“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.” –Agatha Christie
She was right. We grow in our love and admiration for each other as we let down our guard and have fun together. Vacations are so much fun for families.
Many years ago, we lived in a home 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. We noticed something very strange, a car in the parking lot backed up to our gate. We went out to investigate and took a picture of the license plate and wrote down the information. We locked the gate.
After retiring that night, the lights were out, and the family was safely tucked in. Then, we could hear the sound of a car idling at the back of our home. My husband looked out the window and the car that was backed up to our gate was running. 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 wakeup call, in a town where we thought crime couldn’t touch us. A few weeks later they pulled over the same car and found stolen items in the trunk. We were lucky we came home when we did.
A few years ago, there was a report on the news about a family who came home from a vacation and their home had been completely cleaned out. Their own truck was used as the vehicle to take away their property. The neighbor was supposed to be watching the house.
With the price of gas and other basics skyrocketing, and the lack of law enforcement by the courts, many thieves seem to be getting bolder, and your home could be a target. The motives of a criminal, however sympathetic the back story, are less important than the threat they pose to innocent citizens and their property.
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. In cities, home invasions and robberies are also up as gangs and thieves understand punishment is rare.
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 with a predictable routine, or going to the gym at the same time every day, leaving your home unattended. Any of these may 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 you bragged about last week on Facebook. The thief now knows where you are and we all know it takes at least a half day to fly home from Hawaii so thieves can take their time scouting out all the other goodies in the home.
Never tweet or Facebook or advertise thru 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.
You may think your social media is protected and only those you invite to join can see your posts. This is not the case. A thief who is a friend of a friend of a friend can also see your posts. No social media is 100% secure.
Protect your computer. Be sure your computer is password protected with a password which includes both numbers and letters, capitals, and lower case. These passwords are much more difficult to hack into. Secure your computer if possible. If you don’t have a safe or 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.
Be selective when posting photos. Posting photos taken inside your home creates a shopping list be burglars who now know not only what you have but where to find it.
Identify your security weaknesses. Begin by walking around your home and making note of areas where access to a window or door may go unnoticed 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 them 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.
Remember to close the blinds so a would-be thief cannot look in the window and see that a radio is on but no one is in the room.
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.
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 that burglars love.
Make copies of all your important papers and send them to your emergency out-of-state contact. 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, as well.
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 cost, 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.
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. Motion detector lights are great and a thief may be deterred as they come on randomly while he is casing your home and a squirrel sets one off.
Get window coverings and use them. Don’t give a would-be thief a preview of what you have in your home. Every night 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 back up.
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 for them 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. Now is a good time to replace a garage door with a fire-resistant door. Many fires begin in the garage and these doors can help slow down the progress of a fire.
Before leaving home, place heavy items in front of the side door into the garage. This will make it impossible to push open the door.
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. Anything you can do to slow down entrance to your home is a win and worth doing.
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.
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 emergency contact in case you are ever forced to evacuate during a disaster. Be sure to open every drawer and closet door as you take photos and inventory.
Use safe deposit box. If you have access to one, place all your valuables in a safe or safe deposit box.
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 goes 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 alarms.
(Again) Don’t advertise to thieves. 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 pick up? 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 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 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. If you are having a garage sale, keep the doors to the house locked.
Never put your name or address on your keys. Should be a no-brainer. If your car is hot wired 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 keys to the house 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 if you have a landline. With your phone forwarded you can answer and someone checking to see if you are home will never know you are at Disneyland unless you tell them. Remember, the thief is often a neighbor or acquaintance of the neighbor of even a friend of your children.
Never change the message on your cell phone to include information announcing you are away from home. Have you ever called a friend to get a message such as; “Having a great time at the cabin, will return your call soon”. Terrible idea!
We have discussed securing your home as it relates to intruders while you are away. All of this advice will also help prevent attacks while you are at home. Our goal is to keep those who would harm us outside.
Crime will always be part of society and may rise and fall for various reasons. We can make this as difficult as possible, so criminals consider our home “not worth the trouble” and move on. Ignoring the danger, and doing nothing to prepare against it, would be silly and naïve.
The Savior said, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). And have a great vacation!
Please let Carolyn know if you have any preparedness challenges she can help you with by messaging her on her Facebook page or commenting here or on her blog. If you would like to serve disaster survivors, please visit Operation Christmas Ornaments on Facebook or on the Totally Ready blog at Totallyready.com