The holiday season should be a joyous time of year with celebrations at home with friends and family, the smell of Christmas trees, scented candles and delicious treats. The holidays are also peak travel season, leaving many homes empty. Here are some tips to keep you and your home safe this holiday season.

Shop smart

Santa Carrying Shopping BagsKeep your finances safe while you do your holiday shopping. Criminals and scammers use many techniques to fool potential victims, including fraudulent online auction sales and selling stripped gift cards. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) has put together a list of tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of a holiday scam.

When shopping at stores, never leave shopping bags full of goodies in plain view in your car. Always lock your doors and windows, park in well-lit areas and have your keys ready as you walk out to your car.

When online shopping, consider having your packages shipped to your office rather than your home to prevent thieves from stealing packages. You can also ask the U.S. Postal Service to hold your packages if you expect to be gone during the delivery.

Secure your home

home_securityBefore traveling for the holidays, lock all doors and windows and arm your security system. Leave on outdoor lights, plus a few lights near visible windows to make it appear as if you are home. Put a hold on your mail or newspaper delivery or ask a neighbor to pick it up. Ask your neighbor to park one of their cars in your driveway, so it looks like someone is home. If you live in an area that gets snow, make arrangements for snow removal in case you are away from your home for an extended period of time.

Avoid decorating disasters

Christmas-Decorations-Lights-In-A-BowlWhen you set up your Christmas tree, make sure it is away from any heat source such as a heating vent, fireplace or furnace to avoid any chance of a fire. Whether you have a fresh tree or artificial tree, follow these safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association. Also, inspect your holiday lights for potential frayed wires, broken cords or lights or loose bulb connections. Replace strands with any of these issues. Make sure you use lights that are designated for indoor or outdoor use only before decorating as well. And remember to always turn off Christmas tree lights before bed, and blow out any lit candles around the house.

Be prepared for the unpredictable

christmas tree and ornamentThe holidays are a great time to make sure you have a working fire extinguisher and smoke detectors in your home. Each year, fire departments respond to an average of 210 structure fires caused by Christmas trees. Whether for the tree and decorations or for the kitchen, make sure you have the appropriate tools in easy to access locations just in case something should arise. And remember the importance of having homeowners insurance. In the event of a robbery or a fire, it will be just the safety net you need to help pick up the pieces.