No matter how safe your neighborhood feels, it’s never a good idea to leave your home unprotected while you are away. According to the latest stats from the FBI, there were an estimated 1,401,840 burglaries across the U.S. in 2017.
Victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.4 billion in property losses, with the average dollar loss per burglary offense coming in at $2,416. All very good reasons to take as many preventative measures as you can.
To help keep your home — and your loved ones — safe, we sourced these top tips from security experts and ex-burglars (because who better to shed light on how criminals find their way into your home than the criminals themselves?).
Install Motion Detectors And Motion-Activated Lights
One of the best things you can do to protect your property is install motion detectors, says Alarm New England. These will alert you to movement on your property, and you don’t even need to be at home to be alerted to an intruder. You can hook it up to your smartphone, ensuring you have peace of mind even when you’re out and about. Former burglars also agree that a motion-activated light serves as a good deterrent.
Leave A TV Or Radio On When You Go Out
KGW‘s investigative team sent letters to 86 inmates currently serving time for burglary in the Oregon Department of Corrections. The inmates were asked to respond anonymously to a list of questions detailing how they broke in, when the crime occurred and what they were looking for. When asked if they would still break in if they heard a TV or radio inside the home, most of them said they wouldn’t, because they would think someone might be home.
Keep A Car In The Driveway
This is easy enough to do when you’re at home, of course. While you’re away, though, you can ask a neighbor to use your driveway. A vehicle in the driveway is one of the best precautions you can take, judging by the inmates’ responses to the KGW questions — almost all of the respondents said they’d think twice about breaking into a house if there was a car in the driveway.
“Most of the time, that is a surefire sign of someone being home,” wrote one.
Ensure Valuables Are Kept Safe And Secure
This is a no-brainer. You’re making a burglar’s job easy if you leave your jewelry out on display. But don’t think that hiding it in a shoebox at the bottom of your closet is a genius idea, either. According to the inmates who responded to the KGW survey, there are few places they wouldn’t look for valuables, with one writing that they look “everywhere!”
“From the stove and freezer, to the fish tank and toilet tank, book shelves and in boxes of cereal,” they continued.
But you can still outsmart them. Reiner’s Fine Jewelry suggests wrapping your valuables in plastic or aluminum foil and placing them in the back of the freezer or beneath the plastic liner of the trash can in your kitchen or bathroom. Even better — invest in a fireproof safe that’s bolted to the wall or floor (and keep the passcode secure with you).
Get A Loud Dog
Dogs come with many benefits, and if you choose the right breed, home protection could be one of them. Most inmates who replied to the KGW survey said a large, loud dog would keep them away.
“Dogs are a dealbreaker for me,” one of them said. “Big breeds, home protectors are the best to keep people out.” Lots of breeds make good guard dogs, from the Akita to the German shepherd.
Keep Outdoor Areas Well-Lit
Darkness gives lurkers cover, letting them get close to your property undetected. If you make sure your outdoor areas are well illuminated, you can help to keep potential criminals at bay. For starters, a well-lit house suggests there are people at home. It also gives you — and your neighbors — a clear picture of what’s going on outside after dark. Some of the inmates who responded to the KGW survey suggested that homeowners can safeguard their homes by making their property visible with good lighting.
Keep Bushes And Trees Trimmed
Another way to increase visibility around your home is to trim large bushes, keep hedges low and remove overgrown trees. If you don’t, your view of the road can be obstructed by greenery. Bushes and hedges are welcome hiding places for thieves, according to the inmates who took the KGW survey.
Lock Your Garage Door And All Windows
Locking your doors and windows before you leave your house is the obvious thing to do. But lots of people forget or become complacent. Don’t forget to lock up your garage whenever you leave the house, and do a check of all the windows.
“A lot of people think you don’t need to lock second-story windows,” one inmate told Columbus Police Division for the HLN TV feature. “Lock them too! We can climb up an antenna pole, or anything.” Basically, if a burglar spots a direct route into your home — even through the attic — he’s going to go for it.
Use A House Sitter
If your property is left unoccupied for long periods of time, for instance if y0u’re traveling for work, consider having a friend or family member stay over in the house. Their presence will deter burglars, and you’ll feel better knowing your home isn’t empty. You could even offer part of your home as office space to a freelancer who doesn’t want to work in their own home.
Make Friends With Your Neighbors
Forming a relationship with your neighbors is a free and easy way to protect your home — and help build a safe community on your street. The inmates who took part in the KGW survey recommended getting to know your neighbor so you can rely on them to report suspicious people around the neighborhood. Good neighbors automatically look out for each other and will take action if they think anything is amiss.
Don’t Let Mail Pile Up
A sure sign that you’re out of town is a bulging mailbox, a growing pile of newspapers on your lawn, and a stack of packages on your doorstep. Potential burglars will take this as an invitation, but there’s an easy fix. Ask a friend or neighbor to collect your mail while you’re out of town. Alternatively, you could put a hold on your mail delivery through the postal service, cancel your newspaper and redirect any packages to another address while you’re gone.
Say ‘Goodbye!’ When Leaving The House
You might feel ridiculous doing this, but if someone is watching you from a distance and waiting for you to head out for the day, they’re far less likely to break in if you give the impression that someone else is still at home.
“If you are leaving for the shops, you might call goodbye through the front door to give the impression that your family are still inside — even if there is no one at home,” forensic psychologist Claire Nee told the BBC.
Of the convicted criminals who responded to the I-Team survey, 62% said they carried out surveillance on homes at least “sometimes.”
Lock Your Inside Doors
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While the most important doors to lock are your exterior ones, you could lock interior doors as well as an extra safety measure. And if you live alone and want to feel safer during the night, consider fitting a lock on your bedroom door.
To give your interior doors extra reinforcement, Alarm New England suggests something like the Buddybar Door Jammer. This portable device withstands up to 2,560 pounds of force when it’s attached to your door.
Invest In A Doorbell Camera
Alarm New England recommends adding a doorbell camera to your smart home security system, because this means you can gain access to your security camera’s live footage at all times — and from wherever you are. If there’s anything suspicious going on in your yard or at your front door, you’ll know all about it simply by checking your smartphone. Your local security system company can recommend doorbell camera products and get the right one hooked up for you.
Keep Your Windows Covered
The quickest way a burglar can decide whether you have possessions they want to steal is by looking through your windows. This also lets them double-check nobody is at home. So keep your windows covered with curtains, blinds or privacy film.
“When you’re not there, shut your windows, so we can’t see what’s in there,” an ex-burglar told Columbus Division of Police, in a segment for HLN TV.
Get Involved With Neighborhood Watch
If you have a neighborhood watch committee in your area, get involved! The purpose of neighborhood watch is to share knowledge of any suspicious activity, discuss what’s going on in your area and create greater awareness of local crime.
If you don’t have one, you can find instructions on how to start one on the National Neighborhood Watch website, where you can also register your watch once it’s set up. It’s also a good idea to join online forums and social media groups (lots of neighborhoods have their own private Facebook groups, for instance) that are dedicated to your area.
Keep Your Vacation Plans To Yourself
Sure, you might want to tell everyone about that amazing vacation you have planned, but be careful about who you talk to. If a potential burglar finds out you’re going to be away for the next two weeks, he’s likely to target your house while you’re gone. This means you may want to wait to post vacation pics on social media until you return from your trip, especially if you have a public account.
Be Vigilant During The Day
Inmates told KGW that their favorite time to break into homes is early morning or afternoon.
“Between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.,” wrote one convicted burglar. “Anyone that was home for lunch should be gone by then and most kids should all still be in school.” So be sure to set your alarm system and take all other security measures when you leave home in the morning.
Give Your Spare Key To A Friend
Some of the inmates who responded to the KGW questionnaire said finding a hidden key was one of the best opportunities to break into a property. And even a novice burglar knows all the common spare key hiding spots. So, rather than hide it under your doormat or a potted plant, give it to a trusted friend or neighbor.
Leave A Light On
Some of the inmates who replied to the KGW survey agreed that leaving a light on in one or more rooms of your house is a good deterrent — it makes it seem as though someone is at home. Smart home technology can be useful here, as smart light bulbs can be controlled remotely or scheduled to turn on at certain times of the day. This means you can operate your lights at your regular schedule, even when you’re out of town.
Don’t Leave Anything In Your Car
You might have armed your home against burglars, but don’t forget about your car. If you leave anything valuable in your car — be it your wallet, phone, coins or laptop — that’s going to be the target for anyone looking for swag. If you do have to leave anything valuable in your car for a short time, make sure it’s out of sight. One inmate told HLN TV that breaking into cars was “the easiest thing to do.”
Place Security Cameras Around Your Home
Placing security cameras in strategic places around your home will allow you to monitor important areas of your house. Whether it’s a separate camera setup you purchase or it integrates with your smart home security system, the idea is to have access to visual surveillance of your home. By using a home alarm system with cameras, you’ll be able to see whatever is tripping the alarm and confirm whether it was caused by a genuine emergency. Security cameras give you the ability to check on areas of your home throughout the day, so you can keep an eye on the kids playing in the front yard or follow up on suspicious noises at night.
When NBC’s I-Team sent surveys to inmates serving time for burglary or for breaking and entering in New York and New Jersey prisons, 37% of respondents said they wouldn’t break in if they spotted a camera.
Install Quality Locks On Windows And Doors
If you have quality locks on your windows and deadbolt locks on your doors, you’ll make things harder for a burglar. According to the KGW survey, most inmates broke in through an unlocked door or window. Several burglars kicked the door open — but that’s pretty hard to do when it’s dead-bolted.
Install A Home Security System
Although some burglars might not be put off by a home security system, the majority are. Most inmates who participated in the KGW survey said they would leave immediately if a security alarm went off.
A high-quality alarm system lets you arm and disarm certain parts of your house at the same time using a keypad. For instance, you can alarm the downstairs area of your house while keeping upstairs disarmed to let you move around as you wish. Modern home security systems come with smart home features that let you control the doorbell, alarm and cameras from your smartphone — so you don’t need to be at home to know who’s at your front door or on your property. Your local alarm company can help you choose the right system for your home and budget if you’re overwhelmed by all the choices.