How to Deter Burglars and Make Your Home Safer | Extra Mile

While my husband and I were out visiting family one weekend, thieves broke into our home, took the pillow cases off our bed, and filled them with our valuables. We didn’t know this, of course, until hours after they’d escaped, undetected, into the cool evening air.

Up until that point, I’d been naïve about home break-ins. I didn’t think one could happen to me—and for good reason. The number of U.S. burglaries has declined over the past 10 years. Yet, in 2015, there were still more than 1.5 million committed, as reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

Although a homeowners policy or renters policy can help defray the costs of stolen goods, for many of us, a break-in is about more than just lost stuff. For weeks after our own, I felt violated, afraid and a little angry.

What’s a homeowner to do? Turns out there are several simple steps you can take to help keep the bad guys at bay. Here’s what you should know.

Burglars Strike During the Day

Burglars don’t want to run into people. Doing so makes their job that much more difficult, which is probably why more than half of home break-ins occur during the day, when most people are at work or at school.

Thieves are often “looking for signs that no one is there,” says Trooper Pascal DiJoseph from the Pennsylvania State Police. ‘They like the easy way. They don’t want to make noise. They don’t want to get caught.”

Of course, we can’t be home all the time. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t fool a would-be burglar into thinking that we are. Here are some tips to make burglars think you’re at home to send them on their way:

  • Park a car in the driveway.
  • Leave some window shades up and some shades down.
  • Leave a few lights on, or use a timer to set them to turn on at dusk.
  • If you’re on vacation, ask a neighbor to collect your mail and circulars.

Locking Your Doors & Windows Can Stop One-Third of Break-Ins

Many home burglaries are crimes of opportunity, according to Eric M. Gruss, a Monterey County, California-based police officer. “They’ll try the front door, the side door, the back,” says Gruss. Other common points of entry include a home’s attached garage or its first-floor windows.

“People often don’t double check to make sure their windows and doors are locked,” explains Gruss. That’s the kind of complacency thieves count on. In fact, about one in three burglars enter the home when it is unlocked.

Thieves Really Do Case the Joint

Sometimes, thieves do invest time and effort in finding the perfect victim. Don’t help them in their research.

If you buy a new TV or game console, don’t leave the packaging boxes outside by the trash cans for would-be thieves to spy, warns Gruss. “That’s just advertising that you’re a good potential victim.” Instead, break down the boxes and place them inside your recycling bin, where they’ll be out of sight.

The trash isn’t the only place burglars can look. Keep your doors shut—including those that lead into your garage or shed. An open garage or shed door may display a high-end tool chest, a riding lawn mower, your circular saw, and more.

Open doors also give thieves a sneak peek at what tools they may be able to use to jimmy a lock or to climb to a second story window. And, if you’ve converted your garage into a livable space, beware.

“Here in California, a lot of people turn their garages into man caves. Keep the garage door open, and everyone can see that you have a nice TV in there,” says Gruss.

Be sure to lock your car doors, too, especially if you park on the street, in the driveway, or in an unlocked garage. Any items left in the car are at risk, but there’s an even greater danger most people may not consider. “Thieves may steal the garage door opener in the middle of the night and then return to your house during the day,” explains Gruss.

Finally, there’s social media. Profiles should be set to private, warns Gruss. Otherwise, anyone can access your—or your child’s—photos, which could showcase your expensive electronics and help thieves map the layout of your home.

They Already Know Where You Keep Your Valuables

Even if you don’t post your photos online, an experienced thief probably already knows where to go. “A lot of people keep their valuables in a jewelry box, and that’s an easy target,” says DiJoseph. “They grab it and off they go.”

He suggests keeping valuable items and family heirlooms in a household safe that is either too heavy to carry or professionally mounted to a floor or beam that can’t be removed from the home.

It’s also a good idea to keep a record of your most important possessions. Photograph your keepsakes. Document the models and serial numbers for big-ticket electronics and guns. Sometimes stolen items are recovered at a later date.

“Unless you have that information on file, though, there’s not a lot we can do to return property to its rightful owner,” explains Gruss.

SEE ALSO: Creating a Photo and Video Home Inventory

And what about your spare key? “Never leave it on your property,” warns Gruss. “If you can think of a hiding spot, a bad guy can think of it too.” Instead, hand off a copy to a trusted neighbor.

You Can Make Your Home a More Difficult Target

The harder it is for a thief to enter your home, the more likely they are to go somewhere else. Here are some effective deterrents:

Install high-quality locks and secure sliding doors. Despite the high number of open-door-and-window break-ins, most burglaries do involve some sort of forcible entry, and many locks aren’t strong enough to keep the bad guys out.

“There should be deadbolts on all your doors,” advises Gruss, and he further suggests an auto-lock feature for windows. “Sliding glass doors are notorious for lock failure,” he adds. “To be extra safe, get something like a broomstick [or a dowel] and keep it along the bottom of the door, so no one will be able to open it.”

Mount a visible camera. Many home security cameras can be set to send an alert to your smartphone if someone enters the frame. “A quick glance can tell you if it’s the gardener, the exterminator, or someone else,” says Gruss. Even a fake camera can work wonders. “Thieves are more likely to pick a place that looks like it has no security on the house,” he explains.

Invest in a home security system. As with a camera, just the sight of an alarm system sticker can be enough to deter a would-be thief. “People sometimes don’t like the sticker, they don’t like the way it looks, but posting it really does make a difference,” affirms Gruss.

But, don’t just buy a sticker. If a burglar forces entry through your back door, and doesn’t trigger an alarm, they’ll know pretty quickly that you’re bluffing—and that your home is unguarded.

Even with an alarm, once a burglar is in, time is of the essence. “Sometimes they’re out before the siren even goes off, sometimes within a minute or two,” says DiJoseph. “That sounds like a short amount of time, but try it. Set a watch and see if you can run through every room of your house in under a minute.”

(Note: I tried it. He was right. I was able to make it through my home in under a minute.) DiJoseph suggests setting your system’s siren delay for just 10-15 seconds.

Trim your hedges. “High shrubs provide cover for a prowler,” explains Gruss. Keep them cut back to below your window so a burglar can’t hide while trying to pick your lock or break your glass.

Even if you follow these tips, they aren’t guaranteed to keep your home safe from burglars. Still, the harder it is to get to your goods and the more likely they are to get caught, the less likely a thief will be to select your home. If only I had known this earlier.

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48 Responses to "5 Things Burglars Don’t Want You to Know"

  • kelly | November 22, 2017 at 6:05 pm (Edit)
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
  • Scott Crawford | November 20, 2017 at 3:31 am

    I do have an alarm system, and I use it, even when I'm home, but someone still tried to kick in the back door (which leads to my garage and does have a deadbolt and an alarm sensor on it). To do that they had to get through a security screen door, with its own deadbolt. They tripped my alarm immediately when they kicked the inner door and ran! (I had to repair my back screen door and replace the deadbolt on the inner door (the 3" bolts saved the jamb), but that is cheaper than replacing anything else.)

  • John Volkman | November 19, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    The Seattle Police Department recommends against monitored alarm systems - 90% of the calls are false alarms and the response time is long enough that the thief is in and out/long gone before the cops show up. Some years ago a girlfriend had a fancy (and expensive) alarm system; the alarm monitoring service called me no several occasions -'go see what's going on'. Once I was painting the bathroom but they insisted that I go over and investigate. Worthless. Video systems are better, as you can actually see what is going on -

  • Charlotte Larson | November 18, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    Make sure to bring your garbage cans in. I always try to take our neighbors in when they aren't home. If they're out all day most likely your not home.

  • Bill miller | November 18, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    My two German shepherds are always in the house when I'm not, and they truly don't like anyone but me. Have no doubt they would be a "deterrent"

  • Erma Kelley | November 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Burglars will break your sliding glass door and walk right in like they live there, it happened to me. So even if there is an alarm on that door it want go off because the door needs to slide to trigger the Alarm. Make sure there is a motion detector at different entry points of your home. Even if your house is Small make sure your home is protected with more than one motion sensor.

  • Tony Polenzani | November 18, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    We would like to use our slider door as a lockable point of entry and exit. However, locksmiths have informed me that there is no good keyed lock system for sliders. Any suggestions regarding the feasibility of such a system?

  • Adam | November 18, 2017 at 5:16 am

    Great tips, Thanks.

  • Janet Brooks | November 18, 2017 at 2:58 am

    We have a Labrador retriever who notifies us if anyone is on or near the property. We also have a neighborhood watch, and they reliably check out anything unusual. Every door has a dead bolt and the double pane windows lock. The garage door is electric. The best defense? A barking dog.

  • Lula | November 18, 2017 at 12:45 am

    Thanks for the helpful information.

  • JFDavidon Security Advisors | November 17, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Many people responding to this article have ideas that are OK. Some even are paranoid like Bruce with all those cameras. That number of cams should only be necessary in a large commercial location. Usually 3-4 high quality cameras fed to a DVR or NVR is all that is needed. At some time the burglars will pass in front of one of the cameras. They will be caught on the HDD of the DVR that is hopefully hidden some place in the home that is not very accessible. As for a security system, make sure that the siren is very annoying to the intruder. That will make them leave quicker. The only delay should be at the main entry point to the home and that should be no longer than 15 seconds. All other zones should be instant alarm if broken first. Signs and decals do not always deter but make burglars think twice and go to the neighbours house who has no decals. Police response time is usually very slow in large urban centres so you cannot count on them to catch the bad guys. S

  • Mike Cannatelli | November 17, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    A couple of suggestions, that may be helpful. Rather than leave a music radio station on when not home, I put on an all News / Talk station, a Sports Talk station, or NPR. This way it sounds more like a TV than a radio. No one leaves their TV on when not home, but yes folks will leave a radio on. So, I want them to hear the talking, not clearly enough to hear what's being said, but to hear it enough to know it is there, which is more likely on a TV program, whereas music is a give away that it is a radio and the homeowners may not be home. Again creating the allusion that someone is there, so that they go look elsewhere for break in. Another thing folks do that helps the bad guys to "window shop" so they know which house to visit later, is when the homeowner leaves the blinds and curtains open at night with the lights on. Don't believe me, do an experiment, go outside your home, leaving the blinds / curtains up with some lights on, you'll be able to see clearly inside, even the second floor. At night, you can't see out as easily as you can see inside. During the day, you can't see in as easily as you can see out. So at dusk, close those blinds, curtains, and the front door that's behind your storm door. Speaking of your front door, most have some small windows near the top to allow light in. They also allow tall folks to look in. So at a hobby store, get a spray can of a permanent frosting spray you can spray on those windows. This allows light in and from the outside, you can see there's light on the inside, without being able to see inside, even if you're tall enough to look or have a step stool.

  • MARCIA (OWENS) JOHNSON | November 17, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    This information is all very informative to homeowners and I thank you for the reminders during this time especially holiday season.Thank you very much!

  • Grant | November 17, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Thank you Hartford! Good looking out people! Tis the Season. Be careful and watchful.

  • alvin watters | November 17, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    We have a mini snauser with a very convincing growel and bark, we live in a small town.never had any problems.

  • Gene Baldwin | November 17, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Good info, I always worry about the patio slider, use the stick but go in and out a lot and the stick gets to be a pain. The pencil or stick sounded good so cut a 12" length of 1/4" dowel, stuck it inside the casing above the slider door with double face carpet tape. Easy, cheap and right there to remove if need to lift the door out for repair some day. Could also use a couple of 3" wood screws, go through the casing slot above the door and into the header, leaving a 1/4" of screw head sticking down. Again, easy to remove if needed

  • Jerry | November 17, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    PLEASE - if you plan on installing bars on your windows and doors - PLEASE - there are systems that have an automatic mechanical release from the inside - just in case of fire or you need to get out of the house if a bad guy gets in! PLEASE - check with your local fire department or your security firm and get these - your personal safety is so important!

  • Alan Haslam | November 17, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Dogs. Why are they not mentioned? I have read many reports of interviews with felons/burglars that say they would skip a house with a large dog. Particularly a guard dog breed. 2 of my homes had B&E attempts, and both times my dog scared them off. One early in the morning when my wife was in the shower and I at work , one in the middle of the night while we were home. It's Ironic that some insurance Companies want to charge a premium for dogs, when according to records and common sense they are very effective at avoiding break ins. They detect, give alarm, and will give their life to protect their family! Force multiplier.

  • Glenn Hansen | November 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    First: (Sliding Glass Doors) I have installed several heavy screws in the upper tracks so that the doors cannot be pried up out of their tracks. The screw heads are high enough for the doors to move easily. Second: (Video Cameras) I have my cameras and WiFi router powered by a UPS battery backup that keeps them working for nearly an hour if the power goes out. Third: (Doors and Lighting) Using multiple light timers that mimic my daily routines AND all doors are locked, even dead bolted, when not in use. Outside entry lights always remain on... turning entry lights on only when away from home can be a dead giveaway that you're not home. Lastly, Having an 80# German Shepherd doesn't hurt either!

  • Harold Harris | November 17, 2017 at 3:48 pm (Edit)
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
  • John O'Boyle | November 17, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Two things: 1. Where we live the local sheriff has a "home watch" program. We send them the dates of when we'll be away and answer a few questions on a form, like backup contact person, etc. Then the sheriff comes by at random times when we're away and walks the entire property checking all doors and windows. We don't have a dog, if we did then they would only do the front yard. Very effective. 2. You can put a hold on your mail with the post office, they have a form on the USPS website. You tell them when you want to stop and then start mail delivery. We also coordinate with a neighbor to pick up the free newspapers and recycle them. He watches our house and we watch his when away.

  • Frank | November 17, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    As for sliding glass doors, yes, putting a dowel in the track stops the door from sliding, PLUS putting a smaller diameter dowel or even a pencil at the top of the frame, just above the actual sliding door between the track frame on top and the sliding glass itself prevents the ability to lift windows out of their frames. Most newer homes do have aluminum frames/tracks, and even your windows can be pushed upwards, and lifted out. Put a dowel or pencil on the top of the window frame, between the glass and the track *on top*, and those windows will not lift out either, yet they'll slide easily when you do want to open your window.

  • Ml Martin | November 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    All great advise. Especially, discard packing from new top $ purchases and STOP advertising online personal events. ie going on vaca for wkend etc. For those who get home deliveries...have packages sent to friend or neighbour to accept at time of dlvy. Use common sense !

  • Porkchop | November 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    This comment is primarily for Kathy, but any can benefit from it. Go to any WalMart, Dick’s, Dunham’s or other sporting goods retailer or Amazon, purchase one or two game cameras with visible flash features. Typically they will use AA batteries and SD cards, a 16GB card can hold thousands of pictures. Research the ability to run coated 3/32” cable through the mounting tabs and you will need ferrules and someone with a crimping tool(not an electrical connector crimper, this is a special tool, I own my own as I put out lots of cameras on our properties) Other brands can have manufacturer specific security brackets available that are mountable) If you don’t cable them to a tree or fencepost and lock them down they will just steal them too. When a nighttime intruder has a flash go off in their face it sends a clear “I got you!” message and you have a copy of them in the act. You’d be shocked at the number of interlopers that come around at night.

  • Moranda Meyer | November 17, 2017 at 4:39 am

    I bought “burglar bars” for all my doors. It prevents the door from being kicked in, and they were inexpensive at Lowes. I read a burglar once commented that was the second most common way to enter a house, and it’s better to keep them out than to alert you to them already being in!

  • Ken Winters | November 17, 2017 at 3:32 am

    We have outdoor rolling shutters on all windows, even on the door to the garage from the house. Also have Titan security doors on front and back. This makes it very difficult for someone to break into our home.

  • Keith O'Hanlon | November 17, 2017 at 3:19 am

    I live on a quiet country road, where you wouldn't think that burglaries would be a problem. But it still happens out here in the woods. A couple of my neighbors have been hit. I've wondered why the bad guys leave me alone. Well, I have a dog in the house that would put a severe hurting on anyone that makes the mistake of trying to enter my home. I also have a sign on my front door that reads: "WARNING, these premises protected by a United States Marine with excellent marksmanship skills and a terrible attitude." No need for an alarm system.

  • Louis Mastracco | November 17, 2017 at 1:29 am

    In response to John Davidson, contact VIVINT Security. They are outstanding. Their number is: 1-800-216-5232, and they will be able to tell you about their product and monthly cost. Good luck!!

  • MH | November 16, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Ask about different companies. We are on our third. A friend that is a 911 dispatcher said not to use ADP - they have the slowest relay time. The second one we had never called us back about anything. Our alarm had quit working for over a week before they called and several other incidents. Very happy now with the one we have now. It can also be turned on miles away if needed. The costs are so close it really doesn’t make a Difference. (We have Safe Systems)

  • Carmelita | November 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    In reply to John Ries | November 16, 2017 at 5:25 pm When we purchased our house 22 years ago...I had the local wrought iron company make and install decorative security grills for every door and window in the house. We have never had a problem even when we left it for months each year to go to our summer place for the season. It was well worth the money. But what about if you have a fire? How do you get out of the house, if you are behind bars (or decorative grills)?

  • Valli Kelly | November 16, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    As a retired federal probation officer, make sure any security company you buy from or hire them to install your system does background checks on all employees. Also change the alarm code once they have gone. Too many times people have become victims from the very security company they hired. perpetrators look for all types of opportunities to steal. Sometimes working in concert with another employee. They know the codes, the lay out of the system and what valuables you own. If you don’t know ask them about background investigations.

  • Brenda | November 16, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Facebook can be your enemy, brother-in-law in hospital so his kids have to tell friends on Facebook meanwhile Mom is home alone (she's 79). I call it living out loud, use the phone for this kind of news

  • williamhartwell | November 16, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    How about leaving a child's item on porch behind hedge? Say, bicycle or tricycle?

  • Bruce | November 16, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    First off we have 24 cameras in and around our home that are wired to DVR's and a router that allows us to monitor everything from anywhere in the world. Our cameras are on 3 independent systems that allow us to have some surveillance in the event of a system failure of one or two. We have a Ring doorbell at every outside entrance that records and alerts us anytime someone approaches and we can also use Live View to see video anytime. We have 18 solar powered motion activated flood lights that cover virtually every nook and cranny of our property. We have Rolling steel shutters on every door and window that we can close or open with the push of a single button and would take some serious effort and time to breach. We have secured our external phone and breaker boxes so that our security systems cannot be defeated by flipping switches or cutting wires. Our routers and camera systems are on battery backups in the event of a power failure by any cause. We have a device on our garage door that allows us to open, close, and monitor it from anywhere via an app. We also have a WiFi controlled receptacle that allows us to kill or activate power to the garage door opener remotely that keeps it from being hacked by a device that some professional burglars employ. We have a CD player on a battery backup that has a recording of large vicious dogs growling and barking that loops and can be heard outside that plays continuously the entire time we're gone. With all of this we still don't qualify for a discount from The Hartford because we're not subscribed to a costly home security monitoring service. The extent that we've gone to may sound extreme but we have a lot of peace of mind when we jump in our motor home and take off for months at a time. Our total expenditure was less than 20 grand and a really big chunk of that was the rolling shutters which were professionally installed whereas everything else was done by the wife and me.

  • Jerry Hughes | November 16, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    We were sitting at a table near a table where a lady was very disturbed. She had just had her jacket stolen with her car keys in a pocket along with her garage door opener, registration and address. The keys had flashing light to find car. She was afraid to go home with good reason. Be careful.

  • Thomas Post | November 16, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    We follow most of the article's recommendations and we just bought a security system that we think is fantastic. It is Simplisafe. You install it yourself and it is really easy. All wireless. The company is very helpful. We have 38 sensors. We even have sensors on indoor doors, just in case they get past the outdoor doors. We also have glass breaker alarms and motion sensors. Some rooms are triple protected. Probably overkill, but eh? No contracts. We got our system for less than $1000. Great app for your phone. Costs $25 per month for monitoring (you don't need to, though) and when I reported its installation at the local town and to the sheriff's office they told me that I had made a good choice. We tripped it by accident once and the police called to see if we were ok in less than 1 minute. We have stickers on every window and also a big sign in the front and back. We also have two 80dB sirens and when they go off, they can scare you. Obviously, there is a test mode, to test this all out without contacting the police. I hope it will never be needed. And best of all, The Hartford reduced our insurance premiums because we have this.

  • Will | November 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I heard a burglar speak, who had just been released from prison, a few years ago. He said the best deterrent for a burglar is to leave that expensive stereo system or what ever playing while your away. Burglars like it quiet when they try to enter your home.

  • M.Todd Hess | November 16, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Way too often, people announce their upcoming trips or vacations on Facebook and other social media. Even if you have your account configured for privacy, your "friends" often do not, so your absence may be announced to essentially the general public.

  • John Ries | November 16, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    When we purchased our house 22 years ago...I had the local wrought iron company make and install decorative security grills for every door and window in the house. We have never had a problem even when we left it for months each year to go to our summer place for the season. It was well worth the money.

  • John Davidson | November 16, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Does anyone recommend any particular security company? What is the cost?

  • Elizabeth | November 16, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    I have discovered that thieves often follow the UPS truck around residential neighborhoods, and snatch the packages off of the porch, if no one is at home, as soon as the truck drives away! If you are gone from home all day, and happen to have a friendly neighbor who is at home all day , have your packages delivered to that person's address, and then they can text you to let you know you have a package.

  • Jeri Atkin | November 16, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Very good thoughts on this subject. I will try everything. Thank you Hartford

  • Kathy | November 15, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    I have both dogs and an alarm system for my house and now the thief has started to break in to our detached buildings. Last week it was the garage and last night it was our gardening shed. We have him on the security camera we installed after the garage break in. My insurance company said as I've only had them for a year, that if I turned in a claim they would drop me (it's not Hartford). If anyone has any ideas besides locks and hasps which we have and had cut to stop a thief, please share.

  • Jim | November 15, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    I have 2 Greyhounds and 2 standard Poodles. When any outside sound reaches them the barking that arises would deter any potential burglar not totally out of his mind. That plus a whole house alarm system from ADT

  • Laura Benware | November 15, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Patricia, thank you so much for sharing your well thought out ideas!

  • Laura Benware | November 15, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Hi Maria, we're glad you found the information helpful.

  • Maria Dixon | November 15, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    very helpful information and I will be sure to pass it on .

  • Patricia J Ouellette | November 15, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I agree with leaving a key with a neighbor, however, what my neighbor and I did was to put the key in a safe place outside and if a burglar finds the key it won't work, because we have their key hid and they have our key hid. Also, if you are going out of town give a copy of your itinerary to your neighbor. We also take care of each other's dogs when we are away and feed the dogs at different times so that no one can predict the comings and goings at our houses.

  • Justine | November 15, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Burglars can enter sliding door with a wood stick holding it from sliding! All they need to do is lift the door and pull it out! Was told this at a neighborhood watch meeting by a police officer. There is a lock which glued onto the inside, connecting to both sliders, and is key locked. The doors can not be lifted with this in place. Don’t let a locksmith charge you $50 per lock to install! You can do it yourself with glass glue (excellent bond on a clean surface)! Both lock and glue can be purchased at a Big Box Store. Stay safe!

  • Don Sweet | November 10, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    #3 questionable. Most burglars are opportunists that look for signs of absentiasm. I started a central station burglar and fire alarm company in CA after 10 years as a peace officer. Retired after 25 years. Casing the target draws attention in a residential neighborhood... and raises suspicion.

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