Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don’t Forget to Protect Your Home Before You Head South

Winter is teasing us this year with December and January temperatures warmer than expected.   But, we all know Mother Nature is fickle and winter in New England is, if anything, unpredictable.  While we have been spared tundra-like chills and sky-high snow banks so far, winter is far from over.  The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a stormier than usual February, including some “potent” Nor’easters. 

As the temperature falls, many Rhode Islanders pack up for warmer climates.  But while you are warming your toes in the sand without a care in the world, you may become a victim of a crime thousands of miles away.  Just like those two bumbling crooks in the classic movie “Home Alone,” criminals may be laying in wait for your house to be vacant.

Before you pack your bags and load the wagon for a warmer destination, here are some important tips to protect you from being a victim of identity theft or some other crime.

1)   Don’t let your mail stack up in your box.  Your unopened letters can be a treasure chest for identity thieves. Place a hold on your mail with the post office or have your mail forwarded if you plan to be gone for several weeks.
2)   Make arrangements to have your sidewalk shoveled.  Unshoveled sidewalks are a sign that nobody is home.  
3)   Arrange for any vehicles left outside to be brushed clean of snow to give the impression of regular use.
4)   Inform trusted relatives or neighbors that you plan to be away and ask they keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.
5)   Make sure someone you trust knows how to contact you in case of emergency.
6)   Check your billing statements while you are away.  Be sure to report any fraudulent charges immediately.
7)   Do not broadcast the fact that you are going away on your voicemail or answering machine.
8)   Don’t hide spare keys on your property.
9)   Consider installing solar or motion-sensor floodlights that come on nightly. This helps give the impression that someone is home.
10) Set lights or even a television inside your home to a timer so that there are still lights on at night.
11) Notify police that your home will be vacant.  Provide the police with the dates the house will be vacant and an emergency contact name and phone number.

Staying close to home this winter?  You too need to be vigilant to protect yourself and your property.

1.   Have additional supplies on hand in the event of severe weather (food, batteries, sand and salt).
2.   Be wary of contractors going “door to door” after a storm offering assistance or snow plowing.   Never let anyone you don’t know into your home.
3.   Make plans for snow removal. Contract with a snow removal service (or the neighbor’s teenage sons) before a snow storm hits. If you have to shovel, make sure you take it easy and stop for frequent breaks - shoveling is very physically strenuous.
  1. If you need to have repairs done on your home or property, make sure the contractor is licensed with the Rhode Island Contractors Registration and Licensing Board.  The Board can be reached at (401) 222-1268.
5.   Prearrange for someone to check on you in case of a weather emergency.  If you have special needs or need assistance during a storm, the State of Rhode Island offers a broad range of services for seniors.   For more information on available services, please call the POINT, Rhode Island's Aging and Disability Resource Center- at 462-4444 or 462-4445 (TTY).

Whatever your plans are this winter, it is important to keep yourself, your property and your identity safe.  If you have any questions, or believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft or fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Unit of the Office of Attorney General at 401-274-4400.