The holiday season is a great time to spend with family and friends, but it is also a very busy time. As people rush to get their shopping done, they can get distracted and safety takes a back seat. In fact, the month of December has the highest rate of home crime and holiday scams.

The Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® shares the following holiday safety tips from a recent National Association of REALTORS® webinar, featuring advice from safety practitioner Andrew Wooten of Safety Awareness Firearms Education (S.A.F.E.).

Practice Holiday Home Safety Tips:

  • Follow the 3 ft. – 10 ft. rule. Keep your shrubs trimmed to about three feet and tree heights to no more than 10 feet, to prevent burglars from lurking around your home.
  • Make sure you always close and lock the front door.
  • Don’t place gifts under the Christmas tree where burglars can see them. Place a blanket over the presents, so they aren’t in full view of a window.
  • Keep the outside of your home well-lit. When you leave your home, place your inside lights on timers to make it appear occupied.
  • After the holidays, don’t advertise your gifts by leaving the boxes at the curb for garbage collection. It’s best to take the big boxes to the recycling center.
  • Don’t overload wall outlets and extension cords.
  • Never use indoor extension cords outside. Place electric converters above ground and away from puddles of water or snow. Always unplug the string of lights before you touch a bulb.
  • If you have a live Christmas tree, cut two inches off the trunk and mount the tree on a sturdy stand. Keep the tree well-supplied with water and away from candles or a fireplace. Last year, there were 13 deaths and 27 injuries from trees catching fire.

Be Aware of Holiday Scams:

  • Be aware that skimmers thieves place on ATM machines are looking more authentic and harder to detect. It is also best to use an ATM that is inside a secure building, or in a well-lit area free from shrubbery and partitions.
  • Always check your receipt after your leave a store, especially when you have used your debit card. Make sure it doesn’t say that you received cash back when you didn’t.
  • Only give to charities that are well-established. Don’t get fooled just because the charity has children. Never give out your credit card information to a charity over the phone.
  • Check the shipping company and phone number on the note on parcels left outside your door. The note may ask you to call a phone number that is overseas and you will be charged high rates. Never give your personal information, or the times when you will be away from home.
  • Only buy gift cards at stores you know. Always check the receipt and make sure the code isn’t scratched.
  • Avoid the outside lane in gas stations. Since they are out of view, thieves can easily attach skimmers. When you are done with your gas purchase, make sure the machine clears out. Use a credit card to limit your liability.
  • When returning to your car after shopping, if you notice your car has a flat tire, even if a uniformed officer approaches you and offers to help out, it is best to walk back to the mall and contact mall security to help you. If you need to unload packages in your car and return to your shopping, be aware that thieves could be watching you. You may want to drive your car around and park it on the other side of the mall before you continue shopping.