Beginner’s Guide to Home Safety

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Around 2.5 million homes are burglarized every year. That equates to about one house every 13 seconds. This is due in part to the fact that the majority of people take only the most basic of precautions to protect their homes. Homes that are burglarized often show signs that the house is vacant or doesn’t have a security system in place – which makes them the perfect target. Home safety should be your top priority. Home burglary can be avoided with a few simple, low-cost steps – including thinking like a burglar.

What motivates the burglar?

According to statistics, the average burglar is male and under the age of 25. They’re usually in some sort of financial crisis (debts owed, loss of a job, or drug addiction) and need a way out. Amateurs are more likely to hit houses they know whereas serial offenders typically choose strangers’. Homes with higher incomes are obviously the more common target because they’re assumed to have more expendable income – and sometimes that makes them LESS likely to report the crime. Homes that are too nice or have substantial security systems in place are often bypassed.

When do they break in?

Contrary to popular belief, most break-ins happen during the day. The burglar is usually dressed in plain clothes and not scared to knock on the front door to see if anyone’s home. Summer months see more burglaries than the winter months, with February being the least likely for burglaries to occur.

How do they get in?

Most burglars start by wandering through a neighborhood, scoping out houses that are unkempt or provide good cover. An overgrown lawn or mail in the driveway is a potential sign that a family is away on vacation – making it easier to break into. They’ll also look for tall fences and bushes to hide them from prying neighbors’ eyes and easy-access doors and windows.

A burglar will also look for signs of an alarm system either in the form of a sign in the front yard or wires around windows. A seasoned burglar will know what each type of security system offers and will generally know how to disable it. Non-wireless systems are not much of a concern because they can be disabled by cutting the wires. This means that if the alarm is tripped it won’t be able to send a call to the police – no one will be notified.

Once they’ve decided to break in, they’ll look for an easy-access point. Unlocked windows, of course, are the easiest but not always available. Sliding glass doors are typically only locked with a latch or when those aren’t an option a center-punch tool to works to quickly and quietly break the window. There are even criminals that have admitted to climbing through pet doors on occasion.

If a burglar happens to trip the alarm he might run or he might not. Those that stay will likely find where the sound is coming from and either bury it under pillows or disable it. Sometimes they’ll even leave for a few minutes then walk by to see if a cop has arrived or if anyone noticed the alarm. If not, then back in they go.

Most burglars try to minimize their time in a home to 5-10 minutes. Their first stop: the master bedroom as this is where most people keep their valuable jewelry, watches, and cash. From there, the burglar will check the office or family room for electronics then most likely leave – through the front door.

What do they like to take?

Most burglars are searching for items of high value that can be quickly sold on the streets. When it comes to electronics (laptops, game systems, tablets, and phones it’s always a good idea to keep their power cords separate because it makes them harder to sell. Jewelry – of course- is small, carries significant value, and easy to find as most people store their jewelry in a box or special case. It’s always a good idea to keep any heirloom jewelry tucked away in storage and other valuable pieces in separate locations. The same goes for credit cards and ID’s as they can easily be used fraudulently, destroying your credit and costing you a significant amount of money and time.

How can I protect my stuff?

One thing you can do is inscribe your driver’s license number and state into an inconspicuous place on your valuable items. This way the police will be able to easily match the item to you. It’s also a good idea to take a picture of each valuable item and record their serial numbers. Here are some small steps you can take to avoid burglary or help recover stolen items:

Jewelry & Watches:

  • Do not keep them all in one place.
  • Avoid storing them in the master bedroom.
  • Jewelry boxes are a dead giveaway.

Phones / iPads:

  • Always keep them locked with a password or PIN.
  • Activate “Find My Phone” feature on the device.
  • Write down serial numbers & unique details/inscriptions.

Game Systems & Laptops:

  • Store power cords separately; it makes them harder to sell.
  • Criminals do not like to do extra work to source new cords.
  • Hide in a locked cabinet rather than out in the open.

Credit Cards / ID / Cash:

  • Store in a file or, preferably, a lockbox or safe.

ATV’s / Mopeds / Vehicles:

  • Keep garages & outbuildings locked at all times.
  • Store keys separately from vehicles.

Large Electronics / TV’s:

  • Inscribe your driver’s license number and state into an inconspicuous place to prove ownership.

Valuable Items / Decor:

  • Take photos of each item and record serial numbers, value and pertinent details for identification.

How can I protect myself?

If you’re home and someone suspicious knocks on your door:

  • Make your presence known.
  • Don’t have to open the door; talking through the window is fine.
  • Call a friend and keep them on the phone with you so they can call the police if something goes wrong. Just the threat of you being on the phone will generally deter a potential burglar.
  • When you’re home, make sure you leave a light or the TV on; these are clear signals that someone is present and that breaking in would not be a good idea.

When you’re not home, don’t make it obvious:

  • Don’t advertise on Facebook that you’re going to the Bahamas for a week with your family; potential thieves see that as an open invitation.
  • Keep your house buttoned up so people can’t see into your house and what you have. The easiest way for a burglar to case your home is to look through a glass door. As pretty as they are, they invite prying eyes. Keep shades drawn and doors locked for the most protection.
  • If you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time, it is wise to hire a house sitter to stay there for a few nights to collect your mail, mow your lawn, and park their car in your driveway so it looks like someone is there.
  • Get a dog. The larger the dog, the more intimidating they are to the intruder. Bully breeds are territorial and more prone to protecting your family. However, a dog may also tell the burglar whether or not you’re home by their behavior. Don’t want a dog? Just a “Beware of Dog” sign is enough to deter some robbers.

See if there’s a Neighborhood Watch program:

  • Pay attention to and take advantage of your community. The more familiar you are with each other’s habits the more likely it is that you’ll notice when something’s not right. An active Neighborhood Watch can be a huge deterrent for potential burglars. If you don’t already have a program, you can start one by contacting your local police department and following their guidelines.

Home security systems – how to get started

Having an alarm system is a good way to step up your home’s level of security. Though it may seem like a daunting task, it can be tackled rather easily. Your local security company will assess your home and provide a quote as to how much it would cost to add the appropriate sensors and alarms. Often times, local businesses are affiliates of larger security equipment makers and can sell you their equipment and/or install it for you. Otherwise you can buy systems online or at large home improvement retailers.

Which type of home surveillance do I use?

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to do a combination of things if you want to cover all your bases.

  • Video surveillance at the main entrance is a huge deterrent and helps identify burglars.
  • Set a door alarm set on every external door and a window sensor on all main-level windows.
  • Consider sensors that detect breaking glass and trigger the alarms.
  • If you’re going above and beyond, install indoor video in all major rooms. Not only will this protect from intruders going unseen but also lets you see what’s going on when you’ve got a babysitter.
  • With an audio connection, you can speak with the people in the room and let them know that you’re watching or solve a problem for them from wherever you are.
  • Choose a company or plan that offers 24/7 support.
  • Be aware of monthly support charges. Some companies charge, others don’t.
  • Read others’ Yelp ratings / video reviews.

Wireless: There are pros and cons to wireless alarms. Without wires, there are no cables for a burglar to cut to bypass your alarm. However, you have to keep an eye on battery levels and your wireless network connection.

Video: Consider video surveillance. If your house is broken into, having a visual on what the person looks like can help the police find the perpetrator. Also, if the burglar sees video surveillance they’re more likely to change their mind and run.

Audio: Any audible alarm with a siren is going to be a significant deterrent.

Video with audio: There are some cameras that let you communicate through a microphone/speaker system so that you can give instructions to the UPS man or let a potential thief know that you’re watching. A few types of doorbells offer video surveillance when they sense someone nearby. Most also let you communicate through them.

Fake it: If you can’t afford a home security system, that’s ok. You can buy fake cameras with lights that make the potential intruder think you’ve shelled out the cash for one.

App-enabled: Accessibility is important these days. If a sensor goes off while you’re at work, many systems can notify you on your cell phone. If video is installed, you can even monitor the video feeds from anywhere.

My home was invaded, now what?

Taking basic measures to protect yourself is important and should not be put off. Burglars will typically avoid a house that looks difficult, so a little effort goes a long way.

  • Immediately call the authorities.
  • Let them know someone has been in your home.
  • Go to a neighbor’s house and wait for the police to arrive; you don’t want to be there if the burglar comes back for more.
  • Do not touch anything that the burglar may have touched because this would obscure potential evidence like fingerprints. This includes door handles, windows, and items that may have been moved or knocked down.
  • When the police arrive, tell them what is missing.
  • Provide them with pictures and serial numbers of the missing items.
  • Contact your insurance company and file a claim as soon as possible.