Tag Archives: theft

Review These Shopping Safety Tips Before You Whip Out Your Wallet This Weekend…

Thanksgiving is early this year. No, it really is. It falls on November 22nd, which is the earliest date it can fall on. So, it’s not your imagination. Thanksgiving did sneak up on you! And on us too, we admit, and because of that, we are all of a sudden realizing it’s time to talk about safe holiday shopping before the buying frenzy begins.

It’s going to be a big year for holiday shopping
And a frenzy it will be! Last year 174 million Americans parted with their money during the Thanksgiving weekend shopping, which includes Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You can expect that number to be higher this year because the economy is booming and consumer confidence is high. As a result, eMarketer predicts 2018 holiday season will bring strong retail sales: offline sales are expected to increase 4.1%, while online spending will increase 16.2% to $123.39 billion.

Will you be one of the confident consumers coughing up cash this weekend? Before you whip out your wallet this Thursday, Friday or Monday, review these safety tips first, so your holiday won’t be more expensive than you’d planned.

While shopping online
More money will be spent online than in person this Thanksgiving weekend, so be ready to be safe for any shopping that involves your laptop or mobile phone:

  • When at a website, check the URL and look for https:// rather than just http://. You can also look for a lock or similar symbol, showing that the site is confirmed secure.
  • Change up your passwords on a regular basis.
  • Pay with a credit cardinstead of a debit card.
  • Have a plan for any packages that will get delivered to your house, so they’re not sitting on your front porch and easily stolen.

While shopping in person
Despite the allure of online shopping, many of us still like to go spend our money in person. If you’re going to be hitting the Black Friday sales, pay attention to these safety tips:

  • Don’t flash any cash and only pull out your wallet when you’re ready to pay.
  • Keep your purse close to your body or carry your wallet in a front pocket.
  • Only purchase what you can carry at one time.
  • Keep your phone charged.
  • Set up meeting times and places if you’re shopping with others.
  • Park under a light if you’ll be shopping until after dark.
  • If you put packages in your car and do more shopping, keep those packages out of sight by hiding them in the trunk.
  • Once you’re back home, don’t advertise expensive purchases. Don’t leave boxes on the front porch and break down large boxes as soon as possible to keep your buys to yourself.

Don’t spend what you don’t have
Although the buying and giving is fun, and these tips should help keep you and your property safer, we offer one caveat to all this: Avoid the debt. Consumer debt is set to reach $4 trillion by the end of 2018. You might think that’s unrelated to home security and safety, but when debt affects our physical health, marriages, and financial futures, it’s totally related. No matter how good the Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal might be, if you have to borrow to buy it, you’re going to end up paying more for it anyway.

And on that note, have fun, buy smart, and stay safe this Thanksgiving weekend!

6 School Safety Tips to Protect Your Teens and College Kids from Theft

Your teens are heading back to school, and they’ll be even more distracted than they were this summer because, you know, teenagers. That means now is the time to review some basic school safety tips, before they get wrapped up in classes and homework and sports—and don’t have time to listen. OK, they might not listen anyway, but you can at least try while they have time.

Last time, we went over cyber safety tips. This time, we offer six school safety tips designed to help your teen not to become a victim of theft. As we’ve done before, we’ve written it directly to your teen…so maybe have them read it, and we’ll nag them for you:

  1. If you don’t want to lose it, leave it at home
    Leave anything you don’t want stolen at home. Yes, your new jacket is to be admired and you want your iPod near, but taking them to school means losing them to theft or forgetfulness.
  2. Lock the car and keep valuables out of sight
    Just as you would when parking your car in any public area, hide anything of value under the car seat or in the trunk of your car if you drive to school—or carpool with a friend. If you leave a purse, backpack, iPod or some other tempting thing in plain sight, you invite a break-in.
  3. Lock your locker
    It sounds like commonsense, right? But my own kids confessed to leaving their lockers unlocked for a whole list of reasons. Sometimes it was because they forgot the combination. Other times it was a sticky lock they didn’t want to mess with during the short time between classes. Or there was the time one of them was sharing a locker with a friend. Your locker has a lock for a reason. Use it.
  4. Lock your gym locker
    When it comes to the gym locker, kids assume they’re coming back soon, so why bother? When one of my kids was in high school, she told me phones were stolen from gym lockers on a regular basis. As with the advice above, it locks for a reason. Lock it.
  5. Do a double-check before leaving the classroom
    When my youngest was still in high school, she suggested this safety tip because forgetting a jacket, purse, cellphone, charger or other piece of property can mean it disappears forever. Teens are distracted anyway, but even more so when in class trying to keep up with the lessons and homework, and then thinking about where they need to be next. If they can get into the habit of doing a double-check before leaving a room, that’s a safety habit they can use anywhere, even when out on their own.

Personal safety and security don’t just happen except through luck. And who wants to trust to luck? Instill good habits in your teens and college students now, and those habits might just stick into adulthood. Now that’s a lesson learned!

Real-Life Lessons Learned When Scammer Uses My Password

So this happened: I received an email with my name and one of my passwords in the subject line. And the first words of the email are “Lets get straight to point. Neither anyone has paid me to investigate about you.”

Guess who got the latest sextortion scam email? Yep! Lucky me!

The email goes on to make accusations and to threaten exposing me unless I pay an extortion fee via bitcoin. You can read the text of the email here, as it’s making the rounds and plenty of people have received it. Warning: It’s nasty.

What set this email apart? My password
So it’s a scam. So what, right? Why didn’t I just delete it? Why was it such a big deal to get this email? There were two reasons why this email surprised me: One, I have my spam filter set very high, so I almost never get spam in my inbox. How did this one get past? I don’t know. And two, the subject line included a password that I’ve used a lot and no one would be able to guess. That got my attention right away, believe me!

As soon as I started to read the email, I knew it was a scam, but still: my password! How did they get my password? That’s when I started digging, and learned that more people are paying off these scammers because they see the password and think there might be some validity to the claims made. As Brett M. Christensen at the Hoax-Slayer website says, “The scammers know that if you receive an email that actually includes one of your passwords – even an old one that you no longer use – you may be much more inclined to believe the claims and pay up.”

So again, how did they get my password? When it was stolen as part of a data breach, it turns out.

Has your data been compromised? Find out
One very good lesson was learned with this disgusting email: I found out I could go to https://haveibeenpwned.com and see which data breaches have included my data. I strongly advise you to do this as well. I was shocked to see that my data had been compromised in eight (yes, eight!) different data breaches. That’s where the scammers got my old password.

I reviewed the list and made sure I had updated any necessary passwords or deleted accounts for each of the breaches. Sadly, one was a marketing firm that collects information on people to sell, and there isn’t anything I can do about that—except be annoyed that the information is collected and sold without my knowledge.

Changing old passwords
More good came from this: I then went through and discovered I was still using that old password in some cases. I was able to both change the password where necessary and delete old accounts that I don’t use any more. It was like cleaning out a digital closet! That felt good!

And finally, getting stricter about passwords
The final benefit to this experience was a renewed commitment on my part to using stronger passwords, as well as keeping up with changing passwords on a regular basis. To be more vigilant about your own passwords, follow this advice.

The sense of violation I felt to have this email in my inbox, the fear caused by the threatening tone even though I knew it was bogus, and the sorrow in knowing that there are people out there who will pay the extortion money are all still with me. It’s hard to shake off that negativity, and that angers me more than the actual email. But the scammers gave me a gift: new insights into keeping me and my data safe. I hope you’ll put these insights to work to protect your information as well.

Protect Your Passport! 6 Passport Safety Tips

Do you have a passport? Having one is a good idea for U.S. citizens. It’s identification, it’s proof of citizenship, and it’s necessary for traveling outside of the U.S. In some cases, however, it’s not just necessary for international travel any longer. In nine states, a passport is now required to fly domestically, because the driver’s licenses issued by those states are not compliant with TSA standards. And because the wait for a passport can be several weeks, it’s probably a good idea to get one even if you’re not planning on travelling abroad or you don’t live in one of those nine states targeted by TSA.

Regardless of the reason for needing a passport, you need to keep it safe once you have it. Passports can be lost and they can be stolen to be sold on the black market. And if you’re without a passport in a foreign country, you could be in a very bad way.

To practice passport safety, follow these six tips:

  1. Photocopy your passport and keep the copy separate. That way if your passport is lost or stolen, you have the duplicate for proof of your identity and to speed up replacement. Better yet, make two copies. Keep one with your luggage and one with you—but separate from the original, as in keep it in a different bag or pouch. And to be extra careful, make a third copy to leave with someone back home.
  2. Scan it as well for a digital version. This you can keep on your smart phone.
  3. Keep your passport with you when traveling—and we mean close with you. Don’t tuck it into a backpack or purse that’s easily stolen, but carry it where a pickpocket can’t get it, like in a money belt or a neck wallet that you wear under your shirt.
  4. Regularly make sure you have it with you when traveling, but not in an obvious way. If you do lose it or it gets stolen, you want to know right away.
  5. Don’t hand it over to anyone else, not the hotel staff or tour guide. Keep it with you.
  6. If you’re going somewhere or doing something that makes hanging on to your passport impractical (like bungee jumping or scuba diving), lock it up in your absence.

Are you heading somewhere that requires a passport this summer? I am! And I am looking forward to the getaway! I have my passport and my neck wallet, but I will also be following my own advice and making copies both paper and digital, plus practicing diligence while out of the country. We will have some of our adult children traveling with us too for the first time internationally, and everyone will be getting these safety tips above as we practice what we preach. I hope you will as well, for passport peace of mind!

3 Easy Ways to Bolster Your Home Security

A home security system is one of the best ways to protect your home, both because the sign in the yard is a “line in the sand,” and because the noise of the alarm can scare off a burglar before they do much damage. But your home and family are safer if you have more than just a home security system. You also need a practical and pragmatic approach, one that will lead to comprehensive coverage.

Below are just a few easy ways to increase your home security setup:

1) Level up your locks and bolster your bolts
If your window and door locks came preinstalled, take another look at them and make sure they measure up. We’ve heard stories of those types of locks being easy for burglars to force open. Read more about types of locks and what to look for here.

And once you’ve leveled up your locks and bolstered your bolts, make sure you lock your doors and windows whenever you leave. This includes your garage and any outbuildings too. With the right home security system, you can lock doors remotely should you or your kids forget to do so. But it’s better to make sure everyone is in the habit of locking all entry points all the time—even second-story windows.

2) Keep temptations out of sight
It’s shocking how many people almost invite burglars in by leaving temptations in plain sight…things like fancy bikes or expensive equipment in the yard, or valuable objects that can easily be seen through a big window. Take a look around: What temptations are you leaving in plain sight? Hide them.

Packages on the front porch are also a temptation. They might not lead to a burglar breaking in, but they will lead to someone coming on to your property and stealing from you nonetheless…and giving someone a chance to get a better look at your house for a burglary later. Try these alternatives to getting packages without getting done in.

3) Be tricky about it
If you scan the Internet, you’ll quickly learn people have all kinds of ways to make their house less attractive to burglars. We usually suggest having a car in the driveway and using your home automation system to turn lights on and off so it looks like someone is home. But we’ve also read great ideas like leave a big pair of men’s work boots right outside the door, and a big dog bowl and leash on the front porch. Beware of dog signs seem to be useful too. Your goal is to make your house less attractive, and making it look like someone is home and that you own a big dog can help.

Your home security system will do a lot to deter burglars, but you’ll be even safer if you take other precautions as well to both make your house less appealing and make it harder to break into. The best burglar deterrent is a well-advertised home security system, but use commonsense to keep your home and family safe too!

5 Ways to Make Your Home Less Attractive to Burglars—so They Pass You by

We usually don’t think about home burglaries until it’s too late. It always seems like something that will happen to someone else, right? But with a home burglary taking place every 13 seconds in the U.S., there’s a very good chance that someday that “someone else” will be one of us.

The time to take action to prevent a burglary is before such a tragedy strikes. And prevention is probably easier than you thought. One of the most important steps you can take is to simply make your home less appealing to a burglar looking for an easy target.

We offer five such tips below. While these tips shouldn’t take the place of a traditional home security system, they may convince a burglar to pass by your house and choose a different target instead:

1) Get a fence
Burglars want to get in and out of a home within a few minutes. Having a fence to jump over can be a huge deterrent, especially if it’s a metal or wooden picket fence with pointed tops. A fence can definitely make a burglar think twice about breaking into your home because they could be injured or get hung up on the fence posts as they try to clear it. One caveat to this, however: Don’t make your fence so tall that it blocks your house from the street. With a fence like that, a burglar will be more tempted by your property because—once over the fence—they can work in privacy.

2) Leave the dog outside
If you have a dog, get a “Beware of Dog” sign and display it clearly. Move the doghouse into a visible spot in the yard and let the dog run around (weather permitting). A burglar wants to get in and out of a home as quickly as possible, and a dog introduces many variables. A burglar won’t know if a dog is friendly, or will bark loudly or even attack. When a dog is on the premises, the burglar will likely move on to the next target.

3) Trim bushes and shrubs
Burglars like places to hide while they break in, so trim any bushes or shrubs that are getting big enough for a grown man to hide behind. Focus on those shrubs near entry points like doors and windows, and remember to do the same for garage doors and windows too. A couple of hours with a pair of hedge clippers should be sufficient time to eliminate any hiding places and make your house less appealing.

Install bear traps and trip-activated nets
Just kidding! You don’t need a lawsuit on your hands.

4) Light walkways
Although most burglaries happen during the day, your house is at risk during the night time hours too. Plenty of outdoor lighting that will expose anyone sneaking on to your property can make your home less appealing to a burglar. In addition to other exterior lighting tips we’ve offered in the past, consider adding small solar lights along your driveway and walkway. You can buy these in packs at any major hardware store. The solar panels charge internal capacitors during the day, then emit a low-level LED light at night, thereby increasing the visibility in your yard without being distracting. This will make potential burglars easier to spot, which will turn them away to an easier target.

5) Put away your ladder
Burglars usually break in through the front door (34%), first-floor window (23%) or back door (22%). But every once in a while they will get in through a second story window if they have access (2%). For that reason, you should stash away your ladder rather than leave it where a burglar can use it to reach that open window.

Final thoughts
These are simple steps you can take to make your home less appealing to burglars without much effort, and they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To take yet another step to protect your home and make it a challenging target for burglars, consider investing in a home security system equipped with motion sensors, cameras, and door and window sensors. Modern plans may be less expensive than you think, and peace of mind is priceless.

Burglars Getting in Through the Garage? Yep! It’s That Easy

Some time back, a YouTube video showing how to break into a garage in 6 seconds went viral. Then videos showing how to prevent such a break-in proliferated, including this Texas news clip.

The idea is that a burglar quickly and easily gets into your garage, then shuts that door and gains effortless access to your house. Yes, an open garage door is noticeable, but if it is then closed quickly, chances are it won’t be noticed. And the burglar is in. Even if the door between your garage and house is locked, the burglar is now able to take his or her time breaking through that door to gain entry. A home security system would set off an alarm, but most burglars are fast, in and out of a home in between 8 and 12 minutes, which gives them plenty of time before the police show up.

Although the garage door is not the most common way to break into a home—thieves use the garage to gain access to a house 9% of the time—you as a homeowner want to prevent any kind of access point to decrease your chances of becoming a victim. And much of the advice for preventing garage break-ins is the same as general home security advice. So we offer tips below that are specific to your garage and your house both…

Make your house less appealing
Burglars don’t choose houses at random. They know exactly what they’re looking for. Decrease the appeal of your house and garage with these tips:

  • Cut back trees or shrubs by the road that give burglars a place to hide while they break into the garage. If you have a tall fence curbside that provides cover, consider replacing it with something shorter that neighbors and passers-by can see over.
  • If you have a detached garage and a burglar might be tempted to steal from that, not your house, don’t keep expensive equipment out in the open where it becomes an invitation to break in.
  • Make it look like someone is home. Keep the spare car in the driveway, not parked on the road. Use your home automation system to have lights turn on and off automatically. Have packages delivered to your workplace rather than left on your doorstep.
  • Make sure your home security system sign is clearly visible from the road.
  • Double check your lighting by going out at night and looking at your house and garage from the street. Does your lighting leave shadows where a thief could hide while breaking into your garage?

Practice prevention
Sometimes the old sayings are the best sayings, and in this case, a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure definitely applies.

  • Even if you won’t be gone long, keep your garage doors locked, both the large door on the front of the garage and any regular doors used to access the garage on foot, either from the outside or from the house. Use heavy-duty locks. Also make sure any garage windows also have better locks than the factory-installed kind.
  • Take advantage of the remote capabilities of your home security system to double check that the doors are locked when you’re not at home.
  • Install home security cameras in obvious places where a burglar can see they’re going to be seen while trying to break in.

Much of this advice applies to other outbuildings too, even if no one can gain access to your house through an outbuilding. They can still steal expensive tools and violate your property while erasing any sense of security you once had. In that way, home security measures should be comprehensive, taking into account more than your house to include any part of your property that is vulnerable—including that sturdy looking garage.

Stay Ahead of the Curve with a Home Security System

In the United States, over 2 million home burglaries are reported each year, with a home burglary taking place once every 13 seconds. Time how long it takes you to read this short blog post. How many burglaries happened during those few minutes?

Shocking, right? But perhaps not as shocking as this statistic: Only about 10% of Americans live in homes with home security systems. Given that homes with home security are much less likely to be broken into, why do so few people have home security systems?

Even burglars say home security systems deter burglars
Homes without a security system are three times more likely to get broken into and most burglars say they avoid homes with obvious home security systems, such as a yard sign out front. If we do the math, we find out that 90% of the homes in the U.S. are three times more vulnerable than the other 10%–which probably makes the other 10% even safer because burglars have plenty of unprotected houses to choose from!

You’ve probably heard the ADT slogan about the yard sign being a line in the sand, and we’ve written about the power of that statement in another blog post. When you realize that only 10% of homes are protected and how much of a deterrent that protection provides, you can see that that yard sign wins because it wins the battle upfront when the burglar passes on by.

If you’ve been thinking about a home security system and you’re still undecided about whether or not to make the investment, maybe it’s time to be ahead of the curve and join the minority that has a home security system—before you unwillingly become part of the group that has already been burglarized.

The costs of a home burglary: more than you think
A home security system does not have to be an expensive investment, and when you compare the costs of the peace of mind to the potential costs of a burglary, all of a sudden it seems cheap. Statistics say the average burglary costs a homeowner about $2,000 in lost goods. That might not sound like much, but that’s because it doesn’t take into account other costs, including:

  • The costs of replacing broken doors, windows or doorjambs
  • The trauma of the invasion, which can take years to recover from
  • The irreplaceable value of family heirlooms
  • A higher homeowner’s insurance premium

Without a home security system and your own “line in the sand” in the form of a home security sign in the front yard, your home ranks among the 90% of American homes that lack that protection—and it’s much more appealing to burglars as a result. Wouldn’t you rather stay ahead of that curve and move on into the 10%?

The 3 Most Common Ways Burglars Break In—and Ways to Thwart Them

Home burglaries are a fact of life. In fact, a home burglary occurs about every 13 seconds in the U.S. You have no way to guarantee your home won’t be one of those burglarized, but you do have plenty of ways to decrease the chances of it happening to you. You can start by understanding just how burglars break in—and how to thwart them.

If you think a locked door is deterrent enough, think again. Most burglars operate with a get in and get out mentality. They are only in your home for eight to 12 minutes, so they don’t mind busting open a door or window to gain entry. They’ll be out of there in no time anyway.

#1 point of entry: The front door
Burglars enter by the front door more than any other way: 34% of the time, a burglar uses the front door. How do you thwart them? Cut back any shrubs or bushes that give the burglar a place to hide while breaking in, so your front door is in plain sight of your neighbors. Do not have a spare key hidden. Most burglars know where to look, and will simply find it and let themselves in. Have a solid-core door, to thwart those willing to bust through. Install heavier duty locks and use longer screws (like 3-inch) for installing the strikeplate.

#2 point of entry: A first-floor window
A first-floor window is the second most common point of entry, at 23%. As with your front door, cut back or even remove shrubs or anything else that provides a hiding place. Do not leave windows open when you leave, no matter how stuffy your house might get. And install secondary locks on your windows, because the locks that come with your windows are too often not secure enough to keep a burglar out.

#3 point of entry: The back door
The back door or another kind of secondary entrance is how burglars get in 22% of the time. Thwarting them here requires the same steps as thwarting them from gaining entrance through the front door: cut back shrubs, don’t hide a key, use a solid-core door with upgraded locks.

Additional points of entry
Although first-floor doors and windows are the primary point of entry, burglars find other ways in too:

  • 9% of the time, they go through the garage
  • 6% of the time they get in through unlocked storage areas
  • 4% of the time it’s through the basement
  • 2% of the time they get in through an unlocked or open second-story window

For each of these, the advice is the same. Cut back shrubs. Lock, lock, lock, lock doors and windows every single time you leave the house. And use better quality doors, windows and locks.

See what a burglar has to say about your home’s appeal
You don’t have to take our word for it. You can also see the advice from a real-life burglar that we’ve provided here, and follow these tips to make your home less appealing based on what this burglar has to say:

  • Keep drapes and blinds open when you leave.
  • Have a car in the driveway, even when no one is home.
  • Have a home security system. Burglars know some home security signs are fake, but a home security alarm going off will make a burglar scram.

Most of all, cut back trees and bushes and avoid tall fences. You might like the privacy from your neighbors when you’re home, want your home visible from the street when you’re not to make it less appealing to burglars—so you won’t have to worry about thwarting them in the first place.

Phone, Wallet, Keys… How Do You Lock Your House When You Leave?

When you leave the house, do you check to make sure any back or side doors are locked, and then lock your front door on your way out? When you’re home, do you triple check that all the doors are locked before you head to bed?

If this doesn’t sound like you, you may be part of the 7% of Americans who don’t lock their doors when they leave, or the 23% who leave their doors unlocked while they’re home. This YouGov poll found that many homes across the country are unlocked throughout the day, especially while someone is home. That means over 22 million people leave their doors unlocked when they leave the house. We find that number shocking!

For the rest of us who think about home security and therefore do lock our doors when we leave as well as when we’re home, locks are a big deal. But not every lock is created equal. Read up on types of locks and what they’re good for below…

Knob Locks
Knob locks are the kind built into the door handle. Most homes have a knob lock in addition to a deadbolt on exterior doors. These locks should never be the sole security on a door, since the lock is within the knob itself and not in the door like the deadbolt is,  making it easier for someone to break in. Instead, knob locks are better used on interior doors that don’t need as much protection, for example a bathroom door you’ll lock for privacy.

Lever Handle Locks
Lever handle locks are easier to open than knob locks, which is useful if handicap accessibility is a concern. These locks have a large push down lever instead of the turning knob, but a similar lock style to the knob lock. As with knob locks, these are not recommended for sole security on exterior entryways, but can be helpful indoors if someone in your home has difficulty turning knobs—again, think bathroom privacy.

Deadbolts
For real home security, you need deadbolts. Deadbolts are typically installed on household exterior doors. The most common in American homes is the single cylinder deadbolt. These locks secure your home from the outside, but if someone can gain access to the inside of your home such as through an open window, the deadbolt only requires a turn of the thumbturn to open the door. That’s why you want to make sure windows are secured as well when you leave for the day.

Locks of the Future
As you might expect, technology has taken on locks too, making even keys obsolete. From keypads to Bluetooth-enabled deadbolts and even biometrics with fingerprint recognition, the locks that will soon be commonplace will powered by technology and accessed by devices such as smart phones. In addition, home security systems today will let you lock and unlock doors remotely, should you forget to lock the door on the way out or should you need to let the electrician in while you’re at work.

Whichever kind of lock you choose, check the level of security you can expect by checking the rating given by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI has three grades for door locks to help you know which will provide the most security.

Maybe you’re part of the 93% who lock their doors when they leave, the 77% who lock their doors when they stay, or even a part of the 7% who are (or should be) rethinking their home security habits. No matter which category you fit into, knowing your options on locks can help you make informed decisions on how to keep you and your home safe and secure.

View all of our security plans and features!

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I feel so much better knowing my family is protected! I spoke with SafeStreets USA in the evening and a technician was able to come install the system for me then for my parents first thing the next morning. Very impressed with his knowledge and care!

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