SIKESTON -- Unless homeowners take extra precautions, Santa Claus may not be the only person sneaking into their homes this Christmas.
"It seems like thefts have a tendency to go up after Thanksgiving," said Sgt. John McMillen, public information officer for Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "We do seem to have an increase in shoplifting and burglaries during the holidays."
The National Crime Prevention Council said criminals drive through neighborhoods looking for evidence of new TVs, computers and other expensive holiday items and then target houses for break-ins.
The key is to outsmart the burglars and make them think someone's home even when they're not.
More than 60 percent of all burglaries take place without forced entry, the NCPC said.
"Sliding glass doors are a big deal. We always tell people to put a broomstick handle in the track so the door can't be forced open," McMillen said.
Make sure windows and doors are locked at all times, he said.
"You don't want to depend on the overhead garage door to keep burglars out. Keep the interior garage door locked," McMillen said.
Leave the TV or radio and a light on to give the appearance someone is home when they are not.
"They maye knock on the door and even if they don't hear anything, they may think you are there but in the shower," McMillen said. "You'll get people who may try to break in anyway but it's going to deter some."
Also use self-timer lights and make it appear like someone is home, he suggested.
"An animal inside the house is always good to have. I've found the little dogs like chihuahuas and dachsunds are the best to have because they bark at anything," McMillen said.
Don't let newspapers pile up or leave pamphlets in doorways.
"If you have an abundance of those wadded up in the door or in the drive, that's an indicator that you are some place else," McMillen said.
Ask somebody you trust to watch your home. If going out of town, don't broadcast the information to everybody -- just immediate family, he said.
Put lights on the exterior of the house, McMillen suggested.
"Light your house up. Shrubbery around doors is pretty, but it creates easy access for burglars, and they want to be concealed," McMillen said.
Avoid displaying expensive gifts and other valuables in areas visible from the outside.
Although he knows it's popular, McMillen doesn't recommend placing Christmas trees in front of windows because it shows where the tree is located, which also usually means presents.
"If someone breaks in they, know exactly where to go," McMillen said.
Turn the Christmas tree off when leaving the house, McMillen said.
Once the gift-giving is over, don't set out expensive gift boxes for items like a TV, computer or Wii, McMillen said. This tells a potential burglar what they can find inside a home.
"Cut those boxes up and put them in dark plastic bags and try to conceal them," McMillen said.
The following tips were suggested:
-- Create an inventory of the valuable items in your home by taking photographs and making a list of serial numbers, NPCP said. An inventory may aid in the recovery of your items and will make insurance claims easier to file.
-- Be alert to suspicious activity in neighborhoods. Report anything that seems unusual or suspicious to the police immediately, NPCP said.
-- In many instances installing a home alarm system will give protection, a sense of calm and even a discount on homeowner's insurance, according to Response Insurance.
-- Response insurance also said to examine the exterior of your home. Walk around your whole property to ensure there is nothing that can be used to climb upper floors. Never leave an "emergency key" hidden outside your house.