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How to Keep Porch Pirates and House Fires From Making Your Holidays Hazardous

The holiday season typically conjures up images of good food, joyful traditions and the generosity of family and friends. Unfortunately, it can also be a time for serious (and usually preventable) hazards, porch pirates and even a few party poopers.

Earlier this year insuranceQuotes commissioned a study to find out the frequency of certain holiday hazards, including an increased risk for fires caused by cooking mishaps and candles, the vandalizing of outdoor holiday decorations, and the growing threat of thieves swiping deliveries from unattended front porches.

The findings were sobering and serve as a reminder that the holiday season requires an extra dose of diligence and preparation.

Some finger-crossing also couldn’t hurt when it comes to your delivery packages still being at your door when you arrive home.

That’s because 25.9 million Americans (8 percent) have had a holiday package delivery stolen from a front porch or doorstep. This is up from 23.5 million porch thefts uncovered in our 2015 survey on the same topic.

And it’s not just packages that are risk from nefarious individuals. According to the survey, 22.6 million Americans (7 percent) have also had holiday decorations stolen or vandalized.

Talk about the Grinch stealing Christmas.

 

As for house fires, the survey found that 12.9 million Americans have experienced a house fire caused by a fryer or general kitchen cooking during the holiday season, 9.7 million caused by lit candles and 6.5 million caused by lights on a Christmas tree.

“It’s really important to make sure we’re not forgetting some of the basics of home safety during this time of year,” says Emily Long, security expert with ASecureLife. “The holidays shouldn’t be a time for unexpected hazards.”

Protecting yourself agains porch pirates and vandals

What was once a fringe concern for holiday shoppers has now blossomed into a full-fledged home security quandary, as more and more thieves are swiping deliveries from front porches and neighborhood stoops. And when you examine retail trends it’s easy to see why this particular brand of theft is on the rise.

According to a 2017 survey by the international accounting and consulting firm Deloitte, American shoppers plan to spend 51 percent of their holiday shopping budget online — and only 42 percent in brick and mortar stores. This marks the first year that online shopping sales will exceed those made in stores.

As a result, more and more Americans are coming home to find so-called porch pirates have purloined their packages, and according to this year’s insuranceQuotes survey, nearly 26 million online shoppers have fallen victim to this growing trend.

“Porch thieves know how many people are shopping online these days, and they know they have more opportunities to steal during this peak shopping season,” Long says. “They also know consumers can't always stay home from work to collect packages when they arrive, and that makes those packages an easy target.”

Over the past several years, security firms, delivery services and online retailers have tried to find both low- and high-tech solutions for this problem. For instance, Landport is a secured delivery drop box homeowners can install on their porch or stoop. The box is bolted to its location and features an electronic keypad on which a delivery driver enters a unique access code to open the lid.

It may not be festive, but at least your packages will be safe.

“Unfortunately, porch theft is a difficult problem to address,” says Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and COO of the risk-mitigation firm Chargebacks911. “While there are organized groups who engage in this practice, it is most often a crime of convenience; the thief sees a package sitting unattended, and simply grabs it.”

Delivery confirmation can help by serving as evidence for a transactions dispute, Cardone says, but it doesn’t prevent the root of the issue: the theft.”

On the high-tech end of porch theft solutions is the recently unveiled Amazon Key, and the idea is fairly simple: When a delivery arrives at your house and you’re not home, the courier scans a barcode that sends a request to Amazon’s cloud. If it’s approved Amazon remotely unlocks your door and starts recording video through the online retailer’s Cloud Cam. The delivery is left inside the house, the courier relocks the door, and the customer gets an instant notification that the delivery was just made (accompanied by a short video showing the successful drop off).

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The service costs $249.99 and includes the smart lock, camera and installation.

Since its release earlier this year the Amazon Key has generated mixed reactions from analysts. Some herald it as a novel approach to solving the porch pirate predicament, while others are skeptical that consumers will be comfortable allowing a stranger access to the home — regardless of the fact that it’s being recorded.

“I think this is an overly ambitious idea that will not catch on initially, but it has promise,” says attorney Marc Lamber, who specializes in the intersection of cutting-edge technology and personal injury law. “Right now I think privacy and safety concerns will outweigh the benefits of preventing porch theft. The idea of giving a ‘key’ to your house to a random delivery driver will not sit well with most people.”

Lamber says consumers are right to be a little skeptical about the Amazon Key at this stage, adding that he can foresee scenarios where the camera does not work and the driver gains entry to your home without you being able to observe what they’re doing. Or perhaps the smart lock does not relock correctly or has a buggy code that grants entry permission to more than one person.

“We live in the age where getting something to market first trumps reliable software, and I don’t think the majority of people will be willing to take that chance with the security of their home,” Lamber says. “For now, I think consumers should stick with what makes them comfortable, and figure out a way to have their packages signed for and stored securely.”

Others are a little more bullish in their praise of the service.

“This is being received very well by many, because for many people there simply is no other alterative,” says Teris Pantazes, co-founder of EFynch, a Maryland-based home repair service.

Pantazes says many of his clients have already purchased the Amazon Key. “Yes, privacy is a concern, but the cameras seems to negate this concern and many people believe and trust Amazon. I hear a few concerns on social media but, by and large, the solution outweighs any of the potential problems.”

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In addition to porch piracy, Americans are also right to be concerned about the safety of their outdoor decorations. According to the insuranceQuotes survey, 22.6 million people have had holiday decorations stolen or vandalized. What’s more, 34 percent of those individuals decided to install motion detectors, 30 percent installed a security system and 25 percent installed automatic timers for their lights.

“Motion-censored lights are always a good idea, as they will not only alarm intruders while you’re away but can also alert neighbors to see what’s going on at your home,” Long says. “As for security systems — homes without them are 300 percent more likely to be broken into or vandalized. Considering one for the holiday season isn’t a bad idea.”

Frequency of home fires

Sometimes even the most basic home safety measures can be neglected during the frenzied holiday season, and this often leads to a spike in fires caused by myriad holiday mishaps.

For instance, according to the insuranceQuotes study, 12.9 million Americans have experienced a house fire due to a fryer or cooking accident, 9.7 million have had fires caused by lit candles and 6.5 million have experienced a house fire caused by a Christmas tree.

“Fires are a huge risk for homeowners during the holidays and ensuing winter months,” says Carol Hanover, risk control field director for Travelers Insurance.

Hanover says there are 15 percent more fires on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year and that, on average, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve had 12 percent more fire claims than any other week of the year.

“We always see claim data spike during this time of year and some of the causes are easily preventable if you take the proper precautions,” says Hanover.

Here are a few tips for preventing house fires during the holidays:

  • Cook with caution: Because built-up grease can ignite in the oven or on the cooktop, it’s important to keep the area clean and dispose of cooled grease in a metal can. Also, be sure to keep your cooking area free of materials like food wrappers or oven mitts, which could quickly catch fire.
  • Deck the halls carefully: While they may seem harmless, two of the most common fire culprits are candles and Christmas trees. Duncanson says that when lighting candles, make sure to keep them in sight and put them out when you leave a room. As for the Christmas tree, make sure it is at least three feet away from heat sources and does not block any exits. If it is a real tree, keep it hydrated and dispose of it as soon as needles start to dry and fall. Stick to quality, indoor string lights that don’t show any signs of wear and tear.
  • Prep your fireplace: To be sure, a crackling fireplace is a holiday staple, but make sure to inspect the chimney each season before you use it. If you see black and flaky creosote deposits, use a wire brush to scrub them away.
  • Sound the alarm: Be sure you have enough smoke detectors and that they’re installed in the right locations in your home. At a minimum, experts recommend one on each floor and one outside each sleeping area. Replace batteries and test the alarms at least twice a year — monthly is even better — and have a pre-designated area away from the home where family members will gather in the event of a fire.
  • Double check your insurance: Make it a habit to review you homeowners insurance policy and important homeowner documents every year, saving electronic copies in your email files so you can easily access them if the originals or hard copies are destroyed.

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Methodology:

This study was conducted for insuranceQuotes via telephone by SSRS. Interviews were conducted from November 1-5, 2017 among a sample of 1,009 respondents. The margin of error for total respondents is +/- 3.71% at the 95% confidence level. All data are weighted to represent the adult U.S. population.

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