How to Beat a Break-In
Don't let your home be an easy target. Here, nine expert tips to stop thieves in their tracks
While you'd like to think it could never happen to you, a home is broken into every 14 seconds, according to the FBI. Luckily, you don't have to be a security mastermind to protect your property. There are plenty of simple, affordable steps you can take.
Criminals talk big, but when push comes to shove, they won't go near a house that has an alarm, says Dr. Paul Cromwell, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida Polytechnic. You don't even need an active system, just a sign in your yard or a decal in a window—or better, both.
Most burglars don't want to mess with a dog, whether it's a toy poodle or a 90-pound German shepherd. A threatening BEWARE OF DOG sign can do the trick, as can a paw-print doormat.
This may seem obvious, but 28 percent of burglars don't use force to get into a home—they walk in the door or climb through a window.
Department of Justice statistics show that 73 percent of forcible entries involve damage to the door. To ensure it won't budge without your key, install a deadbolt that's at least 1 inch long. Add a solid-brass strike plate secured with 3-inch screws that go all the way into the studs.
Burglars see an open window as a welcome sign, but in the summer it may be a necessary evil. A wood dowel inserted in the slider track can allow airflow while preventing the window from opening enough for a person to fit through. Protect older glass with laminate film that makes it harder to break.
Many people secure their main entries but leave the door from the garage to their house unlocked, says Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles–based security consultant with 40-plus years on the job. Even if it doesn't hold valuables, the garage can become a hidden enclave from which a thief can take his time, and use your tools to get into your house.
Ninety-nine of 100 burglars will avoid a home if they think someone is inside, says Cromwell. To make yours look occupied, put the lights on a timer so that they switch on while you're out. Even better, hook up the timer to your TV. Action on the screen will throw shadows on your windows, creating the illusion of movement.
If you have bushes in front of your house, prune them back from the door and below window level. Also, consider prickly plants such as hollies, says McGoey, and trim climbable branches from mature trees.
In addition to saving energy, motion-detector lights add the feeling of being watched when they illuminate a porch or yard. "They're a shock," says Cromwell, "and can stop a thief from crossing that line from the street to your home."
"The single best way to keep burglars at bay is to make your home appear difficult to break into. Thieves are just looking for an easy target."
—Dr. Paul Cromwell, Criminology Expert