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Tax help when you encounter naughty people during the holidays & year round

It's the season of good will, peace, joy and happiness.

Then the creeps show up.

Burglars broke into a friend's house yesterday. The good news is that neither she nor her husband were home and the crooks didn't get much of value.

Daytime burglar via xpress protection Photo of daytime break-in courtesy

But having been a victim of a break-in myself many years ago, I can tell you it's a horrible experience that changes you forever.

Crime prevention tips: The scumbags apparently got in through my friend's garage door.

The police said they've had reports of criminals crusing neighborhoods this holiday season looking for empty houses, then testing a basic garage door opener they have. When the door comes up, they're in.

There are a couple of ways to stop or at least make such illegal entries harder.

First, lock the door that leads from your garage into your house. Sure, the burglars can close the garage door and then spend some time picking or breaking that lock, but since these criminals seem to be looking for the easiest scores, a locked door might just make them move on to a less protected house.

Second, after you pull out of your garage, go back in, close the garage door and then set the garage door security lock. Some systems have this on the wall opener. Others have safety bars you can manually put in place.

Then go through your house to get to your car, remembering to lock your font door behind you.

Yes, that's inconvenient.

But when burglars are on the prowl for all the Christmas gifts you've got in your house, it's worth the extra trouble. And remember to do this when you take a vacation, too.

Deducting theft and casualty losses: If, however, after all your precautions you still fall prey to crooks, you might be able to get some help from Uncle Sam.

Yep, that same Form 4684 that you fill out for disaster losses works when the physical damage is not as catastrophic.

Technically, the the tax category is theft and casualty losses.

And while criminal codes differentiate between thefts and burglaries (and larceny and robberies; my first journalism job was covering police, followed by covering the courts), burglaries fall under the IRS definition of the deductible property loss:

A theft is the taking and removing of money or property with the intent to deprive the owner of it. The taking must be illegal under the law of the state where it occurred and it must have been done with criminal intent.

Know your deduction limits: The same limits that apply to major natural disaster claims apply to theft (and burglary) losses.

First, you have to itemize to claim the deduction.

Then if you have insurance and get a payout from the company, you have to subtract that amount from your loss.

You then must reduce you uninsured loss amount by $100.

Finally, you take that reduced loss amount and subtract 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. That final figure is the amount you can claim as a deduction on Schedule A.

If it's your personal property that was damaged, destroyed or stolen, check out IRS Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook (Personal-Use Property).

For losses of business property, there's IRS Publication 584B, Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook.

If the crooks didn't get much or you have really good insurance, this tax break probably won't help.

But the deduction is worthwhile for some people. And anything that could help when your home has been violated is worth looking into.

I'm hoping that none of you have to think about this during the holidays or ever. But just in case, now you know.

I now return you to holiday shopping, baking, Christmas carol singing and general festive seasonal celebrations.

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"The most difficult thing in the world to understand is the income tax"-- Albert Einstein. If you have a complex tax return, you might not want to prepare the forms all by yourself if you are not experienced.

Barbara Cruz @ Tax Relief

Great tips for some bad experiences, thanks!

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