How to Keep Your Property Safe in 2014

Maybe you’ve seen the commercial where a father asks his son, who is just arriving at the family vacation home, whether he left the house secure. Although the son responds that everything is fine, the father looks at his tablet to check up on him. He finds that the lights have been left on, the alarm system has not been activated, etc. You get the picture. Then, with a few clicks, Dad secures the house. Talk about convenience and peace of mind. The trouble is, of course, that thieves also have access to today’s advanced technology.

For example, I recently read about a Long Beach, California police video that shows two thieves using a wireless device to break into a car. Throughout the country, similar thefts have been caught on camera. Police theorize that thieves are using code-cracking software to unlock the signals from our cars’ key fob transmitters. I imagine that those mobile apps that remotely unlock car doors and start the engines could be hacked in the same way. It makes you wonder whether safety dictates that we return to physically locking our car doors with a key.

We spend a lot of time protecting you from investment risk. It’s also important that you guard against the risk of personal property theft. Having your laptop stolen may result in the thief getting ahold of everything from your tax returns to family photos. In 2012, nearly nine million property crimes occurred in the United States, according to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). No doubt this is due in large part to the budget cuts that are decimating law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. For example, earlier this year, Trenton became the fourth major city in New Jersey to lay off 10 percent of its police force.

With public safety suffering due to police layoffs and budget cuts, the NCPC works to help communities fill the security gap by offering crime prevention education programs in schools and the community. In fact, you might remember their mascot, McGruff the Crime Dog, from your childhood. Since its launch in 2008, the NCPC’s “Celebrate Safe Communities” (CSC) initiative, run with the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Sheriffs’ Association, has reached more than 500,000 Americans in 40 states. In addition to home safety and crime reporting and community engagement, the CSC also addresses school and campus safety and drug abuse prevention.  

To better secure your personal property, the CSC program recommends that you take the following steps to safeguard your home:

  • Lock all doors and windows. Lock up, including garage doors, even when you are home. Secure sliding doors with a secondary blocking device, such as a wood block or dowel, for added protection.
  • Crime-proof outside areas. Install motion sensor lights around the exterior of your home that can be seen from the street. Good outside lighting makes it more difficult for would-be criminals to hide at night.  Also, landscape with security in mind–trim hedges away from the windows so you have a good view of your property.
  • Enlist security experts. A professional security system with 24/7 monitoring can provide an added level of security. In addition to protecting you from a burglary, the system also monitors your home for fire or carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Get to know your neighbors. Having neighbors who know your routine and can spot something out of the ordinary enhances your home security. Also, it’s helpful if neighbors will pick up your mail or park in your driveway while you’re on vacation to give the appearance that someone is home.
  • Establish an emergency plan. List important phone numbers near the phone. Agree on a meeting place for family members, one outside your home and one outside your neighborhood, in the event you must leave your home quickly.

Even in today’s high tech world, it’s important to remember these common sense tips. Of course, today home safety also means shopping safely online. Here’s a new scam to be wary of: You get a call telling you that your credit card account has been flagged for unusual purchases. The caller asks if you purchased a laptop at a store in Texas. Your answer is, “No.” The caller then says the bank will close your account to protect you from future would-be thefts and will issue you a new credit card. For verification, the caller then asks you to read off the three numbers on the back of your credit card. You think there’s no harm in that, because you’re talking to a bank representative, so you comply. Now, the thief, who already has your credit card number from someplace else, has your card’s verification number as well.

To protect yourself from this type of scam, never share any personal information or card numbers when someone calls you. Tell the caller you’re going to call the 800 number on the back of your card to verify he is who he says he is. This advice also applies if you get a message on your answering machine about potential fraudulent activity on your credit card. Call the 800 number on the back of your card, not the number the caller leaves. If it’s a legitimate threat, the bank will transfer you to the proper department.

Finally, how long does it take you to open your credit card statement, check the listing of charges, and pay the bill? Many of us take only a quick glance at the charges before we write the check. However, because thieves often start with small purchases that they hope will go unnoticed and work their way up to the widescreen television, it’s important to review all charges carefully.

When it comes to protecting your personal property, the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is certainly true. Be sure to download NCPC’s Crime Prevention Month Kit for more information about Protecting Our Assets: Keeping Our Communities Safe From Financial Fraud.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and safe new year.

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