Posted: Jan 23, 2014 10:00 AM
Security experts reveal practical tips on how to make sure your home isn't a target for intruders. From keeping your vacation plans off of social media to the right lighting and landscaping outside, you can sleep better knowing your home is safe.

It is every parent's worst nightmare. You come home from a vacation to find your home has been broken into and your valuables stolen or, even worse, a home invasion occurs at night while you and your kids are sleeping.

"In 2010, there were an estimated 2,159,878 burglaries," said Greg Davis, co-creator of The Lock Locker. "It is important to remember that no one solution will keep the criminals out or prevent one's home from being a target. However, by taking to heart some very simple strategies, it is possible to decrease the likelihood of having your home burglarized or invaded."

Security tips for outside the home

Keep your house from being a target by following these tips for outside of the home:

  1. Don't obscure entrances with large gates: "Crooks love to be hidden, so if they can get between the gate and front door and not be seen, all the better," says Michael Dunteman, CEO of the security camera company Platinum CCTV.

  2. Install and inspect motion detectors: "Make sure that motion detectors cannot be set off by billowing curtains or pets," says security expert and bestselling author Robert Siciliano.

  3. Alert your neighborhood watch group that you will be gone: "If there's no formal watch group, ask a friend or neighbor to check up on your residence," says Siciliano. "This includes having them remove any packages on your doorstep or accumulated newspapers."

  4. Give your home a lived-in look: "Mow your lawn just before you leave for a long trip so that it looks recently cared for," suggests Siciliano. "Use automatic light timers for holiday lights if your house is decorated with these to fool burglars that you're home."

  5. Discard any signs you have expensive items in the house: Siciliano says to not display things like "empty computer containers or flat screen TV boxes lying around outside. Store bikes and toys in the garage."

  6. Plant prickly bushes around windows: "Around the outside of the house, under windows, we have planted prickly hedge bushes," says Leslie Bowman, university professor and author of a book about personal safety and self-defense. "These are not so high as to obstruct view of the windows. The bushes are too close to the house for anyone to hide behind and they leave some nasty scratches and thorns if someone brushes up against them."

  7. Have a lockbox outside the home: Bowman says to have a key hidden outside in an unbreakable, heavy lockbox that requires a code to open. "The lockbox is well-hidden in a place that no burglar would think to look. It is always a good idea to have an alternate way to get into the house, especially for emergency purposes. If EMT or fire services are required when the homeowner is away, they can tell the emergency team the location and code on the lockbox."

  8. Secure all portals of entry: "Make sure all the locks work. Repair any cracks in doors or windows. Set the pin lock on your garage if it opens by remote. Sliding doors should have bars that prevent jiggling them open," says Siciliano.

  9. Consider security cameras: "Cameras that are visible outdoors can help deter thieves, because often they will move on to an easier target where they are less likely to be captured," says Dunteman. "Advanced Camera systems like many of our systems can be outfitted with advanced sensors and schedules, to send text message alerts directly to your phone when something happens, so you know before the police do."

Security tips for inside the home

  1. Don't announce your whereabouts on social media: We all like to share vacation pictures, but security experts all say to wait to post the pictures until you return. "If the wrong person learns you are gone for a week, it could make your home an easy target," says Davis. "Instead, save yourself the worry and post your pictures and stories once you are back home."

  2. Don't open the door for strangers, but let them know you are home: "Although opening your door to strangers is not a good idea, you should make your presence known," says Davis. "A current tactic of criminals is known as a 'knock-knock' burglary. The bad guys go to the door of a home and knock. When no one answers, that is their cue to go around the back and break in. By announcing your presence, you stay safe behind a locked door and avoid someone from thinking no one is home."

  3. Secure your lock: "A secret amongst thieves is a technique known as 'lock bumping' where a criminal uses a special key that can be purchased online for as little as $3 to unlock residential doors," says Davis. "There is also a new product on the market called, The Lock Locker which is placed on the inside of the door and attaches to the deadbolt when it is in the locked position and renders bump keys, stolen keys and 3-D printed keys useless."

  4. Get a dog: "My best tip is to get a dog, which is the very best burglar-prevention ever," says Bowman. "Even a small dog makes enough racket to scare off a burglar. People who are interested in entering an unoccupied (or occupied) home do not want to be caught. They want a quiet entrance and quick exit. Anything that makes noise will deter a burglar. Dogs are the best alarm system anyone can have. When on vacation (and the dog is away from home too) it's best to find a way to block and secure the doggie door."

  5. Consider home security system/alarm: "Alarm systems are good. [They] don't provide evidence, but will alert neighbors with a siren and police. Don't skimp on the siren. Good powerful ones can almost disable an intruder who wasn't prepared and wake the neighbors," says Dunteman, who says that ADT or other security signs and stickers in the lawn can also be helpful.

Final word of warning^ Make sure you guard your house key! "It is now possible to use 3-D printing to make a copy of a key and a new app allows one to get a key made from just a photo of a key," says Davis. "Don't compromise your home security and peace of mind by putting your key in the wrong hands. When handing your keys off to a valet, mechanic, etc., only give them the key to your car and keep your house key safely tucked away. A valet keychain makes this simple to do."

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