Home burglaries increase around the holidays for obvious reasons: You're gone, and your house is empty and vulnerable. While you're away, you want to make sure your home is as secure as possible, and part of this means making it look like someone is actually there even when you're not.
Keep Up With Regular Maintenance
If you have dead leaves covering your driveway and the mail is piling up, that's a pretty clear sign for thieves that no one is home. As one community relations officer told CNN:
Every year, we see a pretty big uptick in burglaries... Criminals drive through neighbourhoods looking for places to burglarize. If there's newly fallen snow that hasn't been shoveled, they figure the home is empty.
If you can ask a friend to house sit and take care of these tasks for you, even better. This way, stuff gets done, plus, you actually have someone in the house, so you don't have to worry about making it look like someone's home. If that's not possible, you'll at least want to make sure your home is maintained while you're away. Here are some maintenance tasks to consider:
- Yard work, like raking leaves
- Watering exterior plants
- Taking out garbage bins
- Picking up newspapers
- Picking up mail
Idaho's KTVB surveyed 86 burglars about how they break into homes. Many of them said they look for overgrown shrubs and large fences:
Burglars don't want to be seen. They looked for homes with big fences and overgrown trees or bushes. "Home away from other homes, blind spots, older window frames, cheap wooden doors," wrote a burglar.
"Large trees, bushes or shrubs around the home, or very reserved and conservative neighbours," wrote another inmate.
It's a good reminder to make sure your bushes and shrubs are trimmed before you leave.
Make It Look Like Someone's Inside
Yep, it's time to get Kevin McCallister on your home. OK, don't go buy a bunch of life-size cardboard cutouts, but you do want to make it look like there's some kind of activity going on in your home.
At the very least, put your lights on a timer or leave a radio on. Timers are inexpensive and you can schedule them to turn on and off at specific times throughout the day. Better yet, use smart home technology for more control over your lamps, lights and other devices. For example, Belkin's app gives you an "away" option so lights will turn on and off at irregular intervals, which can throw off potential burglars.
If you really want to get clever, hook your TV or computer up to the outlet, too, and make it sound like someone's home watching a show. You could also loop random barking and growling sounds, which might seem silly, but in that KTVB poll, most burglars said they'd stay away if they heard a big, loud dog. One burglar called it a "deal-breaker".
Also, via YouTube TV, you can link your phone to your home computer or TV to play videos remotely even if you're not on the same Wi-Fi network. Of course, there are apps that allow you to control your computer remotely, too. TeamViewer is our favourite.
When you can control electronics and lighting remotely, it's pretty easy to make it look like there's activity in your house. You might also consider leaving a car in the driveway. Again, KTVB reported:
As a homeowner, this is one of the best precautions you can take. Almost all of the burglars said they'd think twice if there was a car in the driveway.
"Most of the time that is a sure-fire sign of someone being home," wrote an inmate.
Sure, some burglars might see through this, but it's better than not doing anything and making it obvious your home is empty.
Be Careful About Broadcasting Your Plans
You may want to reconsider broadcasting your plans or checking into places while you're away or at least set your social media handles to private. This might seem like overkill, but according to officials, criminals don't just stake out your neighbourhood and home, they can easily check your social media handles, too.
"Social media is a great thing for people but it's a great thing for criminals too," said Holliday. "Criminals stake out the Internet."
Plus, in many cases, the burglar may be a person you've interacted with that has easy access to your online information. You may not even realise you've enabled Facebook or Twitter to tag your location, so that's something to watch out for, too. Along the same lines, your out of office reply can be a dead giveaway that you're gone and your home is empty. You can filter your holiday responder to only send to certain people in your contact list or from certain email addresses.
Obviously, there are a lot of things you can (and should) do to protect your home while you're away. Set up surveillance. Install a security system. Ask a neighbour to check on things. Making it look like you're home is just another way to deter potential thieves, but it's an easy enough tactic to implement.