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Don't let your holidays become an opportunity for criminals

For many of us, the holidays are a mixture of fun and frantic shopping, joyful times and a hectic pace. Criminals, however, see the holiday season as full of opportunities - the perfect time to take advantage of seasonal chaos.

With everything going on, the holiday season is no time to let your guard down when it comes to home security.  Criminals know that our holiday habits can leave our homes, belongings and personal information vulnerable.

Fortunately, by taking some simple precautions, you can help protect your home, purchases and identity from predators this holiday season and avoid an unwanted homeowners insurance claim.

Secure your home in Portland, Beaverton, and neighboring communities.

Burglars know many people travel during the holidays, and many more will leave brand-new, valuable merchandise in their homes when they're out. A criminal is more likely to target a home that looks vulnerable. The best thing homeowners can do to protect their homes and help avoid a Portland homeowners insurance loss is to make it clear to burglars that their house won't be an easy mark.

Reduce the risk of burglary by:

* Putting inside and outside lights on a timer to make your home look occupied while you're away.

* Keeping bushes, trees and decorations from obscuring the view of your front door from the road.

* Suspending newspaper and mail delivery if you'll be away for several days.

* Arranging for snow removal in case of a fresh snowfall while you're away.

Consider installing a cost-effective home security system that allows you to control everything remotely from a mobile or Web-based system such as a smart phone or laptop. A Portland home without a security system is two to three times more likely to be burglarized, according to a study by Temple University.

While you're keeping bad guys out, don't overlook fire safety as well. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the top days for home candle fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.  Remember, never leave candles burning and don't overload electrical sockets with decorative lights. You don’t want an uninvited visit form the Portland, Beaverton, or other local fire department attending your holiday celebration.

Stay safe when you're out.

Thieves know our holiday shopping habits and can make us vulnerable to theft while we're out and about. From breaking into cars to "shoulder surfing" for credit card information and PIN numbers, criminals take every opportunity to brighten the holidays for themselves. When holiday shopping, keep these safety tips in mind:

* Never leave shopping bags, wrapped gifts or other valuables visible inside the car. Always place them in the trunk. Thieves are more likely to break into a vehicle if they can see the loot in it.

* Carry only the credit card you need and one piece of ID when shopping. Leave your Social Security card at home or in a secure place.

* Be aware of who might be looking over your shoulder as you type a PIN number.

* Never allow a store clerk to take your credit card out of your sight.

* Consider identity theft insurance which may be offered by endorsement to your homeowners insurance, or a protection monitoring service, which monitors your credit and can alert you if a piece of your personal information is used incorrectly in an application for credit or services.

By taking some precautions, Portland homeowners and shoppers can ensure the holidays stay bright for themselves and their families - and not for criminals.