Imagine a quiet suburban street, shrouded in darkness, the moon barely a sliver. Someone is out there, but it’s too dark to see that it’s actually a prowler carefully scanning each house they pass, looking for vulnerabilities.

They finally find the perfect house. It checks all the boxes: no movement inside, no dogs, no outdoor lighting, and no security cameras around. Then they see it — a sign standing in the yard that reads, “ADT! Notice: Video Surveillance in Use on Premises.”

What do you think happens next?

>> Read More: ADT home security camera review

What Really Stops Thieves from Breaking Into Homes

If you thought the prowler would turn around and walk away, you’re thinking like someone who doesn’t break into homes. The sign says they have video surveillance, so it must be true, right?

Not so fast. Fake security stickers and signs may deter a small percentage of inexperienced burglars, but it isn’t likely to deter all thieves. In one study from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, for example, researchers surveyed 422 randomly selected criminals incarcerated for burglary and found that the biggest deterrents to break-ins weren’t signs, stickers, or even visible security cameras.1

What deterred thieves most were seeing people inside the residence (or thinking they did), officer activity nearby, noises inside the house (including dogs!), and lastly, alarms — in that order of importance.

Seasoned thieves, in particular, will be on the lookout for signs of a security system in place – cameras, wired entry points, alarms. But they don’t usually stop there. They can also usually suss out fake stickers and signs the same way homeowners find the signs in the first place — by checking online. Your fake sticker, in other words, could end up backfiring on you.

>> Further Reading: Best Wired Security Cameras

When Can Security Signs Work to Deter Burglars?

Ring Solar Security Sign

Ring Solar Security Sign

There are instances when legitimate signs from the big home security brands, such as Ring, SimpliSafe, Vivint, and ADT, will deter criminals. Many of these signs can be purchased online from the brands themselves.

Security signs on fences, gates and perimeters can make thieves pause and second guess whether they want to get closer to a residence or not. A smaller number of criminals, especially if they’re less-seasoned, will leave immediately.

And when multiple homes in the neighborhood all display the same security signs, it could potentially create a sense of collective security awareness, making it harder for criminals to know if someone is bluffing.

FYI: Amazon owns Ring so you can find their branded signs there. I also found official SimpliSafe signs on Amazon, but note that this could change at any time.

How Much Do Thieves Know Before a Break-in?

Thieves who target houses at random take on a lot of risk, so they often go for residences where they have more information. They may know the occupants personally and have details about the home’s security measures, or they’ve performed some on-site observation beforehand.

On-site observation looks like checking for easy access points and hiding spots, looking for signs of home security systems, and watching for patterns of when the homeowners come home and leave.

Interestingly, in the UNCC study mentioned above, when criminals discovered the presence of an alarm system, half of them would go find a new home to target. The other half would either continue the break-in, only with more caution, or attempt to disable the alarm.

FYI: Alarm-ignorers in the study said they feared a police response more than a homeowner’s response to an alarm, but almost half of them knew that a police response took time and required the homeowner to verify the alarm was legit.

Four Tips for Keeping Thieves Out of Your Home

Given the mindset of the average thief, stickers and signs alone won’t be enough to protect your home. In fact, security signs may even give a clever burglar an advantage. Instead, consider these four home safety tips we recommend.

>> Check out: 10 ways to prevent home break-ins

1. Don’t give burglars the view they want.

Keep low-lying and entryway/backdoor windows covered so thieves can’t see exactly who or what is inside.

When thieves scout potential homes to break into, they try to gather intel on the schedules of the people who live there or frequently visit the home. They also look for specific items and indicators of wealth. If they can see your 80-inch flatscreen TV from the street, they may be curious to see what other treasures your home has to offer.

Blocking views of the interior layout of your house and the people inside gives them less information, thus making your home harder for them to plan a break-in effectively.

2. Make thieves think someone’s always there.

A burglar caught on camera

Thieves love vacation time. Here are a few ways you can make it look like someone’s home when your house is really empty:

Smart lighting: Invest in smart plugs or smart bulbs that you can control and schedule through your mobile device. Some smart lighting you can even set to turn on and off at random times throughout the night to make it look more authentic.

Turn on your bluetooth speaker or TV: This might not be for everyone, but it worked for Macaulay Caulkin in Home Alone. Hearing talk radio, a podcast, or TV shows can make thieves think someone’s home, especially if they can’t see the source inside (see tip 2).

>> Further reading: 5 Sneaky Tricks to Keep Burglars Away While You’re on Vacation

Leave a car in the driveway: If you have two cars, this is always a good idea, even if you’re just going out to dinner. When a would-be burglar sees a car in the driveway, chances are he’s going to keep walking.

Get help from a neighbor: Going to be gone for an extended period of time? Have a neighbor pick up your mail and packages so that thieves don’t see them piling up on your porch, a telltale sign that you’re out of town.

Pro Tip: “Beware of Dog” and “Neighborhood Watch” signs have been shown to make criminals think twice about targeting homes.

3. Reinforce doors and windows.

Entry points and windows, even the ones higher up above the first floor, could use some extra reinforcement. Look to install strong smart locks and window locks, as well as window security film, which helps prevent thieves from shattering or breaking your windows.

Window stops, another security measure, are stronger moldings or mechanisms on windows that prevent them from being opened from outside of the home. Some of these can be snapped into place and removed easily when you need some fresh air.

>> Read more: Window Lock Guide

4. Remove climbing routes.

Many thieves aren’t afraid of heights and will use trees or even garbage bins to gain access to second-story entryways that may not be as secure as those on the first floor. Luckily, you read the tip above on securing windows, but definitely take some time to remove or limit as many climbing routes as you can around your home.

Also be sure to keep your yard maintained and trees near your house trimmed, especially if the trees are sturdy and have branches that reach your windows or balcony.

An Arlo Pro 3 security camera mounted outside.

An Arlo Pro 3 security camera mounted outside.

Some climbing routes are difficult if not impossible to remove, such as utility poles and fences. So just do what you can and be aware of potential climbing paths so that you can beef up security at specific entry points.

>> Check Out: 5 Things Burglars Do NOT Want You To Know

Bottom Line

While it’s tempting to believe that a simple sign or sticker can ward off potential burglars and thieves, the reality is much more complex and requires more planning. Seasoned thieves willing to take risks tend to look beyond superficial warnings like these and will often get up close and personal when scouting for potential targets.

We suggest that homeowners avoid relying on one home security solution like fake security signs or stickers because these don’t always discourage home intruders. Instead, take some time to create a variety of visual indicators and safety measures like the ones mentioned above so that you can enhance your home security and stay safe.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Strengthen your doors and windows with affordable security options, use curtains to block interior views, and slowly build your home security system over time.