The best line of defense may be installinga security system.
By REBECCA SLOAN
The stockings are hung by the chimney with care and the hall closet is packed with presents waiting to be wrapped and piled under the Christmas tree.
It's the time of year when giving a gift is twice as nice as receiving one -- unless the person receiving that treasured present happens to be a sneaky thief.
Jesse Matheson, who has been in the home security business for 35 years and owns Howland Alarm Inc., offered advice to homeowners who want to keep thieves at bay during the holidays.
"Burglaries happen all year, but they are most common during the holidays mainly because thieves know there are gifts in the house and also because [homeowners] do a lot of traveling during the holidays," Matheson said. "From the day after Thanksgiving to a few weeks after New Year's, thieves are looking to steal electronics, jewelry and other costly gifts that were either given at Christmas or are being stored in the house waiting to be given away."
Recommendations: Matheson said homeowners who plan to leave town even for just one or two days should invest in light timers to help give the illusion that someone is home.
He also recommends having a close friend or neighbor collect mail so it doesn't pile up in a roadside box or on a front doorstep.
Matheson doesn't, however, recommend having mail held at the post office.
"The fewer people who know that you are going to be out of town, the better. It's a sad reality, but you just don't know where a thief might be. A thief could work at the post office or a postal worker could innocently mention that you will be out of town to somebody and that person could be a thief," Matheson said.
Al Cochran, branch manager for the Boardman office of Guardian Protection Services, a national home security company, said if your home has a mail slot on the door and accumulated letters cannot be viewed through a window, then it's OK to have mail delivered to your home while you are out of town.
"As long as the thief can't see a huge pile of mail sitting around, it's OK," he said. Cochran also recommends leaving a car parked in the driveway while you are gone to make it look like someone is home.
What he doesn't recommend, however, is leaving a TV or radio playing continuously.
"Lots of people think that leaving a TV or radio on will make it seem like someone is around, but doing this is dangerous because appliances that are left running while unattended have the potential to start a fire," Cochran said.
Speaking of fire, Cochran doesn't recommend that homeowners use light timers to control Christmas lights and says homeowners should never leave Christmas decorations or candles lit after they go to bed at night.
"Lots of people like to leave their trees lit all night, but this just isn't safe. A fire could start and you wouldn't know it," he said.
And if you assume that nighttime is always the right time for thieves to strike, think again.
Misconception: Both Cochran and Matheson said homeowners shouldn't assume that break-ins occur most frequently during the shadows of the wee hours.
"Break-ins in broad daylight are very common," Cochran said. "Thieves know that both parents are at work, kids are at school and if neighbors are at home, they usually aren't looking out the windows."
Matheson said most break-ins actually occur between 9 a.m. and noon.
"Someone will ring a doorbell to see if anyone is home, and if no one is around, they'll just kick in the door. Dead bolts don't always work," he said.
Matheson said another myth is that a well-lit yard will keep an intruder away.
"Some thieves say a well-lit yard actually makes stealing easier because they don't have to stumble around in the dark with a flashlight once they are inside the house, and it's also easier to get inside the home because they can see exactly what they are doing," he said.
Location: Cochran said it doesn't matter if a home is in a rural or an urban location -- any house is fair game, although Matheson said homes without close neighbors are always easier targets.
"It doesn't matter if you don't live in an upscale neighborhood or not. Thieves don't know exactly what is inside a house before they break in to it. When they break in, they are in and out in five or 10 minutes. They ransack the place and grab what they can," he said.
Cochran said guns, cash, jewelry and electronics are the most sought-after items.
"A thief will typically unlock a second door when they first get inside a home. Next they hurry through the house and pile up everything they want in front of that door. When they're done, they just grab it and get out," he said.
Although thieves are deterred by home security systems the moment they see sign in a home's yard that indicates the home is protected, Matheson said homeowners should have systems inspected yearly to ensure things are working properly.
Home protection: Austintown resident Cheryl Moran said she and her family sleep easier each night since having a home security system installed about six years ago.
"I never worry. The system has gone off accidentally a few times, and the police were here immediately," Moran said.
Moran said she chose to have the system installed when many others in her neighborhood were doing the same.
"Nothing specific happened to make me feel at risk, but I definitely feel safer now that we have the security system," she said.
Matheson said although home security systems are definitely the best way to deter a thief, nothing is 100 percent fool proof.
For example, home security systems that rely on telephone wires to alert law enforcement at the time of a break-in are gradually being replaced by systems that send signals through a resident's cellular telephone.
"This is because on of the latest thing thieves have started to do is cut a home's telephone lines prior to breaking in, which means the security system won't work," he explained. "If the system relies on a cellular phone to alert police, cutting the telephone wires won't make a difference."