Feel like a target?

You should if you've just checked into a hotel, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York."Vacationers are a favorite target for thieves," says Jeanne Salvatore, the institute's director of consumer affairs.

"When people go on vacation, they frequently carry a lot of cash, as well as expensive sports and camera equipment. They can also be easy marks because many vacationers are more focused on perfecting their golf swing than keeping an eye on their wallets."

And one of the best places to gain access to your valuables is in your hotel room. It's the place you leave your wallet and camcorder when you're out by the hotel pool. You even stash the diamond bracelet that Aunt Jen left you in your cosmetic case under the bed.

But no need to scrap the vacation and stay home. Here are some hints from the institute on how to avoid being the victim of a hotel thief:

- Don't leave valuables unattended in your room. Store them in the hotel's safe deposit box.

- Don't display room keys in public or leave them on a table by the pool or a restaurant, where they could be stolen.

- If your key disappears, ask for a new room. Or, if a pass key is lost, ask that the lock on your door berecoded.

- Never leave your door unlocked. Also, if there is a connecting door to another room, test it to be sure it is locked.

- "Be careful about guarding your room number," says Salvatore. "Many of the real horror stories have been because some-body has heard that."

When registering, ask the hotel clerk to write down your room number on a piece of paper instead of announcing it, she says. If the clerk does announce it, ask for another room.

- Most hotels provide a safety latch on the door that prevents it from being completely opened from the outside. Use the latch at all times when you are in your room. "The more barriers you set up, the better off you are," Salvatore says. The basic idea is to slow the criminal. "Whatever you can do is going to be in your favor."

- If you go out, put the "do not disturb" sign on the door knob. During the evening, leave the TV or a light on in the room. When you return, check the locks on adjoining doors and sliding glass doors to make sure they haven't been opened.

"If you remember locking the door and you come back to the room and everything is wide open, get out of the room quickly and notify security," Salvatore says. Chances are a thief has been in the room and might still be there.

- Always park in a well-lighted section of the hotel lot. If available, use valet parking. If you're afraid to walk to your car, ask that a hotel security guard or another hotel employee accompany you.

- Never leave valuables in your car in sight. Put them in the car's trunk, or take them into the room with you.

- Never open your room door for someone you don't know, even if they identify themselves as an employee of the hotel. "Ask for an ID and look at it through the peephole," Salvatore says. Better yet, call the front desk to check the identity of the person at the door.

For more tips on being safe while traveling, contact the Insurance Information Institute, 110 William St., New York, NY 10038; 1-212-669-9200. Or checkout the institute's Web site at (http://www.iii.org).