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Vacation Safety

It’s the middle of summer and Texas, as usual, has heated up.  Many Texans are escaping the heat through travel and, unknowingly, putting themselves at a greater than usual risk for loss!  How many times have you logged onto the various social media sites and seen posts like this:

Many times, these posts are public or “friends of friends” can see them, take a screen shot, and share away with anyone. 

And we can’t forget the “look where we are” photos – hundreds upon hundreds of pictures of kids, hotels, food, and especially their feet or legs with an amazing background.  What better way to tell criminals that your home and autos are sitting there, ripe for a little “free shopping!”

And then there’s the trip itself . . . so many things can go wrong from missed flights to having your pockets picked that it can be stressful if you’re not fully prepared.  To help make sure you have peace of mind, we’ve put together some tips to help make sure you and your property is protected so that you can sit back and enjoy that well-earned trip!

Before You Leave:

  • Don’t use countdown counters on Social Media.

  • Don’t announce your vacation except to those people you would trust enough to give a spare key.

  • Have a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member pick up your mail each day.

  • Make sure your security system is active if you have one.

  • Have a trusted person go by your house to turn lights on in different rooms.(One day leave the bedroom light on.The next time, turn off the bedroom and turn on the kitchen light.)

  • Leave your TV turned on or, if your TV has the capability, set the timer so that it will turn on and off at random times.

  • Wait to post vacation pictures until after you return.

 

While On Vacation:

Insight + Analysis Magazine provided us with these travel tips to share with our clients.  The tips  came from a webinar in which H. Wesley Odom, Jr. (President of The Ackerman Group LLC) shared the experience he gathered from a lifelong career working in the security industry and his 15 years working for the CIA.

  • Purchase a travel insurance policy.  The only time you’ll regret it is if you need it and don’t have one.

  • Take responsibility.  “The first thing you have to do when you’re travelling is understand who’s in charge of your security when you travel, and of course that’s you,” Odom said.  “I often ask people when I’m training them, ‘How many of you travel with a bodyguard?’  Very few hands go up.  When it comes down to it, your security is your own personal responsibility.”

  • Avoid high-risk areas.  This goes for geographical locations—Odom highlighted Mexico, northern South America, the southern Sahara, and the Middle East as the most obvious regions to avoid—as well as local areas that are likely to attract terrorist attention.

  • When navigating airports, for example, consider that recent terrorist attacks all took place in spaces that are open to the public.  “There’s no security protection there.  You want to spend as little time as possible in the public area of the airport, because every moment you spend there—checking in or picking something up in the baggage claim area—you have increased your risk,” Odom explained.

  • Don’t freeze up.  If you do find yourself in the crosshairs of a dangerous situation, act quickly.  When Odom participated in an investigation of a recent terrorist attack in Europe, interviews with survivors revealed that “almost every one of them survived because when they heard the first gunshot or detonation, they immediately dropped to the ground and tried to take whatever cover they could,” he said.  “Rule of thumb if you get caught in the middle of something: Drop immediately.”

  • Be a little mysterious.  When filling out customs cards upon your arrival in a foreign country, keep it vague.  “Don’t give away information about yourself,” Odom said.  “It’ll ask you for your home address in the U.S.—when I’m traveling overseas, I rarely ever give my home address on those forms.”  Note that when you return to the U.S., including accurate, complete information on customs and immigration forms is extremely important,” Odom said.  But when you’re entering another country, “trying to stay anonymous and not call attention to yourself can go a long way,” he said.  “You don’t need to put on that form, ‘I’m the senior executive president of one of the biggest corporations in the world.’”

  • Arrange transportation ahead of time.  Odom said the most secure way to get into town from the airport is via a pre-arranged car with a driver.  “If you’re being met at the airport by pre-arranged driver, don’t let them put your name on that sign, or anything that would indicate you’re an American,” he stressed.  “It doesn’t matter what’s on the sign, as long as it does not identify you as a foreigner.”  If a private driver is too expensive or unavailable, a hotel van is your next best bet—“strength in numbers kind of a concept,” Odom said.  If all else fails, a legitimate, registered airport taxi is fine, but avoid independent taxis—even if their drivers promise they’re cheaper.  And don’t rent a car if you can avoid it, especially in developing nations.  “You don’t know the rules of the road, and you could get stopped by a corrupt officer,” Odom pointed out.  “You wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to handle that.”

  • Sweep your hotel room.  Once you arrive at your accommodations, perform a security inspection.  Check all the locks and chains on the door, as well as your room phone to make sure it works.  Use the in-room safe at your own risk.  You’re better off using the safe deposit box downstairs and often the hotel isn’t responsible for any thefts if your items aren’t in the downstairs safe box!

  • The principal risk at a hotel is fire, so be sure to check out the fire escape map.  Odom stated, “Murphy’s Law—if there’s a fire, it’s going to happen at 2 a.m. Know where you’re going, and be ready for that.”

  • Blend in. Keeping a low profile will keep you safest.  Dress down.  Don’t wear US flags on your clothing or advertise that you’re an American.

  • Leave the flashy jewelry at home.  I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Kim Kardashian incident where she was robbed in her hotel room after posting photos of an enormous, valuable ring.  Take note and leave any flashy jewelry, as well as anything else that might draw attention to wealth—expensive cameras, tablets and the like – at home.  Anything that looks gold is going to attract attention from a street criminal.

  • Remember the Willie Sutton rule.  The principal risk for travelers isn’t kidnapping or terrorism—it’s street crime.  Bank robber Willie Sutton said, when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”  Street criminals know what to look for and will target those that appear to be the wealthiest.

  • Criminals go where the money is.  “When you’re abroad, it’s not going to be where the poor people live where most of the crime occurs,” Odom explained.  “The highest-crime areas are the resort destinations and major hotel and financial districts.  Criminals go where the money is, and that happens to be where you are.”

  • Think like a thief.  “Don’t put anything in your pockets you don’t want to lose,” warned Odom, who recommended investing in a concealed money belt you can wear underneath your clothes.  “Before leaving the hotel, I ask myself, ‘Would I be willing to give this away today?’  If not, put it in the safe deposit box.”

  • Walk with a purpose.  When you’re out and about, “don’t stop to speak to strangers,” Odom said.  “They don’t need the time and they don’t need a light.  They’re trying to slow you down so they can work you.  Walk with purpose.  Act like this is your town.”

  • Ditch your pride.  Whereas pickpockets work crowds and tend to partner up, “muggers work in isolation,” Odom said.  “Stay on streets that are well traveled.”

  • Remember the No. 1 Rule if you’re confronted by a mugger with a weapon.  “Just give it up,” Odom said.  “Would you be willing to die for an American Express card or $300 in cash?  Make the decision before you leave the hotel that you’re not going to lose your life over anything you’re carrying in your pockets.  People who have not done that process react inappropriately.”

  • Know before you go.  Above all else, stay informed.  “Every country has its own set of problems—political, economic, demonstrations going on in the street,” Odom said.  “But you can travel safely almost everywhere in the world today if you think about what you’re doing.”

And the last tip we have is to make sure you’re fully prepared to handle a loss.  Visit your insurer for a checkup on your home, auto, life, health, and any other insurance policies you may have and talk to them about what you need covered to ensure that your well-earned vacation is as worry free as possible!

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