Protect Your Home and Your Identity

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Protect yourself and your family against a home break-in and a virtual break-in, warns the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) when you leave your home for any length of time, but especially during the summer. According to the FBI, most burglaries occur in July and August. Each year more than $1 billion dollars is paid out in homeowners insurance claims – with residential burglaries averaging around $1,400 in losses per burglary.

Once in your home, a burglar can easily obtain credit card information, social security numbers or other identification information by going over personal documents in a home or stealing the family computer. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing white-collar crimes in the country, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with more than 10 million victims last year. Losses to credit cards average $18,000, but victims are generally only liable for the first $50 dollars for each card.

Insurance is available for identity theft, providing reimbursement to victims for the cost of restoring their identity and repairing credit reports. Some companies include it as part of their homeowners insurance policy.

Others sell it as a stand-alone policy or as an endorsement to a homeowners or renters insurance policy. On average, these policies cost between $25 and $50 for $15,000 to $25,000 worth of coverage. Identity theft insurance provides reimbursement for expenses such as phone bills, lost wages, notary and certified mailing costs and sometimes attorney fees with the prior consent of the insurer.

Standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for theft of personal possessions and damage to the home caused by the break-in. With replacement cost coverage, which is only about 10 percent more than actual cash value coverage, damaged property is replaced without deducting for depreciation.

Follow these preventive measures to keep your home safe:

  • Keep your home well lit. Mount exterior lights out of reach of would-be burglars in your yard or on your house. Put indoor lights on a timer.
  • Make it time-consuming to break into your home. Dead-bolt window and door locks can slow a burglar down. You may also obtain a discount of two to five percent on your insurance policy for installing these.
  • Make it noisy to break into your home. Invest in a burglar alarm – over 90 percent of burglars say they would avoid a home with an alarm. The most effective security systems ring at an outside service, which alerts the police, fire or other emergency service. A sophisticated alarm system could result in insurance discounts of 15 to 20 percent.
  • Make sure you have strong doors. Outside doors and frames should be made of metal or solid hardwood and be at least 1¾-inches thick and each door must fit its frame securely. The best lock will not deter a burglar if it is installed in a weak door.
  • Turn off your computer and disconnect it from the internet when you are away from home. If you save personal information in your computer, make sure it is difficult to access. You don’t want a hacker at work while you are on vacation.
  • Keep valuables under lock and key and well hidden. When possible, do not leave personal documents in your home office or desk -burglars know to look for them there. Put critical documents in a lock box somewhere else in the house. Also, keep copies of important documents at another location – a relative’s home for example, for quick access in case you need to report identity theft. Expensive jewelryshould also be hidden in another room besides the bedroom.

As you prepare to leave on vacation follow these additional steps:

  • Have mail and packages picked up, forwarded or held by the post office. Stop newspaper deliveries and ask a neighbor to pickup “throw-away” circulars.
  • Leave blinds or curtains open in their usual position. Make it appear that you are at home.
  • Ask a neighbor for help. Ask a neighbor you trust to keep an eye on your home while you are away. Make arrangements for your lawn to be mowed. Only tell people you know and trust that you are going away.