Posted by Jill Kerby, The Tuam Herald in Features.

Long time readers of this column know how loath I am to mention Christmas before December, but a survey produced by Aviva Home Insurance has raised an important issue—not just the huge cost of Christmas for the average Irish household this year, €1,463—but the real and increased risk of beak-ins and robberies during the Christmas season.

And I know all about that. One lunchtime last December, while I was sitting at this very computer, writing a Money Times column, a navy track-suited thief tried to break into my house via second floor window at the end of the corridor outside my office. It was a sunny, crisp day and the smashing of a pane of glass brought myself and my 20-year-old son dashing out of our rooms.

The cowardly thief, who the Gardaí figured was carrying a small hammer or heavy screwdriver, jumped off the adjacent shed roof and swiftly walked down the bak garden and over the wall.

The Gardaí told me this brazen burglar was “simply doing his Christmas shopping”—my valuables—which he would then sell off (or give away) for cash which he would use to buy presents for his family and probably to feed a drug habit.

Fortunately, because we were home, he scurried off, but earlier that morning he had badly frightened an elderly neighbour who caught him looking into her kitchen window. Fortunately, she too always keeps her back door and downstairs windows locked.

I don’t keep my alarm system on during the daytime while we are in the house—who does? But that incident last December has certainly made my family more security conscious, something Aviva says should be everyone’s priority this Christmas, when between €350 and €500 worth of gifts are under Christmas trees. This is why Aviva top up their customers’ contents insurance cover by 10% for December (which of course will also include the value of all other valuables that thieves target—cash and jewellery, mobile phones, computers and tablets, wide-screen televisions, etc.)

According to the insurer, nearly a third of respondents admit that a burglary is a big feat over the Christmas season, and for good reason: the number of burglaries rises by a whopping 25% around the Christmas–New Year season, say the Gardaí, and the prosecution and recovery rate is a fraction of that.

These are Aviva’s ten top tips for protecting your home this Christmas

  1. Check your home insurance policy to make sure your Christmas gifts are covered in the unlucky event of a burglary. Aviva increases the contents sum by 10%—all the insurers should.
  2. Don’t leave Christmas gifts in plain sight of windows and potentially in view of burglars. Keep them hidden as long as possible.
  3. Lock away any garden tools or ladders so that a burglar cannot use them to break into your house, and use a heavy-duty padlock to lock your garden shed.
  4. Develop a safety-check routine ensuring all windows and doors are locked before going out.
  5. Tell your Neighbourhood Watch or a trusted neighbour if you’ll be away over the period.
  6. Don’t leave car keys in plain sight on hall tables or wall hooks.
  7. If you are leaving your home for an extended break over Christmas, ask that neighbour or friend to check the house, take in post etc.
  8. Even if your social media profiles are closed to non-friends don’t use them to announce you will be away for the holidays. Burglars monitor these sites.
  9. When you go shopping or socialising over the holidays give the impression that someone is home—consider leaving on a radio, TV or some lights.
  10. If you are leaving for an extended period and taking your car, consider asking that friend or neighbour to park their car in your driveway from time to time to give the impression that your house is occupied.

Last December, when the break-in attempt was made on my house, the Gardaí told me that while a good security system and even CCTV cameras are a good idea, a loud, barking dog is “one of the best deterrents of all”, particularly since the vast majority of thieves are opportunists.

However security companies insist that secure windows and doors with locks and other devices that prevent the thief from entering are what we should also be considering.

Finally, too many of us unwittingly allow strangers who might be burglars into our homes, the other and easiest way our homes get robbed.

This Christmas, be wary of door to door salesmen, charity collectors, chorister and any strange tradesmen who offer to clear your gutters or are in the neighbourhood checking for gas or electricity faults. Call a neighbour, the utility company or dial 999 if you feel threatened.

If you have a personal finance question for Jilly, please email her at [email protected] or write to her c/o of the The Tuam Herald.