In the classic holiday movie "Home Alone," a young boy holds off a pair of bumbling burglars who have targeted his home after his entire family has packed up and left the country on Christmas vacation.
Burglaries around the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Year's, happen all too often, but unlike the movie, they aren't very funny.
“Burglars are aware that we go away to visit family and friends at Christmas and they tend to prey on unoccupied homes and sparsely populated neighborhoods, where there are fewer neighbors to look out for you,” said Stephen Ebbett, president of Protect Your Bubble, a company that sells renters insurance and other insurance products.
According to the FBI, there are about 400,000 burglaries in the U.S. each November and December. In the majority of cases, these aren't carried out by professional burglars.
In search of drug money
“There's a strong correlation between burglary and substance abuse,” Ebbett said. “A lot of burglars are looking for quick, easy money. They'll pick neighborhoods where they know residents are affluent.”
They also spend as little time in the house as possible, mostly getting in and out in about 10 minutes. That means leaving your home unsecured for just a few minutes while you are out and about can be risky.
Once a burglar is inside your home Ebbett says he will try to maximize his time, getting the most he can for his effort and risk.
“Unfortunately it tends to be the smaller, more valuable items they gravitate to because they're easy to carry,” Ebbett said. “Your gadgets, your jewelry, your art work all tend to be very easy targets.”
Smartphones a prized target
In fact, Ebbett cites a statistic showing that 19% of stolen smartphones and tablets and not taken in public but in the owner's home. When leaving home, he says, don't leave gadgets and small, valuable items lying around in plain sight. If a burglar has to spend precious minutes searching for an item, chances are he won't take it.
“I think the key thing about tablets and smartphones is they have a very high resale value,” Ebbett said. “They don't depreciate in the black market the way a lot of other consumer goods do. A $700 iPhone will easily sell on the black market for $500.”
Since burglars tend to target unoccupied homes, it's important to never allow your home to appear unoccupied. If you are leaving town for more than a day or two, stop mail and newspaper delivery or have your neighbors pick them up for you. Use timers throughout the house so that lights come on and off on a regular basis.
Don't leave keys under door mats, flower pots or other predictable places. And in the era of social media we often thoughtlessly broadcast the fact that our home is unoccupied to the world. We shouldn't.
Think before you post
“We're always very eager to update our status on Facebook and tell people what we're doing,” Ebbett said. “But 75% of burglars use social media to help them find their next victims. Don't tell people you're out of town. Maybe wait until you're back before you post holiday pictures.”
Keep your property well-lit, not just inside but outside too. Burglars hate light and a motion-sensitive exterior light, that comes on when someone enters its field of vision, may be enough to send a burglar running, in search of a safer target.