42 Home Security Nightmares Lurking Around Your Home
Are you protected from these potential (and often overlooked) home security nightmares?
Hiding keys outside
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Many people like to keep a house key hidden somewhere in the yard. This is great for having someone take care of your home or if you accidentally get locked out. Unfortunately, most homeowners “hide” their key in obvious spots, where a burglar will look immediately. In other words, don’t just put that key under the welcome mat!
Generally speaking, the farther from the house a key is hidden the better, and a disguised item (such as a fake rock) is only useful if hidden among similar items (like regular rocks). Don’t give the keys to your home to a criminal! Drill down deeper into this topic and find out more about where not to hide your keys.
While we’ve mentioned the need to concern yourself with the visibility outside your home, give some thought to the visibility of items inside your home as well. Many homeowners forget that windows are a two-way portal: just as you can see out of them, a potential intruder can see in.
If you have especially valuable items, give some thought as to whether they’ll be visible from a ground-floor window. This is especially applicable to first-floor bedrooms where jewelry or other items might be left out on dressers. Some items, such as televisions, are difficult to position so they won’t be visible from a window. In that case, the best you can do is to make sure you pull the shades or blinds shut in the evening. Similarly, give a little thought to putting away valuables by either tucking them out of sight or in a dedicated secret hideaway.
Not securing patio doors
Patio door locks are easy to pick. Placing a heavy-duty stick in the door track will bar the door closed, but it looks crude and it’s inconvenient to remove every time you want to open the door. Fortunately, there’s a better way to get the security you need.
Andersen Corp.’s auxiliary foot lock fastens along the bottom of the door and has a bolt that fits into a grommet to hold the door secure. A similar lock, the Door Guardian attaches at the top of the door. Both locks allow the door to open 3 inches without compromising security. Installation takes about ten minutes. Screw the bracket containing the pin to the door, then drill holes and insert grommets in the track for the pin to slide into. Need to replace your patio door? Here’s how to do it.
Windows and doors
Keeping doors and windows locked is your first line of defense. Make wireless alarms your second. Burglars hate noises, so even a small alarm usually sends them running. The alarms are available at home centers. Or check out Intermatic or Door and Window Alarms. The alarms don’t provide the same security as pro-installed monitored systems since the wireless devices are activated by doors or windows opening (not glass breaking). Use the alarms for doors and windows in “hidden” areas of the house where you don’t normally gather and that are often dark.
Attach the alarm to the door or window (with a screw or double-sided tape) alongside the magnetic contact strip (they don’t have to be touching, but within 1/2 in.). When the door or window opens, breaking magnetic contact, the alarm shrieks (these little units have a piercing alarm). The door alarm has a delay feature, giving you time to set the alarm and leave, then open the door and deactivate the unit when you come home, without setting it off. The window unit has an on/off switch. The alarms will work on any door or window, and the batteries last two to three years. These are the things a burglar will never tell you.
Beef up your wooden garage entry door
A flimsy old wooden garage entry door has weak center panels that can easily be kicked in, making it a favorite target for thieves. Adding a deadbolt won’t solve that problem. A down-and-dirty way to beef up the door is to add a 1/2-in. plywood reinforcement panel and then bar it with 2x4s placed in bar-holder brackets. Cut the plywood to fit over the door’s center section (make sure it covers the windows but doesn’t cover the door handle). Fasten it to the door with drywall screws.
Test-fit a bracket and 2×4 against the door. Measure how far the bracket is from the wall, then cut filler strips that distance and install them. Fasten the brackets in place by drilling 1/4-in. pilot holes and inserting 3/8 x 3-in. lag screws. Place the 2x4s in the brackets. Check out more garage security tips here.
Protect your mail
Mail theft is a growing problem since unsecured mailboxes are easy targets. One sure way to keep thieves from stealing your mail—checks, credit card offers, personal information—is to use a secure mailbox. Once the mail is dropped in, you need a key to open the box. Locking Wall Mailbox is one manufacturer. Just screw it to the wall or post as you would a standard mailbox.
Don’t keep the clicker in your car
A thief who breaks into your car can grab the remote for easy access to your garage. This isn’t just a problem when your car is parked in the driveway; the registration card in your glove box gives a crook your address.
So get rid of the remote on your visor and buy a keychain remote. You can easily take it with you every time you leave the car. Home centers stock only a small selection of remotes, but you’ll find more online. Start your search by typing in the brand of your opener, followed by “remote.”
Lock up the overhead door
Some people “lock” the overhead garage door when they go on vacation by unplugging the opener. That’s a good idea, but physically locking the door is even better. An unplugged opener won’t prevent “fishing,” and—if you have an attached garage—it won’t stop a burglar who has entered through the house from opening the garage door from inside, backing in a van and using the garage as a loading dock for his plunder. Make a burglar’s job more difficult and time-consuming by locking the door itself. If your door doesn’t have a lockable latch, drill a hole in the track just above one of the rollers and slip in a padlock.
The perils of privacy
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Privacy gates and fences might make you feel more secure, but in fact, they often provide hiding spots and cover for thieves who want to force entry into your home. The same traits that allow fences to give you privacy from the outside world can allow an intruder to be unseen as he forces entry.
Of course, the layout of every home and property is unique. But if possible, plan your privacy fencing so that at least the main entryway is visible from the street. Doors are by far the most common entry point for criminals, and a highly visible door makes their job more difficult. Even better is a reinforced door, and a door upgrade is a rewarding DIY project.
Bushes too close to the home
Much like a fence, your choices in landscaping can make your home more or less friendly to those with ill intentions. Bushes and trees right up against the side of the home provide cover in the same way that a privacy fence might. Correct this mistake by having low-height or thin-growing plantings immediately beside the home, and keep the taller, denser plants more distant.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to give up all your plants, but do give a little more thought to where they’re placed. Also, taller or more dense shrubs and bushes are fine against solid walls, as long as windows and doors aren’t obscured. Additionally, following this tip will lead you to avoid larger plants and trees whose root systems can damage your foundations and whose leaves can clog your gutters, often the first step in curing a wet basement.
Many homeowners’ first response to home security is to install outdoor lighting. Then they turn on the lights at the end of the day, or maybe take the extra step to place a timer or light sensor, so that the lights will be automatically on at night. The problem with this plan is that while it does light up your yard, it also creates dense pockets of shadows that make for great hiding spots. A much better solution is to put your lights on motion sensors. You’ll still have the illumination, but it will come as a shock to anyone prowling around the home, and immediately raise concerns in their minds about whether or not they’ve been spotted. Plus, the motion sensors mean that the lights will be used less often, leading to lower electrical bills and longer lived light bulbs. For further information, check out this article on choosing and installing a motion sensor light.
Packaging left by the curb
In many neighborhoods, trash and recycling are collected curbside. If you have packaging from an expensive item such as a television or laptop, don’t just set the empty box by the curb. That’s practically a yard sign announcing that you have an expensive new item in the home.
Luckily, the solution is usually fairly simple. Use a utility knife to cut the packaging into smaller pieces and stack it in a way that doesn’t display what it once held. (Bonus tip: when you’ve dulled that utility blade, here’s a DIY blade dump to protect your fingers while taking out the trash!)
Alarm system line of sight
Alarm systems are wonderful tools, but sometimes the installation crews don’t give enough guidance to new customers during installation. A common mistake is to install the control pad in a location that is visible from a first-floor window. This is a problem because potential thieves can peer in and see whether or not the system is activated. That alarm company yard sign won’t mean much if they know that the system is turned off. This is especially true at night when the green or red status light is clearly visible in a darkened home. Check out this collection of home security tips including inexpensive, easy-to-install solutions.
Social media travel posts
Social media is a fantastic tool, one that works great for staying in touch with friends and for sharing travel experiences and photos … after your trip is over.
Remember that social media is built to be public, which means that it’s a bit like talking to a crowd with a megaphone. Don’t share travel plans unless you’re comfortable with the entire social media community knowing about them. Because social media accounts default to a public setting, criminals can simply search for keywords like trip, travel, vacation, out of town and find descriptions of the dates and times that people will be leaving their homes.
To avoid this, simply wait until after your trip to share information about your trip! If you do feel the need to let people know you’ll be out of town ahead of time, take a few moments to ensure that your post is marked as private through that social media platform. By limiting its audience and its searchability, you can make sharing your schedule much more secure. Check out this article for more tips on how to use social media safely.
Few things advertise an absent homeowner like piled up mail and newspapers. Criminals don’t even need to slow down their vehicle to spot an overflowing mailbox or newspapers piled up on a porch. To avoid this, contact your local post office or newspaper and suspend service while you are away. Because these services sometimes miss a day or take a little bit of time to cease delivery, it’s also a good idea to ask a friend or neighbor to swing by and collect any mail or newspapers that accumulate while you’re away. Having someone showing a little activity around the front of the home will make it look occupied as well. It’s also a good idea to protect your mail with a security mailbox—just one of these 35 things burglars don’t want you to know.
You may have noticed that most of these tips have addressed first-floor issues. This is because it’s much more difficult and high-risk for burglars to bring a ladder with them on a break-in. However, some homeowners make it easy on the bad guys by providing simple access to their second floor. Don’t leave ladders lying around the yard, where they can be easily seen by prowlers. Most burglars are creatures of opportunity, and will never consider a second-floor entry unless you make it easy for them by leaving a ladder on hand. Instead, store your ladder safely away.
Assuming Daytime is Safe
Most people associate break-ins with the nighttime. While it’s true that burglars appreciate the cover of darkness, what they really appreciate is an empty house. And at night, people are more likely than not to be at home. Burglars are far more likely to target homes when they are empty: in other words when everyone is at school and work!
Since the majority of break-ins occur during the day, take the appropriate measures. Turn on your alarm system when you’re gone, keep an eye out for suspicious activity, and make sure that you close and lock all doors and windows when you’re away from home. This applies whether you’re going to work, school or just running errands. Find out how to make it look like you’re home and fool burglars.
A broken window
Some criminals will throw a rock through a house or car window before even trying to break in, just to see what happens, says Joel Logan, COO of Las Vegas-based Reliance Security. If an alarm goes off and neighbors peer outside to see what’s happening, they might be scared off. But if the homeowners are clearly out of the house or the police never arrive, they might break in that night or soon after. Call the police right away if you’re home, and install motion-sensor floodlights for when you aren’t there, Logan recommends. Here are 20 secrets a home security installer won’t tell you.
Light bulb problems
“Lights are burglars’ enemy,” says Logan. “In lights, they can be seen.” A thief who’s planning to break in might unscrew the bulbs around your house so they don’t turn on and reveal the burglar. Check the bulbs if your lights stop working suddenly. If they’re unscrewed but aren’t burnt out, a crook might be scoping your home, says Logan.
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A stolen identity can be more valuable than some jewelry and cash. “A lot of burglars won’t enter a home,” said Everett Stern, intelligence director of private intelligence company Tactical Rabbit. “They’ll start stealing your trash.” From there, they’ll rummage around for documents containing your Social Security number, birthday, and other clues for stealing your identity, along with what type of job you have or when you’ll be going on vacation. Shred any papers before chucking them to make it harder for crooks to put the pieces together, says Stern. Here are 13 more personal details your house reveals about you.
A burglar can look familiar
A burglar can be someone who last week was cleaning your carpets, painting your shutters, or delivering your new refrigerator. Check out these 13 inexpensive ways to theft-proof your home.
Be wary who uses your bathroom
Someone who used the bathroom when they were working in your yard last week could have unlatched the back window to make their return a little easier. Find out more sneaky ways a burglar can break into your home.
Your yard gives burglars a lot of clues
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Love those flowers. That tells burglars you have taste … and taste means there are nice things inside. Those yard toys your kids leave out always make burglars wonder what type of gaming system they have. By the way, this is the most common time for burglaries—and it’s not at night.
Create tracks in the snow
If it snows while you’re out of town, get a neighbor to create car and foot tracks into the house. Virgin drifts in the driveway are a dead giveaway to burglars. Here’s another way to install a reliable security system in just one day. DIY home security systems will help to protect your home and your family. Watch out for these sings that your home is being watched.
Burglars target certain windows
A good security company alarms the window over the sink. And the windows on the second floor, which often access the master bedroom and your jewelry. It’s not a bad idea to put motion detectors up there, too. While you’re at it, you should memorize these tricks to outsmart criminals, too.
Bolt down your safe
You’re right: burglars won’t have enough time to break into that safe where you keep your valuables. But if it’s not bolted down, a burglar will take it with them. You might think your hiding spot is safe, but burglars know your tricks. Learn the 10 hiding spots burglars always look first.
Close your blinds
Burglars love looking in your windows. Burglars are looking for signs that you’re home and for flat screen TVs or gaming systems. A burglar will drive or walk through your neighborhood at night, before you close the blinds, just to pick their targets. Hopefully, you have a friendly neighbor but beware of the things they aren’t telling you.
Sometimes just living on your street
Homes in high-visibility places, like on corner lots, are far less likely to be broken into. There are simply too many potential ways to be seen. But townhomes, houses in the middle of the block, or houses in a cul-de-sac are much better targets. This is especially true if your property backs up to a forest, open lot, or another unguarded area. The trick, according to Secure Life, is to make your house as difficult as possible to access. This means installing high fences and lots of lighting. Learn 13 sneaky things FBI agents do to protect their homes.
Having a wide open backyard
A backyard without a fence or one that opens up to a wooded area is prime for burglars to target. It’s relatively easy to move in and out of, plus the woods will make an escape easier. Don’t miss these things you’re doing that make your home a prime target for burglars.
Keeping a window A/C unit
Window units are great at cooling smaller spaces but they’re also great for thieves to knock out of the way and grab any loot inside a home.
Leaving an opening through the dog door
When burglars can’t get in through human entrances to your house, they may try to get in through the animal entrances. Robert Sollars, a security expert and creator of robertdsollars.com, knows this all too well. “There are innumerable instances of doors being secured but the burglar coming in through the kitty door,” he advises. “Not all burglars are 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. They can slither through those openings as well as a snake.” One of the burglaries Nancy Gretzinger experienced was committed in this way. “They came in a medium-small doggie door,” she said. So, pet owners, keep your pet doors secure as well. If worse comes to worst and a burglar does manage to enter your home, make sure your valuables are not in these hiding spots burglars always check first.
Flowers start to wilt
While your friends and neighbors can pick up the mail, grab the paper, create tracks in the snow, etc. Your flowers might get overlooked. A thief in the area will wise up to what’s going on when they spot a few wilted flowers. Find out the 15 signs your house is vulnerable to being robbed.
Lawn hasn’t been mowed for a while
If you have someone routinely mow your lawn you don’t have to worry about it overgrowing while you’re on vacation but if you think you can get away with it for a long time, think again. Thieves will notice just as quickly as your neighbors what an eyesore your lawn has become. The neighbors might talk about it with each other but a thief is going to use it as an excuse to check in on the rest of your house. Learn the 20 secret hiding places for your valuables.
Leaving the house dim
Some people want to leave a dim light on while they’re away on vacation as a deterrent to break-ins. The debate rages on whether it’s better to leave lights on or off but one thing’s for sure, those dim lights at night are going to be dim during the day and any smart burglar will notice that. Find out the other secrets burglars don’t want you to know.
If you have a home business, there are additional precautions to take since there will be an additional accumulation of assets, cash might be on hand, there might not be a safe or thousands of dollars of product might be sitting in a garage. A thief will spot a home business that does or doesn’t have signage.
Leaving stools in the backyard
They make reaching windows a lot easier for would-be thieves.
Leaving radio on
Just like with leaving the lights dimmed, leaving a radio on or even on a timer isn’t going to deter a thief. It might even attract them if the radio plays non-stop. Many thieves still knock on the door to make sure no one is home before they enter a house.
Don’t keep keys on a hook next to the door
Keys in that close of proximity to a window is a terrible idea because that will give a burglar access to all sorts of goodies in addition to what’s in the house. Here’s why you need to wrap your car FOB in foil.
Put tools away
Don’t leave ladders next to the shed or next to the garage, don’t make the burglars’ job easier.
Toys in yard
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It means there are children and likely a mother with jewelry.
Secure sheds with screws
Your locked shed seems secure, but a cagey thief can bypass the lock by using a screwdriver to remove hinges and other hardware with exposed screw heads. Foil would-be thieves by using Allen head, Torx head or hex-head cap screws instead of standard Phillips head screws. You can also order tamper-proof security screws that require special removal tools that an opportunistic thief is unlikely to have. You’ll also need to buy the special bit or tool. Type “security screws” or “tamperproof screws” into your search engine.
Two ways to secure shed door hinges
Shed doors usually swing out, so the hinge pins are accessible from outside; all a thief has to do is pop out the pins and remove the door. To stop this, buy a security hinge with tamper-proof pins and a locking tab at a home center. Or, you can retrofit an existing hinge by removing the center screws on both sides, inserting a finish screw through one side and allowing it to protrude about 1/4 in. Drill out the receiving hole slightly so that when the door is closed, the finish screw head engages the other hinge. That way, even if the hinge pin is removed, the door can’t be taken off. Next, find out the hiding spots burglars always look first.