Community Voices

Crime Watch: Securing your home before going on vacation

Last week we spoke about traveling, so today let’s review what needs to be done to enjoy ourselves and leave our homes properly secure.

Let’s start with our mail and newspapers. If possible, have a neighbor pick them up. Most people do call to suspend delivery, but when you call, do you really know to whom you are speaking? Even if you use that wonderful automated service that tells you to press 1 for this and 2 for that, you are advertising your absence.

Remember to leave lights on in the front and rear of the house. Get a timer or use solar-powered lights. Trim hedges, especially if they are near your windows. Overgrown bushes can cover windows, giving a burglar a hiding place and blocking your neighbors’ view of the house. Check windows and other areas that may be vulnerable. If you have a window air conditioner, secure it with brackets and screws. Turn on a radio, get timers for your lamps and set them to coincide with the time you are usually at home.

Do not leave a message on your phone saying that you are gone. Give your neighbor your contact information in case he or she needs to reach you. And lastly, please, if you go to the bank to withdraw money, be vigilant and don’t make stops on the way home.

Now one more issue while traveling: When getting gas select stations that are well-lighted and, if possible, that have video-surveillance cameras at the pumps.

When purchasing gas, use the pump that is closest to the station building. Credit-card theft happens a lot at gas stations. Crooks will pull the credit card slot out and replace it with a skimmer. They use the pumps that are farthest from the station so they won’t be seen by the attendant. Before you insert your credit card, grab the slot and sort of give it a pull to make sure it’s secure. If it has been tampered with, you will know it. Always remove your keys and lock your car doors while you are pumping gas; do not leave your purse or other items out in the open. Pay attention to your surroundings and please don’t talk on the cellphone while pumping gas. If you are traveling with someone, make sure they stay in the car if you have to use the restroom. If traveling alone, after you pump the gas, move the car to the front of the building, lock the doors and don’t leave your purse behind in the car.

After last week’s column, a woman wrote and made some great suggestions: Wear cargo pants, which offer plenty of places for your personal items. Also, although it’s convenient to make travel plans online, working with a travel agent can save you lots of headaches, and they can give you that personal touch you might need. Make sure they are members of ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents. There are many good online travel agencies, but I personally don’t book anything online if I can help it.

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to, or call her at 305-470-1670.