I remember seeing the shattered glass on the floor first. Thinking my clumsy dog had knocked something over, I called out to her but she didn’t come. (I would later find her hiding in the corner of our bathroom, terrified.) It wasn’t until I felt the cold March air blowing in that I realized the glass on the floor was from a broken window on my front door. The rest of the day was a blur: police officers ran into my house with guns drawn, neighbors watched from their porches and I walked through my home listing the cash and valuables that had been taken as police fingerprinted the items that were left.
I can tell you there are many thoughts that run through your mind after a home invasion. And while the question of “how could this happen?” may not be top of mind at the time, it will eventually creep in. With a burglary happening every 23 seconds in the U.S., it can happen to anyone. Though the statistic is staggering, there are some steps you can take to secure your home and help prevent a break-in from happening to you. Read on to learn how to protect your home from break-ins.
Protecting Your Home From The Outside
You don’t need to dig a moat or line the perimeter of your yard with barbed wire to secure the exterior of your home. With a few pieces of technology, strategically-placed signage and better awareness, you can increase your outdoor protection with little to no cost.
Light Up Your Home
Many burglars won’t bother if they think someone is home. “The lived-in look is a great deterrent,” says Justin Lavelle, a leading expert in home safety and Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified.com. To achieve this look, he recommends installing indoor and outdoor lights that run on timers. To take it a step further, he also suggests scheduling the lights to go off at different times to make it look even more like you’re home throughout the day and night.
“You can set lights inside and out to come on at different times during the evening and morning, giving your home an occupied look even if you are gone,” he says. Just don’t leave your lights on all the time, which can have the opposite effect, according to Lavelle. “Having outdoor lights on all the time – especially during the day – actually sends a message that you are not home,” he warns.
You may also want to consider motion sensor lighting, which turns on exterior lights whenever it senses moving objects that give off heat, such as people, animals and cars. If someone is skulking around your home, the lights will pick up their motion and turn on. This can be effective because it draws attention to your property and can scare the trespasser away.
When using exterior lighting, make sure it is not blinding or aimed at anyone’s windows. You want to protect your home, not make enemies of your neighbors.
Advertise Your Security Measures
One way to deter a burglar is to advertise that your home is protected because many criminals won’t want to take the risk or encounter any obstacles that may slow them down. The best way to tell burglars to stay away is to tell them that your home is secured. This includes posting security cameras and alarm company signs. When it comes to alarm company signs, some suggest displaying a sign from a different alarm company or a generic sign that simply states you are using an alarm system. Some career burglars know how to bypass certain systems. When they aren’t aware of which system you use, they won’t know how to work on it.
Having a dog – or making it look like you do – is another great way to discourage burglars from targeting your home, so place a dog warning sign in a place that’s visible from the street. Many dogs have a bark that’s worse than their bite, and that’s what many burglars are more concerned with. While they also don’t want to get bitten, a dog’s loud bark often draws attention, which is the last thing burglars want.
Be Mindful Of What You Throw Away
Nothing tells people all about your brand-new electronics and other toys than empty boxes put out on the curb for trash collection. It isn’t just boxes that provide burglars the information they may need to make out like, well, bandits. One look through your trash can and they could have all kinds of information, including passcodes, credit card information, social security numbers or even the instructions to operate your alarm system. Invest in a shredder and shred any documents that provide personal information before you throw them away. Go one step further and separate the pieces into different waste receptacles to make it even more difficult to piece together. Use your electronics boxes for storage or toss them to a nearby dumpster, landfill or trash collection facility.
Maintain Your Landscaping
Tall bushes and overhanging tree branches provide easy hiding spots for burglars and can obstruct the view of your doors and windows. Trim down overgrown bushes, cut down any hanging branches and opt for small flowers and low bushes. Always put away ladders, stools, grills and expensive gardening equipment and recreational gear. Ensure all gates, sheds and your garage are locked when you’re done using them.
Have A Plan For Packages
“Packages sitting outside your door are like a billboard that screams ‘no one is home,’” says Lavelle. Instead of having packages shipped to your home during the day, he suggests the following alternatives:
· Have your Amazon purchases shipped to an Amazon Locker, a self-serve kiosk that holds your package at a location near you. All you need to pick up your package is a code that Amazon emails you upon delivery.
· Consider sending packages to your work address instead as long as your employer is OK with it.
· If you have a trusted neighbor who’s home during the day, see if they’d mind accepting your package at their home instead.
· If you purchase items from a store that has a brick and mortar location, have the products shipped to the nearest location and pick them up there.
· Have packages delivered to the shipping provider and pick them up in person.
· Postpone delivery times until you know someone will be home or require a signature upon delivery. If you prefer this method, let others who may send you packages know to choose this option as well.
Protecting Your Home From The Inside
“Contrary to a lot of popular opinion about people breaking into houses overnight, the overwhelming majority of burglaries occur during the middle of the day when people are away at work or on vacation,” says Paul Grattan Jr., a sergeant and 18-year veteran of a large metropolitan police department. “Burglaries are often remarkably simple and brazen – [with burglars] walking up to the property as though they are meant to be there. The simplest way to operate in the middle of the day is to blend in, and career burglars are very talented at this,” he says.
If this is true, then the harder you make it for burglars to look casual while they’re breaking in, the faster they’ll give up and the less likely they’ll be to target your home in the future.
Secure Windows And Doors
The number one point of entry for burglars is the front door. It goes without saying that you should always lock your door, even while you’re in the home. But there’s more to protecting your home than just locking your door. Many criminals are good at picking locks or kicking in a door with little effort. Added protection will help prevent them from getting through.
· Replace weak, hollow doors with solid wood or metal doors.
· Install a deadbolt lock.
· Replace short screws with ones that are three inches in length.
· Replace your strike plate with one that is more durable and has longer screws.
· Reinforce your door jamb with a door frame reinforcement kit.
· Use a strike plate lock instead of a door chain lock. Chain locks can easily be ripped from the wall when a door is kicked in.
· Use a door barricade to reinforce the door from the inside.
· Install a sturdy rod in the tracks of all exterior sliding doors.
Though the front door is the most popular choice for burglars, many will try to get in through windows as well. To better secure your windows, install additional aftermarket locks and place rods in the tracks of any horizontal sliding windows. If you’re worried about burglars smashing through the window, apply a protective security film over first-floor windows. These films make it more difficult to break through the glass by keeping the shattered pieces in place.
All of your extra security measures will be useless if they’re undone from someone on the inside, so always check your windows and doors after you have someone complete a service inside your home.
Install A Home Security System
When enabled, a home security system will sound an alarm when one of its sensors are triggered. Since burglars don’t like to draw attention to themselves, the alarm alone may scare them away. Depending on the system you have, it may also notify the authorities. You can purchase and install a system on your own or have one that is professionally installed and monitored, usually for a monthly cost. Many systems now come with cameras and connect to your phone, so you can make security adjustments and monitor your home from anywhere. These devices can also keep you safe by notifying you and emergency personnel if there is a house fire or carbon monoxide leak.
If you don’t want to get a full home security system, consider installing window and door sensor alarms, which will sound an alarm when a window or door is opened. As a bonus, these sensors can also keep sleepwalkers safe and alert parents when their kids are coming home past curfew.
Make Valuables Harder To Get To
After breaking in, the majority of burglars go straight to the bedroom where they can find small valuables fast. They tend to grab items that can fit in their pockets or allow them to flee the scene without looking conspicuous. Most of the time, they are looking for something that can be pawned or sold for cash easily. Items that fit this description include:
· Prescription drugs
· Laptops and other small electronics
· Personal Identification documents
Make it harder for burglars to reach such items by locking them in a safe that’s bolted down or at least large and heavy enough to prevent them from carrying it away. If you don’t want to use a safe, consider storing your valuables in a different room or in decoy containers that look like everyday items, like cans of food, cleaning supplies or personal care items. Do not hide your valuables in predictable hiding spaces, including under the mattress, in drawers or inside the freezer.
Disrupting Your Routine
“Criminals favor premises that exhibit routine homeowner activities, like noticeable and predictable work and school hours or a home that looks like the owners are away long-term,” says Grattan, “so disrupting routine activities can be a major deterrent.”
To disrupt your routine, Grattan suggests having a neighbor pick up your newspaper during the day or hire someone to stop by the home or walk the dog while you’re at work. You can also see if your employer will allow you to work from home one day per week. If so, try to work remotely on different days each week. Mix up your gym schedule and run errands on a different day than you normally would. The idea is to keep potential burglars guessing. Chances are, they’ll move on to a more predictable home.
Protecting Your Home While On Vacation
Today’s society shares everything on social media, so it’s no surprise you’ll want to share all the fun you’re having on vacation – but think twice before you post. Publishing your vacation status on social media is basically advertising to your friends and the public that you’re not going to be home for a few days. Let’s be real, even if your security settings are set to private, you have a few followers that you don’t know that well – or at all, even – so wait to post your vacay pics and fun stories until after you’re back. Your followers can wait.
While you shouldn’t advertise your vacation all over on social media, there are some people you should notify of your time away. Let a trusted neighbor know that you’ll be out of town so they can keep an eye on your home and report any suspicious person wandering near your home. If you have a home security system, inform the alarm company that you’ll be away so they can stay extra vigilant in monitoring your home. You can also call your local police department and see if they could drive by your home a few times while on patrol in your neighborhood. You won’t need to get into too much detail about your vacation, but you’ll want to tell them the day you are leaving, when you’ll be back and how they can reach you or your designated contact in case of emergency. Let them know if you have someone coming to check on the home, too, so they don’t call the police on a friend who’s just trying to help.
Remember to keep up the “lived-in look” even while you’re gone for an extended period of time. Pause your mail for the duration of your vacation and install timers on your interior and exterior lights to turn on throughout the day. Mow the lawn and trim the bushes just before you leave to keep your landscaping from looking overgrown. If you’re going to be gone longer than a few days, hire someone to mow your lawn and water your flowers. To complete the look, ask your neighbor to park their car in your driveway or, if you leave your car, see if they can move it every now and then.
Before you go on vacation, create a checklist and run through it as you pack up and leave. Here are a few things to include:
· All doors and windows are locked.
· Garage and shed are locked.
· A sturdy rod has been placed in the tracks of exterior sliding glass doors.
· Alarm company has been notified.
· Valuables are locked away in a safe place.
· Timers are installed and programmed.
· Alarm system is set.
Protecting Your Rented Space
If you’re renting, ask the landlord to install new locks in case past tenants made copies of the keys. You’ll also want to look into wireless security systems and other alarms that are available specifically for renters. Whatever security measures you decide to take, make sure to get approval from your landlord before taking them.
Preparing For The Worst
Even if you do everything to protect your home, you could still fall victim to a burglary. Make the post-crime process easier by building an inventory of your valuables. Keep a record of each valuable with such information as the item’s make and model, serial number, insurance information and proof of purchase or record of appraisal, if possible. Take pictures of each item so you can show it to the police and any nearby pawn shops.
Make sure you also have homeowners or renters insurance that covers any personal property lost due to theft and damage caused by the burglary. Most standard insurance plans do, but it’s always a good idea to double-check.
What To Do If You Experience A Break-In
If you experience a break-in one of the most important things to do is vacate the house if it’s safe to do so because the burglar could still be in the home. Call the police immediately and tell them your home has been broken into. If there’s a neighbor you trust, go to their house while you wait for the police to arrive. Do not touch, move or clean anything until the police are done assessing the home. Doing so could damage evidence or interfere with the investigation. A home invasion can be scary and stressful, so call a loved one to come over and be there for emotional support.
In the days following the burglary, work with your insurance agency to file a claim on your missing property and any damage to the home. You’ll also want to set up identity monitoring and keep an eye on your online banking accounts, your credit card accounts and your credit report. Report any red flags as soon as you spot them.
Finally, the psychological effects of a home invasion can have a lasting impact, even when you move out of the home. If it’s been some time and the event is still affecting your day-to-day life or taking an emotional toll on you, seek the help of a licensed professional. Sometimes, the most valuable thing a burglar robs you of is your sense of comfort and security.
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