Auto theft: the hottest holiday and the hottest cars

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve celebrations, but you may want to keep your wits about you on New Year’s Day. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), in 2009 New Year’s Day was the highest day for auto theft. In 2009, the following holidays were ranked by the volume of thefts:

  • New Year’s Day 2,760
  • Halloween 2,325
  • Independence Day 2,207
  • Memorial Day 2,207
  • President’s Day 2,204
  • Labor Day 2,202
  • New Year’s Eve 2,189
  • Valentine’s Day 2,090
  • Christmas Eve 1,851
  • Thanksgiving 1,620
  • Christmas Day 1,336

Curious about which car models thieves favored in 2009? Check out the NICB’s report on Hot Wheels report. Select your location from a drop-down list to learn the 10 most frequently stolen cars in your state. You can also view the nation’s top 10 car theft hot spots.
To minimize the potential for car theft and to increase the likelihood of vehicle recovery if theft does occur, NCIB recommends a layered protection approach. This layered approach combines common sense, a warning device, an immobilizing device, and a tracking device.

Holiday decorations: fire prevention; keeping kids & pets safe

As you decorate your home this holiday season, safety should be your first and foremost guiding principle. Not to harsh your holiday mellow, but this is a big season for in-home fires and accidents. A little pre-planning and a quick review of best practices from the experts can keep your holiday safe and fun.
The Yahoo Network offers a good list of 20 safety tips for decorating with toddlers and babies in mind. And for your pets, check the Humane Society’s tips for keeping your pets safe during the holiday season
According to the US Fire Administration, holiday fires claim the lives of more than 400 people, injure 1,650 more, and cause over $990 million in damage. They offer a quick holiday fire safety tip sheet.
The National Fire Protection Association offers a complete Project Holiday tool kit, which includes tip sheets, videos, and reports covering tree safety, candle safety, cooking safety, and overall decorating safety. Below, we’ve posted one of their videos, a demonstration showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be as opposed to a tree watered regularly.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission offers the following 10 safety tips to prevent holiday decorating-related fires and injuries:
1. When purchasing a live tree, DO check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and its needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
2. When setting up a tree at home, DO place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways.
3. When purchasing an artificial tree, DO look for the label, “Fire Resistant.” Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
4. In homes with small children, DO take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children who could swallow or inhale small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
5. Indoors or outdoors, DO use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory.
6. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. DON’T use electric lights on a metallic tree.
7. If using an extension cord, DO make sure it is rated for the intended use.
8. When using lights outdoors, DO check labels to be sure that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.
9. Keep burning candles within sight. DO extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
10. DO keep candles on a stable heat-resistant surface where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be away from items that can catch fire and burn easily, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains, and furniture.

Holiday shopping Dos and Don’ts

The holiday season can be hard on your wallet. Here are some consumer protection tips to help you spend wisely and safely.

  • Avoid impulse buys.
  • Have a plan and a budget and keep track of all purchases.
  • Pay in cash whenever you can. It’s easier to overspend when you use credit than when you pay with cash.
  • If you do use credit, brush up on your card’s fees and charges so you know the real costs.
  • Don’t focus too heavily on discounts.
  • Comparison shop. Just because something is marked as a sale doesn’t mean it’s the best available price.
  • Read online consumer reviews – both for retailers and for products
  • Check your bank and credit card statements frequently.
  • Read the fine print on return and exchange policies.
  • Don’t open packages – especially electronics – if you know you will return the item.
  • Keep receipts
  • Avoid costly extended warranties
  • Beware of bogus “gift cards.” While gift cards now have certain consumer protections, prepaid cards and reloadable debit cards – particularly those aimed at teens – may carry high fees.
  • Check your credit cards to see if they offer any added consumer protections or warranty boosters – if so, you might consider using for a large purchase.
  • Watch shipping fees, which can add up. Many retailers offer free or reduced price shipping
  • When shopping online, only shop at secure sites. At checkout, look for the web page to have https:// (with an “s”) instead of https:// in the address.
  • Don’t conduct business over public wi-fi lines, which are not secure. Avoid using your credit card or doing banking when using public networks.
  • Be careful about e-mail phishing. It’s better to go directly to the vendor or banker’s site directly to check out any offers.
  • Question everything and consider bargaining. Ask if there are any promos or deals.
  • Check for special discounts, such as for senior citizens, AAA members, AARP members
  • Consider making your holiday gifts. Homemade gifts can be more personal and can save money.
  • Ask about free boxes and free wrapping, which can save a bundle.
  • Store any packages or shopping bags in your car trunk to avoid theft.

Naught & nice retailers
Consumer Reports issues its holiday season pick of the top naughty and nice retailers. The list identifies 10 companies with the most consumer-friendly policies and 10 naughty companies that have unfriendly or questionable consumer policies, such as penalties, shortened return times, high shipping costs, or unusual fees. The article invites reader feedback, and several dozen commenters add their picks for best and worst consumer policies.

Additional Resources
12 Holiday Money Mistakes To Avoid
Holiday Shoppers: Beware Bogus Gift Cards
New Gift Card Rules Protect You Better
Consumer Protections from the FTC
Shopping Safely Online – tips from the Better Business Bureau