Don't forget the sign
stephen rudolph/ShutterstockThe single most important component of our system is the alarm company sign that you post in your front yard. In survey after survey, burglars say they avoid homes with alarms – so just letting a thief know your home is secured (even if it’s not) can prompt them to move on. These are things a burglar won't tell you.
Alarm systems aren't the most reliable
riggsby/ShutterstockThat said, alarm systems are actually not very good at catching crooks. One study found that police were more likely to catch burglars in the act at locations that don’t have alarms — because when there’s no alarm, officers are usually responding to the report of an eyewitness, which is far more reliable. Why’s that? Because 80 to 95 percent of all alarms nationwide are false alarms. Many large police departments won’t even respond to your alarm unless it’s verified by sound, video, a private security guard, or an eyewitness. Your city may also fine you for repeat false alarms. Find out if your home is vulnerable to being robbed.
Systems are improving
Sean Pavone/ShutterstockThat’s not to say home security isn’t worth the investment. Modern systems are high-tech affairs you can arm or disarm right from a keychain or smartphone. Some include water sensors for your basement, smoke and carbon monoxide sensors that can automatically shut off your furnace, and wireless cameras that will send you a video clip of your kids when they walk in the door from school.
Buy a camera
Photographicss/ShutterstockIf you buy one thing, buy a camera. Most burglars ring the doorbell before they try to break in (to make sure no one is home). For less than $100, you can easily mount a motion-activated, wireless security camera by your front door, and set it up to alert you on your smartphone anytime someone steps onto your front porch. These are things you never knew about home safety.
Lock you doors and cover your windows
Jiggo thekop/ShutterstockSome other low-cost ways to protect your castle: Install strong locks on your front and back doors, put up window coverings so burglars can’t see what’s inside (especially if you have clear glass panes on your front door), cut back shrubs near windows and install out-of-reach outdoor lighting. When you go out of town, create the illusion you’re home by putting your lights on timers or getting LED bulbs you can control remotely. You can even buy a TV simulator that mimics the light of a real TV but uses a lot less power. These are secrets your locksmith won't tell you.
Watch out for contracts that lock you in
OtmarW/ShutterstockIf you do go whole hog with an alarm system, know this: We make it very difficult for you to cancel. Many alarm companies have three-year contracts and force you to pay the remainder of the contract in full if you terminate early. Some even have an auto-rollover clause that requires you to cancel at a very specific time. If you miss that window, you’re stuck for another three years.
Ask around before you hire
Iakov Filimonov/ShutterstockThe security industry is ripe with scams, so ask friends and neighbors to recommend reputable companies, check your local Better Business Bureau and look for one that has been in business for a while. Always double-check what the sales agent tells you against the fine print in your contract. Because sales agents work on commission, some will say anything to get a sale. You need to meet the dumbest criminals of all time.
Ask for more equipment
Plus69/ShutterstockYou can use this to your advantage, though. When you are signing up for a new alarm system, always ask for more equipment. Many of us will throw in some extra sensors or an extra keypad if that’s what we need to do to get the sale
Always turn it on when you leave
Andrey Popov/ShutterstockIf you’re going to invest in an alarm system, do yourself a favor and turn it on even if you’re just headed out for a quick errand. You won’t believe how many homeowners get burglarized even though they have a security system – simply because they didn’t turn it on.
Lock your doors
Andrei Aleksanov/ShutterstockWhile you’re at it, please lock your doors. The majority of burglars enter through windows or doors that are left unlocked or open. And you’d be surprised how many thieves sneak in through an open garage or a front door while the homeowner is working in the backyard.