Two weeks ago my husband opened the house door leading into our garage to perform his normal lockup routine when he discovered that one of the kids forgot to close the main garage door when they came in for the evening. What he also found was a little unsettling. Our local police left a notice on the handle saying that that the garage door was left open and to ensure we close up due to possible theft. Wow. Someone was in our garage only yards from where we had been sitting and we had no idea. Luckily, it was a “good guy”. We know that there have been some thefts in the area – both cars and homes – so we appreciated the notice but at the same time we were stunned. Again, someone was in our garage and our home door was unlocked. And we had no idea!
A week later I received an email that LifeLock, an identity theft protection service created to help protect customers’ from identity theft and fraud, released a survey with some vey interesting findings:
- Forty-one percent of Americans, including 57 percent of Millennials, admit they have looked through someone’s personal items when visiting their home.1
- Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) frequently leave personal documents in their home unlocked – for example, a social security card or passport. That means more eyes may be on them than they’d like.1
- Despite the risks, 37 percent of Americans, including 42 percent of Millennials are unlikely to put their mail on hold with the post office when they go on vacation.1
- Trashing personal documents isn’t enough. Forty one percent of Americans, including 53 percent of parents, have thrown away documents in a public garbage can that includes personal information – for example, a phone number or bank account information. It’s time to invest in a paper shredder.1
Sure, keeping strangers out is one thing but with home sharing continuing to grow popular, after reading the above it’s a good idea to protect your personal information whether you’re leaving your home empty or occupied. With all of this in mind we asked Paige Hanson, Chief of Identity Education at LifeLock few questions about home safety and identity theft:
What items should travelers never leave at home while they are away?
If someone is staying in your home while you’re away, make sure you lock up key documents such as your Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc. In addition, make sure you don’t leave any bank statements or old mail out, documents like these contain key details about your personal identity that fraudsters can use against you.
Also, always put your mail and newspapers on hold. There’s nothing like an overflowing mailbox to tell thieves you’re not home – except, perhaps, a stack of newspapers in the driveway. Mail theft can lead to identify theft, and is not just carried out by strangers. Although it’s hard to imagine, familiar fraud (when a friend, extended family member or even a parent uses a close relationship for their own financial gain) happens more often than you’d expect. Avoid it by having the post office hold your mail (just fill out this online form) instead of a neighbor or friend. Despite the risks, 37 percent of Americans, including 42 percent of Millennials are unlikely to put their mail on hold with the post office when they go on vacation.
For key documents one might leave at home, where should we put them?
Lock up key documents in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Banks still offer lock boxes if you want to take added precaution.
Watch what you throw away before hitting the road too. Forty one percent of Americans, including 53 percent of parents, have thrown away documents in a public garbage can that includes personal information – for example, a phone number or bank account information. It’s worth investing in a paper shredder.
Do you think timed lighting is a good idea?
Timed lighting has been a common precaution consumers take while away and one that should definitely still be implemented. Automatic light timers have only evolved overtime and most can now be controlled from the palm of your hand – they are quite simple to install and operate so it is worth setting up before you go. Consumers can also control sounds from their phones to create the illusion of people watching television or listening to music at home.
Are there any other sneaky ways to look like the family is home when away?
In addition to putting your mail and newspapers on hold, continue to have your yard work done on schedule, leave at least one car in the driveway and leave toys or pairs of shoes outside your door if you would normally do so while at home. Also, post a #latergram – as tempted as you may be to keep a running travelogue on Facebook or Instagram, don’t. Wait until you get home. Likewise, the fewer details you broadcast about where you’re going, when you’re going, and when you’re coming back – the better. Broadcasting your whereabouts lets people know that you may not be paying attention to financial accounts or an empty home.
The LifeLock Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,002 nationally representative U.S. adults, ages 18+, between March 24th and 30th, 2016, using an email invitation and an online survey. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.