7 Ways to Make Your Home Safer

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- For anyone who has seen those World's Dumbest Criminals clip shows on late-night TV, it may come as no surprise burglars aren't always the smartest tools in the shed. But sometimes they don't even have to be.

Burglars most often enter a place through an unlocked door, says Craig L'Esperance, a detective for a Midwest law enforcement agency. Other times the homeowners have a burglar alarm, but forget to set it when leaving the house, even for just a short amount of time.
If you need to protect your home, a traditional alarm system isn't the only option.

Those problems are easy enough to remedy, but what about the criminals who aren't deterred by locks or alarms? L'Esperance is also the author of the thriller Terror from Within, which concerns a burglary crew that commits residential and commercial burglaries and describes how and why they pick their targets, and he and other experts weighed in on how homeowners can safeguard their possessions.

Lock it up
Standard exterior doors should contain a good-quality deadbolt lock, says Robert A. Gardner, a certified security and crime prevention consultant with offices in California, Arizona and Nevada. That bolt should have a hardened steel insert and a minimum throw of one inch, so check the packaging if you're thinking of installing a new one. Double exterior doors should be equipped with a vertical throw deadbolt and all locks should have a five-pin (or more) tumbler, he says.

Sliding doors also need a lock system that prevents the door from being pried open or lifted off of its track.

Locks should be changed when moving into a home or whenever a key is lost. Make sure the locksmith has the necessary licenses and is bonded and insured, and get recommendations from friends or business rating agencies if you can, Gardner says.

Gardner also offers a home security test on his Web site so you can see how well your home is protected.

Know your neighbors
If you're not already acquainted with the neighbors on either side of you, get to know them now, says Todd Morris, CEO of BrickHouse Security in New York City.

"Get their cellphone numbers and give them yours," Morris says. "Then if you see something awry, like a package left out in the rain or a strange car at their home, you can text message them and ask that they do the same for you."

But Morris doesn't recommend giving these neighbors -- or anyone else, for that matter -- a key to your house. Use a fingerprint scanner lock instead, he says, or a lock you have to punch a code into to open. Non-key access with an audit trail is the best, he says. That way you'll know when the dog walker, house cleaner or anyone else enters and leaves your house.

Beware of dog
You don't actually have to own a canine to scare a burglar into thinking you do. Post a sign in your yard that says, "Attack Dogs Trained and Sold Here," says Susan Bartelstone, host of the radio show Crime Prevention 101 in New York. "Extremely Vicious Doberman" works too, she says.

"Then get a recording of a fierce-sounding barking dog and set it on a timer to go off periodically when you aren't home," Bartelstone says.

To give a burglar pause, leave a large dog bowl by the front door with the name "Cujo" or "Killer" printed on it.

Make it look used
If you are planning a vacation, L'Esperance advises, either put a hold on your newspapers and mail or stop them altogether. Nothing says, "Come in and take what you want," like a pile of old newspapers on your porch.

Also have your home phone forwarded to your cellphone so people who hear the phone ring will think you're home, L'Esperance says.

There are some other important ways to deter thieves no matter if you're home or not, like making sure the grass is cut, the snow is shoveled off the driveway in the winter and there are no ladders lying about in the yard or against the side of the house. Most burglars know people don't usually lock second-story windows, L'Esperance says, so a ladder is basically an invitation.

If you have a garage, make sure to protect that as well. Lock your car so nobody can get to your garage door opener and enter your home through the garage or just steal what's inside the garage.

For the most authentic lived-in look, make it appear you're home by leaving the TV or a radio on and add a timer to your lights so they turn on at different times of the day and night.

Go hi-tech
Senior real estate specialist Chantay Bridges, who works for Clear Choice Realty & Associates in Los Angeles, has seen vacant homes vandalized, with squatters taking up residence in houses for sale and taking all the appliances, furniture and fixtures when asked to leave.

Bridges suggests installing a home security system, but using one that has apps for your smartphone so you can monitor the system from anywhere. Alarm.com lets you send commands from your phone to arm or disarm your system remotely. You can also watch live video from your security cameras to see what's going on when you're not there.

Mobiscope.com works the same way and sends email notifications to your BlackBerry if any motion is detected at your home.

Blackout social media
Facebook, Twitter and other social media make getting in touch with old friends and family easy. But don't post that you're going to be away from home, L'Esperance says.

"You never know if that old high school friend or college buddy is now a ... felon with burglary or theft on his record," L'Esperance says.

It's easy and often recommended that you "check in" to certain sites and post when and where you're going on vacation, but this allows burglars to see your every move and know when the best time is to break into your house.

If you really want to post comments about your vacation with photos, wait until you return home before doing so, L'Esperance says.

Case your own house
One of the best preventive measures you can take is to try and break into your home. Not literally (you don't want to have to replace any windows after all), but walk around every side of it and act like a burglar, Morris says. Is one of your doors hidden from the street? Could you get in without arousing a neighbor's attention?

If so, you should invest in motion-activated floodlights, which you can get for about $19 at a warehouse-type hardware store, Morris says.

"Criminals don't like to be in the spotlight," Morris says.

One final thought: Did you plant large shrubs years ago for your privacy? Well, they also protect burglars from sight, so unless they are essential to the look of your house, it's safer to trim them.

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