Thieves of all kinds -- those looking for your identity and those simply after your spare cash -- tend to break into houses that look unoccupied. Some thieves have been known to steal nothing more than a check from the middle of your checkbook, and then steal the money in your account.
Even without entering your house, a thief can do a lot of damage by examining your overflowing mailbox. It might contain credit card offers or bank statements with your personal and financial information. Here’s how to make sure the thieves pass your house by.
- Make the place look like you’re still at home. For example, bring trash cans in off the street (or ask the neighbors to do so after a pickup) and leave a light or two on in the house -- preferably on a timer.
- Consider getting a housesitter. This will certainly make the house look lived in, and mean there’s someone there to deal with unexpected events. Of course, you need to find someone you can trust implicitly. Otherwise, the housesitter could turn out to be an identity thief! For a helpful form for leaving your housesitter with the right information, see “Housesitting Instructions."
- Lock away your valuables. If you have a safe deposit box, transfer your most precious items and personal documents there. If not, find a hiding place within your house. A locked drawer or safe deposit box is best, but you can improvise, perhaps using your basement or attic. (Just don’t forget where you put things.)
- On your way out the door, lock all entry points. That includes all windows and doors. Even before that, fix any latches that don’t work, and trim away any tree branches that offer easy access to upstairs windows.
- Make provisions for your newspaper and mail. You can have the post office hold mail until you’re back and ask your newspaper to suspend service. Alternately, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to bring in all your mail daily. Realize, however, that people are busy, and may not get around to this until late in the day, or even until the next day. Call the U.S. Postal Service at 800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold or go to www.usps.com.
- Ask a friend or neighbor to remove the pizza fliers. Even if you’ve stopped service on your mail and newspapers, things will appear in your front porch. And unless someone removes them, they’ll create an obvious sign that you’re away.
- Freeze your credit. A credit freeze blocks access to your credit report and score, preventing identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. You can undo the freeze when you’re back, or simply wait until the next time you need to apply for a loan or credit card.
- Schedule online payments for bills that will come due while you’re gone. It’s fast and easy—simply call your bank to find out how to set up temporary online payments. Avoiding having paper statements sent to you while you’re away can dramatically reduce your chances of one of your bills falling into the wrong hands.
With all of that in place, relax and have a great trip!