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A Grinch stole my gifts! Common Christmastime crimes typically covered by home insurance

The tree is trimmed, the stockings have been hung with care and the gifts are piling up under the tree. Yet it wouldn't take long for Christmastime crooks to put a damper on all of your holiday cheer.

So, what happens if a thief makes off with the Christmas gifts or steals the shopping bags from your car? By and large, your home or renter's insurance will help you feel less like a sullen Charlie Brown if you're the victim of a Christmastime crime.

Insurance experts say gifts or other holiday goodies stolen from your residence generally would be covered by your home or renter's insurance. Holiday purchases swiped from your car would not be covered by your auto insurance but instead by your home or renter's insurance, as they're considered personal property and aren't permanent parts of your car.

christmas crimes insurance

A nationwide survey by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that 44 percent of the people questioned, or more than 100 million Americans, have been victims of burglary, robbery or another form of theft. Of those who were victims, only 40 percent said their stolen property was insured.

Eustace Greaves Jr., owner of Greaves Financial Services/The Bridge Insurance Agency in Brooklyn, N.Y., says that if you a file an insurance claim for gifts taken from your home or car, you'd have to first pay your deductible.

“The most common homeowner's deductible is $1,000," Greaves says, "so you would have to have stored presents with significant value before you’d even want to turn in a claim.”

There’s another reason to carefully consider filing a claim related to a Christmas crime.

Aaron Sorenson, an independent insurance broker at Insurance Brokers of Minnesota, says that claim could come with a nasty gift you didn’t ask for and can’t return: higher insurance premiums. Filing a claim like that may boost your insurance premium by an average of 10 percent to 15 percent, Sorenson warns.

In case you do need to file a claim for stolen gifts, be sure to hang onto the receipts for those purchases.

A present being plucked from your home or car trunk isn't the only type of holiday crime that could result in an insurance claim. Here are three others.

1. Vandals or thieves un-deck your halls.

Outdoor holiday decorations -- like inflatable reindeer and Nativity scenes -- sometimes are playthings for petty thieves or mischievous teens. When Michael Nowak was a cop in Los Angeles, calls around the holidays about broken and stolen outdoor decorations "were always very common," he says.

Greaves says a home insurance claim for this type of damage or theft would be covered, but you'd have to pay your deductible first. And if you do file a claim, those nasty elves could cause financial heartache for years to come. Any claim not related to weather can trigger a 10 percent to 15 percent hike in your insurance rates, Sorenson says.

2. A porch pirate makes off with your loot.

Three years ago, Lindsay Anderson of New York City couldn’t make it home for Christmas, so her mom shipped her two big boxes stuffed with gifts. But Anderson never opened any of those gifts. Why? The boxes -- filled with things like kitchen utensils and pots -- apparently were stolen by “porch pirates," even though the shipping company had a record of someone with her name signing for them.

Anderson scoured the neighborhood for the wayward boxes, but they never turned up. Because the packages weren’t insured for the full value of the contents -- about $1,000 -- Anderson wound up collecting only about $200 from the shipping company.

Sorenson says home or renter's insurance may have paid this type of claim. If gifts sent via the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS or other shippers are stolen after being left at a home, your home or renter's insurance can help pay for the loss -- minus any deductible.

“Of course, taking out insurance (from the shipper) for the full amount of the items you’re sending during the holidays is something to consider,” Greaves says. “That can spare the gift giver and recipient a lot of heartache.”

3. Your jewelry is snatched.

Let's say a holiday visitor in your home slips your favorite ring and a few of your bracelets into his pocket. The loss would be covered by your home or renter's insurance -- depending on how much the stolen goods are worth. You'd still be on the hook for the deductible.

Keep in mind that high-value items like a massive diamond ring may not be covered under a standard home or renter's insurance policy.

If you have a high-value piece of jewelry, an inland marine policy may be a better option to insure it than your standard home insurance policy, according to Howard E. Candage, an insurance agent in Portland, Maine.

Inland marine policies -- which actually have nothing to do with water -- cover a host of insurance claims that the average home insurance policy might not. They also provide coverage based an item's agreed value. So if an inland policy states a ring is worth $9,000, that’s what you would receive after any applicable deductibles.

Under typical home insurance coverage, a $9,000 ring might be covered only for its replacement value, or the amount it would cost to buy a new one at current market prices. This means you might get only $6,000 for a ring based on its current market value, even though you think it's worth $9,000.

Christmastime fraud

By the way, insurance experts say the holiday season delivers an increase in fraud-related claims, including ones involving "missing" jewelry. That's presumably because some people are desperate for holiday cash to spend on gifts.

Greaves warns that this type of fraud is fairly easy to detect, as all home and renter’s insurance claims are logged into the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) database. Among other things, the CLUE database contains information about dates, types and amounts of insured losses that a policyholder has incurred. Greaves says the database is checked whenever someone applies for home or renter’s insurance.

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