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How to keep your home safe and secure this holiday season

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We’ve officially jumped into the holiday spirit. You’ve made it through Halloween and Thanksgiving, Hanukkah has already begun and Christmas is just around the corner. You may have already started making a gift list (and perhaps even checked it twice) and are preparing for a bounty of feasts, either at home or while visiting somewhere else.

While there are plenty of opportunities to be merry, if you’re not careful, the holidays also introduce unique security risks. Luckily, by taking some precautions, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that come this time of year.

Here are five winter holidays home security tips to keep the season jolly.

Be smart about gifts

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The holiday season is synonymous with shopping. In fact, more than half of American shoppers will spend more this year during the holidays than they did in 2020 — an amount that was already approaching $2,000.

All that spending means lots of gifts coming to the house. That opens up a handful of potential issues.

First, if several packages are delivered while you’re not home, they may be sitting outside throughout the day. If you know you’re going to be gone for a long time, ask your neighbors to watch your door and grab any boxes that arrive.

You can also install a home security system with cameras and alarms to try and deter criminals. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) and regularly update your passwords to avoid any potential smart home hackers

Once the gifts are inside, keep them away from any windows. While the bright lights of a Christmas tree and a roaring fire illuminating a treasure trove of gifts is a fun, cozy visual, it’s also an inviting target if all those gifts happen to be in front of a window.

Keep curtains and shades drawn or set up the gift pile away from plain view. Eighty-three percent of criminals check for an alarm system before attempting to break into a home. And 34 percent use the front door, so always keep it locked.

Finally, most gifts come in packaging that announces what’s inside, which could be attractive to a burglar. Even several Amazon boxes can be telling to a criminal. While you may not be able to stop porch thieves from climbing on top of a delivery truck to swipe a package, you can safeguard your home. Wait until the morning of trash and recycling collection day to bring your packages out to the curb or take your packaging for major items directly to a nearby recycling center.

Inspect your fireplace, filters and devices

You may have holiday dreams of roasting chestnuts over an open fire, but make sure your fireplace is ready to go before you light a flame. If it’s been a while since you last inspected your chimney, you can have a professional come out to check your furnace and fireplace and make sure the area is devoid of debris like glass or dirt buildup.

Beyond securing your fireplace, test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Between cooking, fireplaces and keeping the house warm, you’re using more gas and heat during the holiday season. Check the batteries of your devices and clean out vents and air filters to make sure your air is as fresh as can be.

Don’t forget proper holiday home security tips for your smart devices, either. If you have a keypad for your digital alarm or to enter your home, give it a thorough wipe down with an antibacterial wipe to ensure it’s not obvious what numbers are in the code. Similarly, if the numbers are worn from being pressed frequently, come up with a new password or replace your device.

Turn 2FA on for your phone, tablet and laptops. If you let other people — a spouse or your kids — use your device, set limits on what they’re able to access. It’s all too easy for a child to be looking for a show to watch and accidentally end up ordering something to the home.  

Careful with holiday lights

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‘Tis the season to hang up lights and decorations in an attempt to spread joy, or at least one-up your neighbor across the street. Though a holiday display of lights brings ample cheer, take a few precautions to ensure they’re not also bringing any fire hazards or other security threats into the home.

Inspect your lights for distressed cords or cracked bulbs. Replace anything that’s damaged and buy cords that have been inspected by an independent third-party, which should be listed on the packaging. Don’t hang any lights near flammable objects, either. If a spark goes off, it could start an ignition. 

The holiday season brings more candles into the picture, too. You may be lighting a Hanukkah menorah, or perhaps you’re leaving a candle on the table so Santa can eat his milk and cookies while reading the Sunday paper. In 44% of fires, the flame is ignited by decorations being too close to a heat source, like candles or equipment.

Never leave an open flame unattended, and if you’re using candles for decor, consider alternative options, such as electric candles or string lights. Check that your fire extinguisher hasn’t expired and it’s easily accessible if the worst occurs. 

Keep the house well-lit throughout the holiday season, whether you’re inside or not. If you’re leaving your home for an extended period of time, consider setting your lights on a timer. That way, a potential intruder will think you’re home and will skip by your house to look for a more inviting target.

Mind your house guests

Are you inviting someone over to spend the holidays with you? Whether they’re simply coming for dinner or you’re briefly turning your home into a bed and breakfast, more people in your house can potentially lead to more security risks.

Guests don’t know your daily habits or where things go in the house. They might leave a door unlocked that you normally bolt or disarm a security system that you typically keep armed. Or, they may leave something like a glass or knife precariously perched on the kitchen counter. All of those could result in mishaps or break-ins, so keep an extra close eye on things and make sure guests know some basic rules of the house.

Additionally, your home insurance policy may have medical payments to others included. That type of coverage handles any incidents that occur to guests in your home. If they slip on a patch of ice by the front door and break their wrist or step on some broken glass and need stitches on their foot, your insurance can help cover those medical payments.

If you plan to travel during the holidays and open up your home for a rental share (through a service like Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, FlipKey and onefinestay), there are additional insurance considerations to be aware of, and they can vary by state.

Limit your social media updates

We all want to show off our new gifts or travel plans — perhaps you’ve posted a photo of your plane’s wing during a trip — and social media is a great place to do that. But it could also be inviting to potential burglars.

When you announce to the world that you’re going on vacation, you also announce that your home will be unoccupied. Likewise, posting a photo of that brand new fancy present — a new computer, phone, jewelry or game system, for example — lets people know that not only do you have something valuable, but it’s also in mint condition.

Instead, hold off on posting about your trip until after you’ve returned. You can ask friends and family for recommendations beforehand (or even while you’re on vacation), but it doesn’t need to be broadcast across social platforms.

And if you need to brag about a cool gift you got, tell someone in person. It’s much better seeing the look on their face, anyway.

These holiday home security tips will minimize the risk of threats entering your home. Now grab a treat and enjoy the holiday season!

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