Christmas is a time for generosity of heart and the spirit of giving, but for opportunistic criminals it's a time for taking advantage of that generosity and swiping as much easy pickings as they can find.
Many times the easy pickings are because people don't realize what they are doing at home to make a criminal's job easier, said Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton of the increased amount of burglaries during the holidays.
"When setting out the trash, people don't realize they are showing criminals a shopping list of new items available inside their home," he said, urging people to bag every piece of the trash before setting it out. "All a criminal has to do is drive around town after a holiday, especially during Christmas, to do their shopping."
Heaton offers more tips for a safe holiday at home:
- Never display gifts where they can be seen through windows or doors.
- Bag all gift packaging before placing in the trash for curbside pick-up.
- Criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts or that they are collecting charitable donations. Ask for identification and call their main office to verify their employment.
Heaton also encourages people that will be away for long periods of time during the holidays to take extra precautions.
"It's always a good idea to let a neighbor know you're going to be gone," he said. "They can help keep an eye on things."
Other tips include:
- Change the message on your answering machine to not announce you're away from home for any reason.
- Suspend mail, newspaper and other regular deliveries, or arrange for a trusted neighbor to pick them up until your return.
- Have a neighbor park their car in your driveway.
- Lock all doors and windows and use timer lights to make your house look lived-in while away.
- Notify local law enforcement personnel of your departure and return dates, while including a contact number so that authorities can contact you in an emergency.
Heaton said these tips aren't to be taken lightly because they come straight from interviewing the criminals that make a career out of knowing how, when and where to do their best holiday stealing.
When all the hustle and bustle of the holidays quiets down, he also suggests that people take time to create or update an inventory of the valuables. Having an inventory, with photos or a video, can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file in case your home is burglarized.