With senioritis in full swing for some, and spring break right around the corner for all, you’re hopefully already making plans to go somewhere fun and exciting during the week off. But before you leave for whatever exotic location you might have in mind — during which time you’ll probably/hopefully only remember about a third of what you did — be sure to take just a moment to secure your windows and lock your doors. While probably the last thing you want to think about, and not the least bit exciting, it only takes a few seconds and some self-awareness to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of property theft.

Slightly unrelated, but still interesting none-the-less, a recent article in Adweek discussed the growing problem of retail theft near the holidays. In the November 2011 article, it talks about how, in the United States, the top three items stolen are: No. 1, gourmet/choice cuts of meat (e.g. filet mignon), No. 2, expensive liquors (e.g. Jameson) and No. 3, electric tools (e.g. electric toothbrushes). Worldwide, according to a 2012 report out of the U.K.’s Center for Retail Research, the No. 1 food item flying into the pockets of shoppers across the globe is … cheese.

Back on topic, being a victim of property theft is a bummer, and your home, car, bike, computer, phone and self are all potential targets if given the right opportunity. When it comes to property theft, thieves are not necessarily looking to hit up your refrigerator for gourmet meats and cheese, though they might nick your bottle of Crown Royal — only because it looks so classy in its purple velvet pouch. Whereas a lot of retail theft is an act of desperation — parents needing baby formula or diapers, alcoholics needing alcohol and college students needing electric toothbrushes (and alcohol) — a lot of personal property theft is an act of opportunity. Most thieves don’t want to be seen or have a confrontation; they want an opportunity where they can take your stuff and go unnoticed.

The majority of the following tips — compiled from several law enforcement websites during extensive internet research — should be common sense, but hopefully, one or two might get you thinking about what you can do to reduce your chances of experiencing the cost and hassle of being a victim of property theft.

Your Home

Obvious, but always lock your doors and close your windows. Screen doors and windows don’t count either. You might be surprised by how many homes are entered through an unlocked door or open window.

Lock your garage door (if you have one). Again, you might be surprised by how many homes are entered through an unlocked garage door.

Know your neighbors, talk to your neighbors and look out for your neighbors, and hopefully, they’ll look out for you. Take the time to introduce yourself if you haven’t already, and exchange phone numbers. Offer to call if you see something “not quite right” going on at their home.

Went surfing and left your wetsuit out front to dry? Move it out back and bring it in before heading to bed. As a general rule, never leave valuables in your front yard unattended, and try not to leave anything in an unsecured backyard overnight if it’s easy to swipe.

Going away for spring break, winter break, summer or a short trip? Plan on doing a few things before you leave. First, place a mail hold or forwarding address with the post office. Next, let your neighbors know you’ll be gone. Finally, if you’re going on a short trip, consider leaving the radio on and setting timers on your lights. You should also place a hold on any newspaper deliveries, but seriously, who gets their news in paper form anymore?

Never leave big boxes or other trash out signifying a big or expensive purchase. When you take your trash out, cut or fold up any boxes or packaging and place them inside your trashcans.

If you rent, strongly consider renter’s insurance.

Your Car

Obvious, but always roll up your windows and lock your doors when leaving your car unattended. This includes in front of your house or place of work.

Again, obvious, but never leave anything of value in plain view in your car. This is true even if your windows are rolled up and doors locked.

Never leave your key wedged in your sun visor or under the car in a Hide-A-Key.

Always try to park in well-lit areas with heavy foot traffic.

With the exception of your insurance and registration, never leave documents that personally identify you in your car. This includes your car’s title, or “pink slip”.

When leaving your key with the valet, because we all know you ONLY valet your whip, only leave your ignition key with a valet. The same can be said when leaving your car with a mechanic.

Your Bike

Cable locks are for chumps and can be cut with a pair of household scissors, given enough time and effort. Buy a chain lock. Many varieties now come with a cloth covering that’s not only trendy, but also prevents the chain from clanking around.

If you’re riding an expensive road bike, cruiser or fixie, consider using a chain and U-lock. Both can be stored fairly conveniently on your bike when not in use, and by using two different types of locks, you become that much more of a pain in the butt for a thief.

That nice leather saddle you have on your bike is another easy target for thieves if it’s not locked down. That said, there are now non-descript, chain seat locks available out there too.

When using a U-lock, keep the lock as close to the bike as possible when locked up to create as little room as possible to create leverage should someone try to bust it.

Take a picture of your bike and note its registration number. If your bike does get lifted, unless you have a GPS on it, those are about the only two things you’ll have to help you claim it.

Your Laptop

If you have to leave your laptop in your car, leave it in the trunk. Even if your laptop is in a carrying case, everyone knows what’s inside. This includes when your car is in the garage. Pro tip: If it’s hot out, never leave your laptop in your car.

If possible, buy and use a nondescript carrying case for your computer. Samsonite carrying case = bad. Dora the Explorer backpack = good.

Like magic, anytime you run to the bathroom at the Robert E. Kennedy Library, Starbucks or where ever else you might be pretending to study on your laptop, when you return, your computer will be gone. Get a laptop lock and lock it to the table or desk, or better yet, take it with you and get more work done.

Consider not only applying trendy decals to your laptop, but also some type distinctive paint markings. That “Coexist” sticker can be peeled off pretty easily; the paint, not so much.

Regularly backup your hard drive to a cloud or flash drive.

Yourself

A significant number of property thefts occurs while shopping.

If possible, shop with a friend or friends. Thieves would much rather target a victim who is alone as opposed to a group of two or more.

If driving and you’re alone and shopping at night — or otherwise feel unsafe — see if the store has a clerk who can escort you to your car.

Again, if driving, try to park as close to the store entrance as possible, in an area that’s lit and has heavy foot-traffic.

Leave your cash at home — and your wallet and purse for that matter — and carry just your credit card and driver’s license.

Keep an eye out for anyone loitering near or around your car. Wait for them to leave if you feel suspicious, or ask for help from the store if you feel threatened.

While there is no way to completely prevent property theft, just a little effort on your part can significantly reduce your chances of experiencing it.

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