Ways To Protect Your Home From Burglars And Break Ins When You Are Away
Published 1/17/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
I got a sudden phone call from my friend yesterday. His stunned voice said it all - he and his newlywed wife had just become victims of an attempted home burglary. The shocking part is that he and his wife were home at the time sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. Their early morning meal was interrupted by a sudden loud banging noise from the direction of their back porch - sounds made by someone knocking on the door. The tapping sound was quickly followed by the chilling clang of breaking glass and creaking window latches. Within moments my friend dashed to the back door and caught the glimpse of the male intruder. Startled by the appearance of the home's occupants, the stranger hastily retreated on foot, leaving behind broken glass and evidence of his attempted break in.
Home Invasion Robbery Is A Crime Of Opportunity and We Can Do Something About It
The good news is that there are common sense steps we can all take to drastically reduce our chances of having our houses, apartments, or condos burglarized. Looking back in greater depth with my friend, he and I both realized that he had committed a series of crucial home maintenance mistakes that made him a bullseye target for such activity. Since moving into the old Northwest Washington D.C. house a month ago after taking it over from his remaining parent who had just passed away, he failed and neglected to immediately fix up and repair the home's exterior upkeep. The grass had grown high and newspaper deliveries were being piled outside and not picked up properly. The rickety fence gate was not properly latched shut and the house simply invited opportunism. Home burglaries are frequently crimes of opportunity and can occur when you're away at work or on vacation. Someone who cased my friend's house may have believe it was unoccupied. He was very fortunate that he was home that day to scare the attempted burglar away. However, we should all learn from his mistake and follow this list of ways to lesson our chances of becoming a home invasion victim.
Tips Homeowners Can Use to Keep Their Home Free and Safe From Invasion
- Defend Your Home Like An Onion, Not An Egg - A great deal of home invasions occur during the day when you're simply at work, and not just when you're on vacation or away for extended periods of time. Because you can never fully burglar-proof your home completely, your goal should be to increase the path of resistance it takes to break in. One powerful level of defense (egg shell) is not enough to protect against burglars. Your goal should be to create multiple levels of security (onion layers) to thwart the attempts and scrutiny of potential burglars.
- Make Your Home Look Lived In - Burglars are usually less likely to rob a home they think is currently occupied. On the whole, burglars want the path of least resistance and prefer targets where they know the residents are away. It's best to generate live-in activity to give the impression that people are still coming and going from the home.
- Put A Radio and Your Lights On A Programmable Timer - Lights that remain lit day and night is an indication that no one is home. You can easily buy a small programmable timer from Home Depot or Lowes, and set it so that lamps can automatically turn on in the evening and off in the mornings. You might also consider installing lighting controlled by motion sensor. Nothing makes an intruder's heart jump more than lights that suddenly flicker on. Burglars also tend to avoid noisy homes since it's an indication that someone may be home. Rather than play a static, fluid noise like music, I recommend putting a noisy talk radio station on timer to come on throughout the day to offer the illusion of occupancy.
- Hang Your Blinds and Curtains Strategically - Some people think it's better to keep them shut while others think it's better to keep them wide open to give it a lived-in feel. Personally, I think it's better to keep the first floor drapes and blinds shut to prevent people from peeking in. You may want to keep the upstairs curtains slightly drawn open to expose the lamp light that you've set with a timer.
- Keep Your Home Exterior Properly Maintained - Don't let shrubs or bushes hide your windows from view as they could be prime jimmy targets. Trim those hedges, cut your grass, and scrub the graffiti off your wooden fence to keep your place well groomed. If you will be gone for a long time, consider hiring someone trustworthy to mow your lawn periodically when you are away.
- Put Your Mail On Hold When You Are Away For Vacation - Don't let your mail pile sky high outside your door when you're away. Accumulated mail as well as magazine and newspaper subscriptions are visible telltale signs that the occupants are not home. With a few quick clicks on the USPS Hold Mail Service website, you can temporarily suspend delivery of your mail while you're away on vacation.
- Close and Secure All Windows, Doors, and Gates - This one is just common sense. Please make sure your windows and corresponding latches are bolted on tight. Keep your doors firmly locked and make sure your lawn gate is latched properly.
- Have A Neighbor Or Friend Check Up On Your Home and Pick Up Your Mail When You're Away - Asking a trusted neighbor or friend to house sit is a great idea to maintain that lived in illusion. However, just having him or her occasionally stop by to check up on the house is a smart move as well. Remember, in the unfortunate event you are gone for a long time and your home is broke into, it's better that your neighbor discovers this sooner than later. You don't want your home further exposed with its broken front door wide open longer than it needs to be.
- Park A Car In The Driveway When You're Away For Vacation - Some debate whether leaving your car in the driveway is a good tactic or not, but I personally think it is. You want your home to appear lived in and a car in the driveway helps to give that impression. Another idea is to offer your driveway to a neighbor to use as his or her own parking spot. Remember to remove your garage door opener from your vehicle if you decide to leave the car outside.
- Get a Dog That Likes To Bark - Dogs that bark at anyone who approaches the home is ideal. Burglars want to remain silent and a live dog alarm will help scare would-be intruders away. Remember to give the dog enough food or better yet, have someone come by regularly to feed it.
- Consider Installing A Home Security System - If you can afford it, consider installing a home security system like an ADT or Brinks burglar alarm that alerts the police in the event of a break in. Be sure to plaster the alarm warning stickers and signs outside to make them very visible. Even buying and putting up fake alarm stickers and signs may help deter a few criminals.
- Don't Tell People You'll Be Away On Vacation On Your Answering Machine - If you have a home phone number that can be easily traced and located through the phone book or even by a visible "for sale by owner" sign on your front lawn, don't broadcast the fact you'll be away on your answering machine. Just say that "you can't come to the phone right now" and set it to pick up after 4-5 rings to make it really look like you can't come to the phone at that precise moment.
- Don't Hide Your Spare Key Under The Doormat - Does anyone really hide their spare key under the doormat, mailbox, or in one of those silly fake rocks anymore? When I was little, my family buried a spare key in the back yard inside an empty prescription pill bottle more than one foot deep in the backyard under a few bricks among many. Such a method of stashing a spare key only works if it is buried deep in an area with plenty of possible burial locations.
- Hide Your Valuables In Unsuspecting Places - If all else fails and your home is broken into, be sure your personal and expensive valuables are well hidden, particularly if you will be away for an extended period of time. Since most burglars usually go straight for the master bedroom, I recommend stashing your jewelry and cash in unconventional locations less likely to attract the attention of a home intruder, such as - the laundry room, bathroom, garage, or perhaps even inside your refrigerator - like what this guy did.