Vacation Plan, Step One: Burglar-Proof Your Home

Crooks go to work when you take time off. Follow these steps to keep your home safe and your summer vacation worry-free.


Vacation is supposed to be the time to get away from it all and leave your worries behind – along with all the stuff in your home.

While you’re off on holiday, crooks are on the job.

You don’t want to worry about falling prey to a burglar and becoming the victim of one of nearly 2 million burglaries a year, according to the FBI’s count for 2013, the latest available. Burglaries in 2013 cost victims about $4.5 billion in property losses, the bureau says. The average dollar loss per burglary offense was $2,322.

Another homeowner burglarized may be a statistic, but if it happens to you, it’s personal.

“The first time it happens, it’s very devastating, because they’re not prepared for it,” says Det. Carlos Salazar of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. “So a lot of valuables may be missing, maybe family heirloom jewelry, things that cannot be replaced, and it’s a very big shock, so preparedness is the key.”

Police, security firms and even burglars have tips to help make sure your home is not a target.

“Most burglaries are done from opportunities,” says William Coffman, one of three Ohio prison inmates recruited by the Columbus Police Department to produce a YouTube video in which they share their burglary know-how.

Deterrence starts with good locks, secured windows — even on the second floor – and hiding valuables so thieves won’t even want to bother. You’ll also want to make your home look like it’s occupied.

Get the help of a good neighbor

Do you have a trusted neighbor? Leave that neighbor your emergency contact number and ask him or her to do a few simple things while you’re gone, says Money Talks News financial expert Stacy Johnson. The neighbor could pick up your mail and maybe go inside your home and turn lights on and off at different times. Let the neighbor park a family or visitor’s car at your house.

“Have them use your driveway so it looks like you have activity at your house,” Salazar said.

Also, if you’re leaving a car behind, you might want to give the neighbor your car key, especially if the vehicle needs to be moved in an emergency. But the neighbor could also reposition your car several times so it doesn’t become obvious you’re away because the car is always in the same spot.

Your neighbor may also be willing to put garbage cans by the curb and haul them back after collection to keep up the look of normal home activity.

Arrange appearances

Even on your own, you can plan to make your home appear occupied.

  • Make sure your lawn is mowed before you go and, if you’re going to be away awhile, arrange for a service or friend to cut the grass while you’re traveling.
  • Stop newspaper delivery if you’re still a subscriber to a print edition so the papers won’t stack up in your yard.
  • Go online with the U.S. Postal Service to arrange for your local post office to hold your mail for free (up to 30 days) while you’re gone. Options include having accumulated mail delivered upon your return or you can tell the post office you’ll pick up the stack yourself.
  • Set timers on your lights so they will go on and off at a variety of hours. Also, set up outdoor lighting connected to motion sensors. Burglars usually don’t like to be in the spotlight.

iCamMultiple iCam views on a cellphone.

Use online eyes

Don’t use social media to tell everyone – including potential thieves — you’re away. Avoid the temptation to post that exotic entrée or spectacular vista until after you’re home.

Instead, turn the Internet into an opportunity to keep watch on your home.

You can install web cams and stream them to your mobile phone or other personal devices. They can be activated with motion sensors that can send notices to your phone.

For example, iCam, about $8, is an app for iOS and Android devices that allows you to remotely monitor live video and audio feeds from up to 12 (iPhone, iPod touch, Android) or 16 (iPad) computer webcams at the same time. The iCamSource is a free computer application that streams your webcam video and audio to iCam. Two-way systems let you talk to intruders through your devices to let them know you’re watching.

Another of the many apps, iSpy Connect, says that should anyone break in, you’ll instantly be alerted with frame grabs of the intruders sent to your mobile phone and recorded video uploaded to YouTube (with private access only).

You could also buy a home-security system from local and nationally known companies. But don’t bother putting up a decal or sign that the home is under watch if it isn’t. Convict Coffman says burglars are wise to the ploy.

Tell the cops

Many local law enforcement agencies will help keep your home safe while you’re away.

For example, the Dougherty County Police Department in Georgia told TV station WALB residents could add their homes to its vacation watch list and get patrols to check on their homes for free.

“All they have to do is call up to our desk, they will take down some relevant information because if something does happen we need a way to get in contact with you and verify you are the resident there, and we will actually look out for your property while you’re gone,” said Capt. Tom Jackson.

A little preparation will go a long way in preventing the worst, as burglars are more likely to skip homes that look like they are tough to break into. So go de-stress.

Stacy Johnson

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