What criminals hope you’ll forget during the holidays

If you're hiding gifts in the car so the kids won't see them until Christmas morning, don’t leave them in a visible spot where a criminal can see them first. (WTHR Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – As millions of people make final preparations for the holidays, criminals know exactly where our attention is focused. And they are looking to take advantage.

The final week of the year is one of the busiest when it comes to theft – from homes, cars and our bank accounts.

13 Investigates has put together a quick holiday checklist to keep you safe while you celebrate into the New Year:

1. Protect items in your vehicle.

Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are two of the most popular days of the year for having things stolen out of vehicles, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. So, of course, it makes sense to make sure your car or truck is locked. But go a step further. If you're hiding gifts in the car so the kids won't see them until Christmas morning, don’t leave them in a visible spot where a criminal can see them first. Instead, keep them in the trunk where they are out of sight. If you do need to store a gift on the front or back seat, cover it with a blanket so it’s not an incentive for a thief looking for a quick smash-and-grab burglary.

2. Your trash says a lot about you.

Nothing screams “I got a new 60-inch TV set for Christmas!” louder than putting the discarded box for that TV on your curb next to your trash can. Lawrence Police Capt. Tracey Cantrell says burglars do pay close attention on garbage day. “When you do that, bad guys know you have new items now, and they’ll actually case your home to see when you’re home and when you’re not. It happens more than what people think,” he told WTHR. Cantrell recommends breaking down large boxes so they fit inside your trash or recycling bins or taking those boxes to a recycling center instead of putting them on the curb. “If they know you have a lot of new toys in your house, it's just an invitation to burglarize a home.”

3. Before you go to church or grandma’s house…

Lock your doors. All of them. It may sound like common sense, but FBI crime data shows a home burglary takes place every 15 seconds and one third of them access homes through an unlocked door or window. And with lots of people coming in and out of your home over the holidays, you may not remember the side door to the garage or the back patio sliding door was left unlocked. While you’re double checking your locks, turn on a few extra lights for added security.

4. Leave social media at home during vacation.

If you are going out of town during your holiday break, don’t announce it on social media and wait until you get home to post those beach photos. “That’s a big mistake people make. All these nice pictures of you in Florida are great. But if you’re in Florida today, that means you’re not at home, and criminals now know that,” said Cantrell, adding that criminals often check social media posts to help target their victims. Also, if you got an expensive holiday gift that you are excited to tell everyone about, think twice before posting it on Facebook or Snapchat.

5. Don’t let mail and packages pile up.

Use the U.S. Postal Service’s free online mail hold service to stop mail if you plan to be out of town during the holidays so mail does not pile up. If you are expecting packages to be delivered while you are not at home, ask a neighbor to monitor your porch and to store it until you return. A package that sits on a porch for several days is at risk of being stolen and signals that a homeowner is not home or that he may be sick, disabled or not attentive.

6. Ask your local police department to keep an eye on your home.

This is something we usually think to ask our neighbors about – and you should! But some local police departments also offer courtesy checks if you notify them that you’ll be away from home. “When you do go out of town for the holidays or anytime, here in the city of Lawrence you can come into dispatch, fill out a request form, and we can actually do random patrols to your home and in your neighborhood while you’re gone for a certain period of time,” said Cantrell. Call your local police department’s non-emergency number to find out if they offer this service in your community.

7. Who’s using your credit cards?

The answer to that question should be: You and only you. But unless you look at your credit card bills very closely in January, you probably won’t know. December is the busiest month of the year when it comes to credit card purchases and a few extra charges can easily slide by unnoticed. Scam artists rely on consumers not paying close attention to their bills, especially when it comes to relatively smaller charges. Spend extra time reviewing your next credit card statements in January and request a free online credit check through a national credit bureau to make sure no one else accessed your credit during the holidays.