If you're gearing up for an August vacation or end-of-the-summer weekend getaway, you'll want to keep not only your home safe, but your good name as well.
Most of us hear annual tips about taking measures to keep burglars at bay and keep valuables safe while we're away. But some burglars are now targeting more than just jewelry and electronics. This class of thieves wants to break into your house to steal your identity - your social security number, credit card numbers, or any other information that enables them to commit fraud or theft.
And this is the time of year you should be most careful. The FBI says August is the summer month in which most residential burglaries occur.
The Insurance Information Institute says the average loss to the homeowner when a burglary occurs is $1,381. And the industry pays out more than $1 billion in claims.
When it comes to identify fraud, the Federal Trade Commission says it was the No. 1 fraud complaint last year, accounting for 43 percent of the complaints lodged with the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database -- 220,000 in 2001 to 380,000 in 2002.
The FTC and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse say the average victim will incur $18,000 in credit card losses and will spend 175 hours straightening out the mess with all the agencies and companies involved.
The FTC says some of the most common tactics include:
Whenever you go on vacation or leave your house for an extended period of time, it's important to protect your computer and keep important documents safe.
The III says you should turn off your computer and disconnect it from the Internet. If you have personal information on your computer make sure it is password-protected or difficult to access so hackers/burglars can't obtain it.
Also, the III says you shouldn't leave personal documents in the obvious spots like a desk or home office. Instead, put them in a lock box and have copies kept at a separate location.
Some insurance companies offer identity theft insurance as part of a homeowners policy; some sell it as a separate policy. Policies typically cost $25 to $50 and provide up to $25,000 worth of coverage.
But the most important thing you can do is make sure burglars don't make it into your house in the first place. In fact, nine out of ten home break-ins could have been prevented if homeowners knew how to burglarproof their homes, the III says. Many burglars look for easy, quick targets. They don't want to bother with a house that takes too long to break into.
The National Crime Prevention Council, a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on crime prevention, and the III offer these specific tips to follow before you go on vacation: