Life is full of risk. Every day, we take calculated risks to save time and energy that could end up costing us far more in the long run when things go wrong.

Cutting corners can be fraught with difficulty and silly in retrospect. Who hasn’t knocked over a plate or glass when stretching a limb out to nudge it closer, rather than just sitting up and doing things properly?!

But taking risks can leave you with more than a sense of foolishness. They can be exceptionally expensive. Compare the Market recently carried out research that revealed one in ten people hide their house keys under the doormat. And yes, criminals are wise to the plant pot trick or that loose brick you think that no one has noticed. This matters, of course, because if your home is burgled and you’ve left the key somewhere pretty obvious, your insurance claim could be turned down.

So let’s take a look at some of the other risks we take that make our lives a tiny bit easier, but could cost us big time.

Hiding the house keys

The same research on hiding house keys found that 38% of people had lost their keys in the last year. So not being able to get in to your home is an understandable concern for most of us. However, if you have a cunning plan to gain access should something go wrong, then you’ll need to run it past your insurer.

Leaving a sneaky window ajar on an upper level of your property is another common (and somewhat dangerous) measure people use to avoid getting locked out. But this too can involve your insurance claims being invalidated if you get burgled. Thieves often ‘case out’ properties, looking for things like accessible unlocked windows, back doors with pickable locks and security alarms that have not been turned on. Your home insurance policy will have a number of clauses about security. For example, if you’ve got an alarm, you’ll need to turn it on whenever you are out of the property or face a dismissed or reduced claim. It’s also worthwhile looking at the rules around locks, as many policies specify the type of locks you will need to have on doors and windows. So don’t assume yours will meet modern standards.

The jury is currently out about ‘key safes’ – the little boxes with security codes attached to your home. This can sometimes indicate a property is being used for regular short lets, through firms like Airbnb – which could increase your premiums significantly. There are also lots of types of key safe so you’ll need to speak to your insurer about the type of safe you are potentially buying and how and where it will be affixed to your property.

‘Keys in car’ thefts

Speaking of keys, one of the most expensive time-saving mistakes people make is leaving the key in the car while it’s defrosting.

When it gets colder, defrosting the car can be a drag when you’re rushing to get to work or take the kids to school. There are lots of different techniques when it comes to clearing off the snow or frost. However, one of the most popular methods is to slip the keys in the ignition – or unlock and engage for a hi-tech vehicle – and leave the engine running while watching the car through the window. Unfortunately, this is often followed by the sound of the car being driven off by an opportunistic car thief.  Every Winter, countless people heating up their car find out the hard way just how quickly it can get stolen.

‘Keys in car’ thefts occur outside the home, shops, post boxes, by cash machines, even at petrol stations. And when it comes to making an insurance claim, you might find you get a frosty response. All isn’t lost though. While most insurers include clauses in their contracts about leaving your car unattended with the keys in (or even open) you can still appeal if your claim is turned down. If you genuinely didn’t unlock the vehicle, it’s on the insurer to prove that the car was left unlocked, so if the way the thief gained access is inconclusive, make a complaint. It’s been repeatedly proven that even the most modern car locking systems can be outwitted by enterprising robbers.

Card share carnage

There have been quite a few stories in the news lately about people who have been defrauded after their phone or card has been stolen and the thieves have got in to their accounts. While much has been made of how ‘hackable’ mobile phone face recognition is (not very, but it can happen), this ignores the main issue. Security measures are only as safe as the weakest link – and that’s us.

I’ve helped sort out numerous complaints over the years about whether people have allowed their bank or credit card accounts to be accessed due to carelessness (or ‘gross negligence’ as many account T&Cs call it). Thieves crack the code by ‘shoulder surfing’ – the surprisingly low-fi technique of watching you put in your card PIN when you pay for goods or when you enter your phone password. This often happens in bars when drinks have been consumed and natural light problems mean face ID doesn’t work so you have to put your phone PIN in.

Many of these complaints can be resolved in your favour, if your card provider takes a pragmatic look at the situation. However, if you’ve shared your card PIN with someone, given it to them briefly or been careless, it could cost you a great deal.

If you give your card to a mate, you’ve breached the conditions of the account. There are no ‘exceptional circumstances’ – if the bank or card provider ascertain that you gave the card or PIN to someone else, chances are you’ll have to pay for any subsequent fraud that occurs, even if a thief pinched the card. Carelessness is tricky to define, but if you’ve not hidden your PIN when you made purchase, you could also be liable.

I once dealt with a case where a man lost £20,000 after his card was mis-used in a ‘gentleman’s club’. While it was clear that the transactions were deeply questionable, he admitted to using the card to buy rounds of drinks early in the night and later in the evening too. This meant that he had allowed the card to leave his side and the number be compromised. Which meant he lost the whole sum when his complaint was turned down. In theory, this applies if you leave your card behind a bar on a tab – so buy drinks as you go in future.

Password problems

Do you regularly get updates informing you that your passwords have been compromised in a data leak? Let’s be honest, we all do – and sometimes changing all of your passwords (and remembering the new ones) can be a total drag. But it’s absolutely worth changing your passwords regularly, even without businesses allowing your data to be compromised.

My fellow TV expert and technology specialist, David McClelland, has the following tips for anyone who feels a little lost when knowing how to keep on top of all things password-related.

  1. Tempting though it is, don’t reuse the same password for different online accounts – thieves will try different variations of old passwords, so sticking a different number isn’t going to give you sufficient protection. Make sure every account is secured using a unique, difficult-to-guess passphrase.
  2. Not sure how to do this? Use a trustworthy ‘password manager’ app. These work like ‘digital safes’ and remember your details so you don’t have to. They even create complicated passwords on your behalf.
  3. Turn on ‘multi-factor authentication’ for online accounts that support it as well as a username and password, you’ll be sent a code to your mobile or asked to authenticate using an app on your phone.

If you’re a tech-phobe, then why not consider having different passwords for different sectors, like banking, shopping, subscriptions, utilities and leisure? That way if one gets compromised, you don’t have to change everything.

Check your email

Thieves and fraudsters are incredibly creative. So keep on top of all the latest scams and share your tips with friends and family to help them spot a scam too. My scams guides are all on the Mirror online – and I’ll be writing new ones in the coming weeks too.

One new development in fraud that caught me by surprise is email hijacking. While thieves seeking to access your email accounts is nothing new, what’s worrying is what they are doing when they gain access.

In the past, thieves have send fake emails from hacked accounts asking friends, colleagues or family members to send money or share personal details. However, now it would seem that they are also trawling your emails to find details that could unlock other accounts or open fake accounts.

So take a deep breath and type in ‘password’ or ‘passport’ in to your email address search bars. If you’ve emailed any of these details to yourself in the past, you’ll be alarmed by how quickly this information comes up. Delete them all and consider saving personal information in folders with non-distinct titles. Remember a search of email content can bring up any mention of key words in the main text, not just the email title.

That sinking feeling

Just because you’ve made a silly mistake, that doesn’t mean you should give up on seeing any cash back. Speak to insurers, banks and other businesses, explaining the circumstances of the situation. You might get lucky, or more frequently, they business might have a compromise agreement too that could involve a partial payment.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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