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The winter holidays are a prime time to get away — and unfortunately, they’re also a prime time for break-and-enters. Whether you’re trekking up to a cabin in the woods for a cozy family Christmas or heading back to your childhood home for Hanukkah, keep your own house safe and secure by following these simple steps:

  1. Make your home look lived-in. Set automatic timers to turn on your indoor and outdoor lights in the evening and consider asking a neighbour to bring in your mail and newspaper each day. If it’s a white Christmas, you’ll also want to have someone shovel after each snowfall to make it look like you’re home and prevent any liability claims that could come up if someone slipped on your sidewalk.
  2. Or better yet, go with the real deal and have someone you trust move in. If you can’t find a friend or relative who is willing to stay over while you’re away, ask someone to visit for a couple of hours each day. Leave them with your Netflix password and a pantry full of snacks in exchange for a promise to bring in the mail, shovel the sidewalk, scrape the ice off your vehicles, and check for signs of trouble.
  3. Don’t be a showoff. Leaving piles of empty gift bags in your recycling bin — or even worse, leaving the box from that brand new TV or PlayStation at the side of the road — is basically an advertisement telling potential burglars that there’s a bunch of nice new stuff inside your home that’s begging to be stolen. Place empty gift bags and boxes in black garbage bags before leaving them outdoors.
  4. Do be alarmed. If you travel often (or if you just have lots of stuff you want to protect all year long), consider having a company-monitored or self-monitored home security system installed in your home. This doesn’t come without a price tag, but it sure can pay off in the long run — and it could even get you a discount on home insurance.
    Turn up the tunes or TV. Potential burglars are less likely to break into a home if they can hear noise coming from inside. While leaving the TV or radio running 24/7 isn’t very energy efficient, consider setting a timer that runs each device for a few hours each day.
  5. Don’t talk to strangers. Only share your travel plans with those you really trust — and we don’t mean your 485 closest friends on Facebook. And if a police officer with a shiny gold tooth comes to your door and shows an interest in your holiday plans (à la Home Alone) check his credentials before telling him about your upcoming trip to Paris.
  6. Catch ’em on candid camera. Sometimes you take all the necessary precautions to protect your home, but a burglar still finds a way to sneak in and make off with your stuff. Installing a camera you can monitor from your phone (like Nest Cam, for example) could provide a little peace of mind while you’re away and help police make an arrest if your home is broken into.

If you’re planning to head out of town for the holidays, know that your home insurance policy likely has your fancy new gifts (and the rest of your stuff) covered. But if you have any questions or want to update your coverage at any time, be sure to talk to your group’s insurance broker. And before you go away this holiday season, take a little time to learn even more ways you can protect your home while you’re not there.

Want to help your neighbours and friends protect their homes from break-ins this holiday season? Share these tips on Facebook and Twitter.

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