Vacation means letting go of worries and chores, including all thoughts of home. Except few of us homeowners actually manage to do this.
We might be halfway across the country, and we’re still worrying about things like if we turned off the AC or left enough cat food for the cat sitter. And there’s always the niggling thought that while we’re kicking back at the beach, a prowler might be casing our homes.
The fact is, vacation season is a pretty good time for thieves. There’s more daylight. (Most burglaries happen during the day, not at night.) And — the biggest plus for burglars — we’re not at home.
Obviously, a home security system is the easiest and most economical way to ward off would-be intruders while you’re away. But even if you’re not into burglar alarms, there’s still plenty you can do to keep the bad guys out. You just have to get smart about it, maybe even sneaky. Here are my top five tricks for outwitting burglars while you’re out of town.
Burglar Busting 101: Burglars will use any edge they can get to gain access to your home. So while that mirror in the vestibule might be perfect for checking your hair on the way out the door, just make sure it’s not giving a thief a bird’s-eye view of your alarm status from the front window.
Nothing says “This house is empty” better than a stack of letters, bills, and newspapers piling up at your front door. A mountain of mail is also a pretty tempting target for mail thieves. (Yes, there are actual grifters who are just fishing for personal info so they can steal your identity. If you want to put an end to that game for good, consider a top-rated identity theft protection service.)
You can take care of this thief-baiting chum pretty easily. Just call the post office and ask them to hold your mail for two weeks. Simple enough.
But if you really want to get sneaky, offer the next-door neighbor’s kid a few bucks to pick up your mail for you. Why is this better? If you can trust her, that means no one else (not even the postal worker) knows you’re away.
Even better, for an extra 30 bucks a week, ask the neighbor kid to mow the lawn and water the plants (a front yard gone to seed is another telltale sign you’re not home).
Safe Vacation Tip: Between 60 and 70 percent of burglaries are the work of people you know, not strangers. So be very careful who you tell about your summer plans. And never announce a vacation on social media. Facebook is a burglar’s Craigslist.
In general, well-lit streets see less crime. But what about individual houses? Is a home lit up like a Christmas tree a deterrent to a casing prowler? Here’s what we experts say.
Lighting up your home strategically can work to your benefit. For example, if you’ve got an ADT home security system with smart home automations — or just a few good old-fashioned plug-in timers — you can set lights in different rooms to pop on at natural times of the day and night. This will often convince a would-be intruder that someone is really at home.
But leaving your living room and porch lights burning at full blaze from midnight to three for a week straight? This is a cue for a seasoned prowler that there are no humans inside your house.
So timed lighting gets our seal of approval against vacation-time sneaks. Just mix it up, don’t go overboard, and no weird hours.
Did You Know: Smart light bulbs can help keep thieves away while you’re out of town. Additionally, they can lower electricity bills when you’re in the house by shutting off lights when you’ve left a room. Read our in-depth guide on smart home technology to learn more.
Ready to graduate to black ops burglar-busting? Put a fake TV on your dresser and pull the curtains tight. The flickering LED bulbs are designed to mimic an actual TV, making it impossible for a cat burglar to know that you’re not inside with the lights off watching Jimmy Kimmel.
Fake TVs run between $20 and $40. They’re low power so letting one run for an hour or two at night won’t cost much. You can either rig your faux tube to a timer (see above). Or, if you pay a little more, some of the higher-end models (we’re only talking a 20-buck difference) have built-in timers.
FYI: You may have noticed a few “Acme Security” stickers on your block. If you noticed the fakes, chances are prowlers did, too. When it comes to protecting your home, our advice is to consider investing in the real Mccoy.
This is probably my favorite method for surprising a thief who’s testing the security waters of my house. All you need is a video doorbell and a mobile phone. (I’m assuming you have the second. Here are our top picks for video doorbells this year.)
This is how the “ring and run” works.
Most thieves prefer entrances that aren’t facing the street (and the prying eyes of your neighbors), but they’ll still ring the front door first. If no one answers, they’ll scurry around to the back, bust in the door, and go to town. Unless you’ve gone the extra mile and installed a top-notch burglar alarm, you’re in big trouble.
But let’s say you have some basic home security in place — a DIY Ring video doorbell is all you need. The would-be intruder rings your bell to make sure you’re not around. Little do they know your video doorbell is connected to your phone. You get an alert that there’s activity at your door (with a bird’s-eye view of the prowler) and in a second you’re speaking to the thief from the porch of your timeshare.
Bye-bye, thief (hopefully!).
Safe Vacation Tip: Security cameras don’t just let you say hi to burglars at your front door. You can also use a live video feed of a burglary in progress to help the police nab the perps red-handed.
Not every thief is going to use the front door because they know doors could have fancy cameras homeowners can talk through (check out “the ring and run” above).
In that case, side windows, and in some cases, upstairs windows, make a good second choice for a thief planning a break-in. Unlike a solid wood door with a deadbolt, windows are easy prey for jimmies. If your bush league burglar is a brute, he could just hurl a brick.
Or so he thinks.
Window sensors are pretty ingenious. You stick the sensor to the window frame. Then you attach a magnet to the glass. When the seal is disturbed, wham! Your security system kicks in and does what you tell it to do — it sounds the alarm and notifies the police (if you’ve got an alarm with a monitoring service). For self-monitoring security systems, you’ll get an alert on your smartphone.
Of course, you will need a security system for this trick to work. But you might be surprised at how affordable and easy it is to set up the average DIY home security system.
Did You Know: We actually timed ourselves installing our DIY Cove home security hub and sensors. The whole setup took under 10 minutes, window sensors included!
No one wants to worry about anything while they’re on vacation, especially about burglars paying house visits. And you don’t need to be.
Your best bet for optimum home security on a budget is to put in a home security system. You’ll worry less about intruders while you’re away.
If you’re not ready to make the leap, you can go guerilla and try to outsmart the prowlers.
However you choose to keep your home safe from burglars while you’re on vacation, remember that the bad guys are — more often than not — people you know and usually work in broad daylight. So neighbors you trust looking out for you while you’re gone is still one of the best home defenses in the book.