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Protecting One's Home While Away

Photo by Informedmag on / CC BY
The Fourth of July Weekend is among the most traveled holiday seasons.  And while that often means a badly needed change of scenery, lake houses, beach getaways and other vacation destinations for many of us, it is also a time of vulnerability for poorly protected homes, an ideal period for theft, vandalism and other bad things. Recent interviews with multiple past criminals, law enforcement and other experts from across the country revealed several insights about how to protect one's home and personal property while away.


Who Burglars Are

The overwhelming number of burglars are unskilled people, often someone who has recently been properly invited inside, perhaps believed to be a tech or salesperson.  They are looking for cash, collectibles, credit cards, electronics, guns, jewelry and other valuables.


Homes That They Like

Potential thieves are attracted to nice homes where expensive cars often park, the ones located away from other properties with secluded back yards, limited street visibility (due to big fences, overgrown trees), closed blinds, exterior lights on, mail in boxes, homes with older window frames and cheap doors.  Also attractive are townhomes with limited rear visibility, houses in the middle of a block and those that back up to a forest, open lot or some other unguarded area.  Some were undeterred by alarm systems alone and even welcomed the presence of NRA stickers, noting that they signaled the presence of valuables and guns


What Criminals Often Do

Burglars often watch a target property, observing the daily schedule of the occupants, types of vehicles they drive, the presence of dogs and places where keys may be hidden.  Some will leave ad flyers on mailboxes to see how long they remain in place.  Armed with their assessment, they'll later ring the doorbell and knock at the door usually on a weekday, between 10 and 11 a.m. or 1 and 3 p.m., often holding a clipboard, something that may be of particular concern to parents of high school-aged kids in Gwinnett County who are often arriving home around that time.  If anyone answers, they'll claim to be taking a survey, answering an online ad, looking for a lost pet or say that they have the wrong house.

If there is no answer, it is game on.  They'll check door and window latches, including the ones that they themselves unlocked when invited inside during a previous visit.  Many door and window latches, however, are often found to be already unlocked.  If not, a determined burglar may kick in a door, throw a projectile such as a tree log through a window to avoid leaving fingerprints or enter through pet passageways.  Others will use pipe wrenches, crowbars, credit cards pick guns, power drills, bump keys or other tools to slip through locks and pry open entryways. 
Thirty-four percent of burglars in one national sample used the front door to gain entry, while 22 percent got in through the back door. Twenty-three percent used first-floor windows.
A burglar spends around eight-to-twelve minutes inside of a home on average, beginning in the owner's suite, rummaging through closets, drawers, safes and storage boxes before examining bookshelves, any fish tanks, food boxes, the freezer, stove and toilet tanks.  The home office, living and dining rooms are also popular since those rooms often display china, silver, flat screen TVs, gaming consoles, other electronics and easily-pawned goods.


Be smart

Cut back trees to allow daylight to shine directly on exterior doors and windows (I know, Georgia heat, greenhouse effect, I get it).  Avoid see-through entry doors, leaving family calendars, key hooks (especially those labeled for assigned keys), credit cards, passports, other identifying documents and expensive items in open view of exterior doors and windows.  Break and cut down packaging from expensive items and consider placing them curbside only on garbage pickup day.  Keep an interior light on with the source hidden from view when you’re out of the house.  And come to a family decision on how to handle school-aged kids answering doors when adults are not home.  One thought might be for the occupant to shout through the securely closed door that they are on the phone or that the police are en route since they don't know the person.

Travel plans should include asking the post office to hold the mail, confirming that expected package delivery times are during a period when someone will be home and removing any spare keys.  Consider having the sound of a dog barking, loud radio or TV playing and leave a vehicle in the driveway.  Be mindful of your activities on social media, the check-ins, selfies, geo-tagging, and anything that draws attention to your absence.  Save the sharing until your return.


Invest in the Gear

Make your rear, crawlspace, garage entry and perimeter doors as sturdy as possible, perhaps metal with steel kicker plates and double cylinder deadbolt locks installed.  Replace aluminum window seals with ones that make loud sounds when broken and other greater security.  Use a wireless alarm system with a panel hidden from entry doors, an outdoor siren, floodlights, motion sensors, door camera at eye level, a strong alarm code and monitor the number buttons to reduce the likelihood of anyone successfully guessing it.  Consider the use of timed electrical plugs that turn on lamps at preset intervals that mimic occupant lighting schedules.  And think about investing in other modern (smart) technology that notifies you via your smartphone of outdoor activity such as doorbells and motion detectors that activate cameras and floodlights.

Get Help

Consider organizing a neighborhood watch program.  Pay a trusted yard person in advance to swing by, tidy up the place and have a look around the outside in your absence.  Be sure that a neighbor has your contact information handy.  Finally, residents in the city limits of Duluth, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Norcross and Snellville may want to contact their local police departments for information on vacation checks during their time away.

I am not in law enforcement and don't know that anything will completely protect one's home from the damage of a determined burglar.  But the application of a few suggested best practices found here along with common sense might be good starting points along the way to the highest level of security for your home and peace of mind during holiday travel times and beyond.

By Solomon Greene

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