Have you been the victim of a home break in? A stolen car? Vandals? It’s a sick feeling when you discover the dark side of what others will do in the pursuit of crime. Thieves are not like the good-natured Vikings we see portrayed in those credit card commercials, constantly asking “What’s in Your Wallet?” They are barbarians, with no sense of shame or restraint – who may stop at nothing before violating your home and family.
Some years ago, we lived where our back fence bordered the parking lot of our ward’s chapel. We had a convenient gate in that fence that made access to Sunday meetings easy. Unfortunately, it also made access easy to our home.
After a short 3-day trip, we returned home and parked the car in the garage. After retiring, the lights were out, and the family was in bed for the night. Then, the sound of a car idling could be heard from the back of our home. My husband looked out the window and a sedan was backed up to our back gate. Someone got out of the car, and opened the trunk as if ready to load up. Of course, we didn’t turn on the interior lights, but we turned on our outside lights, and the would-be burglar made a quick getaway. It was a wake-up call, in a town where we thought crime couldn’t touch us.
With the price of gas and other basics skyrocketing, many thieves seem to be getting bolder, and your home could be a target. The motives of a criminal, however sympathetic the back story may be, are less important than the threat they pose to innocent citizens and their property.
We had a housing boom and then a bust in the last few years. Many homes have dropped in value, and many homes are vacant due to foreclosure. Recently we talked with a local locksmith. Although home sales are down, business has been good for our locksmith. Home burglaries and robberies are up – especially in rural areas around our town. He’s done good business, replacing the locks and jams that have been broken by thieves who kicked in the doors of their victims.
So, let’s suppose you are contemplating a little vacation, a business trip, or both you and your spouse leave home every day for work in a predictable routine, leaving your home unattended. In many neighborhoods, that might make your home a target for thieves.
Given this grim news, how can we prepare our homes to be more secure – whether we are at home, or away?
Don’t advertise. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with family and friends but it is also a great way for thieves to keep in touch. How often have you had friends or family post information which advertises the fact that they are enjoying the sun and sand in Hawaii? What a great deal for those who would love to own that new computer they bragged about last week on Facebook. The thief now knows where your friends are and we all know it takes at least a half day to fly home from Hawaii so they can take their time scouting out all the other goodies in the home.
Never Tweet or Facebook or advertise in any other social media about recent purchases or acquisitions. Wait until you see your friends and family to tell them all the details about the great diamond earrings you got for your birthday.
Protect your computer. Be sure your computer is password protected with a password which includes both numbers and letters. These passwords are much more difficult to hack into. Secure your computer if possible. If you don’t have a safe o can’t take your computer with you – disable it. You do not want an intruder stealing your identity as well as your jewelry because you left your information unprotected. Often simply unplugging the computer is enough to frustrate a would-be hacker. Check often to be sure your wireless network is secure. Encrypt the information on your computer so anyone gaining access will not be able to gain real access to your personal information.
Identify your security weaknesses. Begin by walking around your home and making note of areas where access to a window or door may go unobserved by neighbors. Look in the windows. Are there valuables that are easily seen and tempting to a thief? Look for easy access points such as sliding doors. Do you have ladders stored outside making it easy for a second story man? Look at your home through a burglar’s eyes, as if you wanted to break in. Find the weaknesses, and fix them as well as you can.
Purchase timers. Place timers in several locations in your home and do it now. Have your timers turn on lights as well as a radio or TV. Purchase timers that can be set to go on and off more than once during a 24-hour period.
For example, set some to turn on at dusk and off when people normally go to bed. Set another to go on at 9pm and off at 10pm and then come on at 6:05am. Set a radio in the same room to come on at 9pm go off at 10pm and come back on at 6am. Have another light go on at 6:30 somewhere else in your home giving the illusion that someone has gotten up and is moving around the house. Finally, if you have a second floor make sure to have a light up there also. Now leave them alone. If you go out and get home after dark there will be lights on to welcome you and anyone watching your home will never really be sure if you are home or not, because the pattern appears a bit random, and continues every day.
Clean out the garage. I am so sorry about this one. We have this challenge too. You may need to purchase some storage bins and build a shelf or two. The goal is to be able to park your cars in the garage. When you are away it won’t seem obvious that you are gone if your driveway is empty, as usual.
You hate to believe it, but a lot of local crime can come from people in your own neighborhood, or their kids, or their friends. Every time our property has been vandalized, it has been by someone living in our neighborhood. If getting the car in the garage is impossible, arrange with a neighbor to park their car in your driveway on occasion when you are away, making it look as though people are coming and going.
Plant rose bushes. If you have windows not easily seen from the road, plant rose bushes or other thorny plants in front of those windows. Most home invaders will steer clear of such hazards, and are unlikely to come with pruning shears. There is always an easier target and it is our goal to make them move on.
If your yard is fenced, planting thorny bushes and shrubs in front of it will make it more difficult to climb over, and is a lot more pleasing to the eye than a barbed wire deterrent.
A burglar loves to operate from backyards where they can’t be seen from the road or by the neighbors, so make access to your yard and back windows difficult.
Trim trees and bushes that block a clear view of your doors and windows from the road. Although it may be tempting to live in a little cottage secluded from the world, that kind of setting is just the sort burglars love.
Make copies of all your important papers and send them to your emergency out-of-state contact – either a physical copy or electronic copy on a flash drive. Thieves sometimes cover their tracks by setting fire to what they can’t carry. Home fires can happen from accidental causes while we are away, too.
Get a safe deposit box to store your jewelry or family heirlooms. If you don’t have much or just don’t want to incur the expense, arrange to leave valuables with a family member while you are gone for a few days. Purchase a small lock box and give it to them for safekeeping.
Invest in outdoor lighting. Any amount of light around your home will make your home less desirable to a thief. These can even be solar floodlights that won’t add any cost to your utilities.
Get window coverings and use them. Don’t give a would-be thief a preview of what you have in your home. When it gets dark and the inside lights come on, close all window coverings. For the same reason, if you work during the day, keep window coverings closed.
Check the locks on all entry doors. Purchase locks that have locking bolts and tongues. Test this by holding the door open and turning the latch. Then press the tongue into the door with your finger. Better locks will have a secondary tongue that doesn’t move. The best locks will have entire tongues that don’t move.
Although we like to have the best on our front doors, the back doors are the ones most likely to be used by an intruder. Multiple locks on a door are even better. If you can’t afford to purchase new locks, add a less expensive floor lock as a backup.
Check the screws in strike plates. Short screws make it easy to pry the plate off and the door open.
Floor locks. If you have a door with a window in it, add a floor lock or second lock that a thief can’t reach after breaking out the window.
Deadbolts. If you can afford it, a double-keyed deadbolt is the best solution for a door with a glass pane (so a thief can’t unlock it by reaching through the broken window and turning the latch – he would have to have a key). One last thing – check that the hinges of doors are on the inside, not outside of the door, and if not, get pins for those exposed hinges that cannot be simply removed.
Strengthen garage security. Garages are an easy entrance to your home. Too many people leave their garage doors open during the day when they are home and even if they are running a short errand. Once someone has entered your garage it is easy to close the door giving them the privacy and time they need to break down the inside door to the house.
Solid core doors in a garage are a must. Builders sometimes put cheaper doors in the garage. Check to make sure yours’ are not hollow core. If they are, replacing them is a good idea.
Sliders. An estimated one-fourth of all sliding glass doors and windows are installed backwards (so the sliding part is on the outside track). This gives a criminal easy access. They simply lift out the panel and enter. Purchase a good lock for your door if you have this situation. If the door is installed correctly, purchase a secondary lock or place a dowel in the track. The dowel should be within a ¼ – inch of the track’s length so the door can’t be opened wide enough to fit fingers in to lift the door off the track. Some experts will tell you that dowels only work against the less persistent thieves.
Window locks. Put window stops on all first floor and basement window frames. The best ones are those that go through the movable frame and lock it into place. A simple alternative is to drill a hole through both frames when the window is closed and place a nail in the hole. You may also want to add a second stop by opening the window slightly, not wide enough for someone to reach through, and drill a second whole. This will enable you to have the window open slightly at night and still provide some safety.
Install motion detectors in areas that are blind spots. Many homes have motion detectors on lights in front of the garage, but thieves sneak around the sides and back of the house. Place motion detectors in those locations, high enough on the wall so intruders can’t easily disable them. If you see the light come on, you know you need to be on your guard.
Lock your gates. A latch on a gate just isn’t good enough. An intruder can easily reach over and open the latch. Get a padlock that actually locks and requires a key or combination to open. On days when the kids are in and out of the yard, leave it off, but replace it at night and always when you leave for a day or two.
Make a household inventory now, and send a copy to the person you established as your out-of-town emergency contact in case you are ever forced to evacuate during an emergency.
Etch your name on all your high priced items like electronics, cameras, computers, sports gear – you know, the goodies. This will make them more difficult to fence and sell to a pawn shop. Never use a social security number to etch on property, for obvious reasons. Thieves love identity theft, too.
Security systems are a good addition to your home, but they can be expensive. Be sure to talk to your neighbors about any system you add, and ask them to call you when it sounds off. The police in some areas require an annual fee if you have your alarm connected to a siren, so they can know your contact info and call you before responding. Some police departments have stopped responding to alarms called in by neighbors, and some neighbors have started ignoring alarms because there are so many false calls.
Don’t advertise recent purchases. You can’t believe how foolish people can be. Have you ever driven down the street and seen a box for a computer or TV on the sidewalk waiting for garbage pickup? That’s like shouting “I have a new TV, come and get it”. Leave boxes from big ticket purchases in your garage, break them down just before garbage day, and turn them inside out before putting them in the recycling can.
Use a shredder for mail and household paperwork. Wait until dark to take your garbage to the curb. If you are going to be away on garbage day, ask a friend or neighbor to put your garbage can out for you and then take the can back in.
Don’t leave anyone alone in your home. If you have a repairman, realtor, or anyone else come into your home, don’t let them wander around alone. If you are selling your home and having an open house, ALWAYS have friends with you. Items are often stolen at an open house as one person distracts the seller or realtor, while another helps himself to your stuff.
Never put your name or address on your keys. Should be a no-brainer. If your car is hotwired and stolen and your garage door opener is in the car, change the code on your garage door opener immediately, or disconnect the opener until it is changed. If your other keys were in the car, change all the locks immediately. Remember, the thief has your registration and insurance info, and knows where you live.
Lock your home when you leave. Every time.
Neighborhood Watch. Now may be the time to get involved in your Neighborhood Watch group. Don’t have one? Then, now is the time to call the police department, ask for their suggestions, and invite the neighbors over. Neighborhood Watch groups do work. They have prevented many burglaries and caught many who would have caused harm if they had not been stopped.
Forward your phone. We have all gotten those phone calls where as soon as we answer the caller hangs up. This is exactly how a thief will determine the patterns of your lifestyle. By forwarding your home phone to your cell phone, a potential thief will never really know where you are.
Hold the mail. Have the post office hold your mail for the duration of your travel. They will deliver the held mail on the date of your choosing.
Cancel the newspaper Newspapers piling up on the driveway are a dead giveaway that your house is easy pickings.
With thoughtful planning and preparation, you can deny thieves easy access to your home and valuables, and make your home safer for yourself and your family. Don’t be a chump. It’s your castle – protect it from the barbarians!
Check out more summer tips at https://blog.TotallyReady.com and listen to Carolyn’s weekly radio broadcast every Tuesday night, or download past broadcasts, at: https://www.bepreparedradio.com/category/prepper-podcasts-preparedness/ready-or-not/ To contact Carolyn directly: Carolyn@TotallyReady.com or at https://www.facebook.com/TotallyReady