According to Statistics South Africa, more than 50% of all crimes experienced by South African homeowners during the 2015/16 holiday season had to do with housebreaking. For most of us, the holidays means spending more time with family and friends, eating delicious food or going on vacation. But for criminals, this time signals the opportunity to break into homes. Don’t let the anticipation of a well-deserved holiday blind you to the risks of leaving your home unprotected. Take precautions before you leave as it will help keep your home and belongings secure while you’re gone, so you won’t have to worry about security once you’re on the road to fun and adventure.

Alert your alarm company

Make sure that your alarm is working by having it tested at least a week before you go away. Jarred Horn of Fidelity ADT advises: “Tell your security company that you’re going away (if you’re going away for more than a day or two) and inform them if anyone will be staying at your property – such as a family member, a house-sitter or a domestic worker.”

Give the illusion of activity

Install sensor lights at exit points of the house that will go on as soon as there’s movement on your property. It’s also wise to install timers on some of these lights so they’ll switch on automatically at night. This creates the illusion of occupancy.

Horn recommends that you ask a trusted friend to switch on lights, the TV or radios to create the typical noise and light of a regular family night. “Try to make it seem as if someone is home. Ask a friend to open and close curtains at appropriate times, switch lights on or off, or leave the TV on only at night. Nothing says, ‘We’re not home’ more than lights left on during the day or curtains closed.”

Hold your mail

A huge pile of mail on the front doorstep is an obvious tip-off that no one is home. If you’ll be gone for more than a few days, go to the post office to place a hold on your mail and on your daily newspaper. Alternatively, Horn advises that you ask a trusted neighbour to empty your mail every day. “This includes removing post or any other items, like pamphlets, that accumulate while you’re away.”

Get a house-sitter

The best solution to keeping your home safe while you’re away is getting a trusted house- or pet-sitter. Pet-sitters will ensure that your animals are well taken care of because leaving your dog without food, water, company and love is not only cruel, it can cause the poor animal to whine and bark, which will invite criminals. “If you have pets, get someone to look after them and leave enough food and water in the house,” says Horn. “Or, if you can afford it, house your pets at a kennel or cattery while you’re away.”

Do a security check

Lock all doors, burglar bars and windows. Sometimes people leave an access route open for their pets, but this allows criminals to get in a lot more easily than if the house is locked up. “Check for ways to enter your home.” says Horn. “Can criminals use the dustbin to reach the second storey window that’s open? Are items lying around that can be used to break into your home, such as a hosepipe or garden tools? Keep these locked away and out of sight.” A common entry point for burglars is to break in through an unlocked door or window, or to kick down the door. This is another reason to install burglar bars on your doors and windows.