in on the first floor.
Locking everything down is an obvious safety step, but an important one. Taking a few minutes to do a review of every possible entry point before leaving can save you a lot of regret and embarrassment. Nobody wants to admit they got robbed because they forgot to lock up!
The buddy system
Ask a trusted friend or neighbour to check in on your place. If you have pets, you’re probably already aware of the need to have someone come in and regularly feed and check up on them, but it can be worth having a friend over even if you don’t. Any amount of activity, even the occasional comings and goings of a single person can deter thieves who would rather prey on more isolated targets.
Having a friend with a key to your place on call is also handy if there are any emergencies. If an accident happens and you need to access medical records or insurance information in your home, you can call your friend up and have them assist you remotely. It can even be a good idea to provide a set of car keys to your trusted friend if you’re leaving your vehicle behind. It might be necessary to move your car depending on your parking situation, plow routes, and other factors.
Keeping up appearances
Along with recruiting a trustworthy house-sitter to check in every now and then, do everything else you can to create the appearance of a busy, active household. Have your friend take in your mail so it doesn’t build up and form a blatant “rob me” sign. Or better yet, ask the post office to do a temporary stop of your mail.
In our Canadian climate you need to also account for snow accumulation. Yes, the whole point of fleeing to the equator is so you don’t have to worry about snow, but we can’t escape reality. You should look into hiring a service to clear your driveway and sidewalk while you’re away, both to avoid the appearance of an empty home, and liability (just because you’re away doesn’t mean you aren’t still responsible for accidents on your property). Even getting someone to come and clear things out two or three times and salt the sidewalk while you’re away can make a big difference.
Invest in a light switch timer to randomly turn the lights on and off in your home. They only run between $10-$20, are nearly effortless to set-up, and can convincingly simulate the appearance of a full household. If you want to really go all out, you may consider attaching a timer to a radio to add an element of random sound to your home. This might be verging on overkill, but if it helps you enjoy your vacation with peace of mind, go for it.
Be careful with what you say online
Never underestimate the power of social media to carry a message to a wide (and perhaps undesirable) audience. While you might be excited about your upcoming vacation (and maybe even want to show it off a bit), think twice before posting that “X days to the Caribbean!” status update. Advertising that you’re going to be away for an extended period of time is just rolling out the welcome mat for thieves.
While you might trust the people who follow you on social media, you can’t control who else will see the message. There have been cases where thieves have actively searched keywords like “vacation” and “leaving” on social media when looking for potential targets, so don’t assume it’s only your friends and family reading your posts. Even if you’ve adjusted your privacy settings to only allow certain people to see your posts, you can never be sure who is reading over their shoulder. It might sound paranoid, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you really want to make your online friends jealous of your vacation, do it with pictures of a beautiful sunny beach – when you get back.