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8 Ways to Make It Look Like You’re Home—And Fool Burglars

Updated: May 05, 2023

Any home-security expert will tell you that would-be burglars know how to spot the signs that someone is out of town. Stay one step ahead of the bad guys by acting on these tips before you leave.

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Flood light on external brick wall nighttime look up

Install motion-sensor lights

It’s no secret that the last thing a burglar wants to do is attract attention. So there’s a good chance that something unexpected—be it an alarm, a barking dog, or even a sudden flood of light—will be enough to send a crook away empty-handed. And even when you’re not home, there are ways you can catch would-be burglars off guard. “While no technology will completely deter all would-be criminals, lighting is an easy way to make a big difference in keeping a home safe and secure,” says Brad Paine, vice president and general manager of Connected Homes at Eaton’s Lighting Division. Install a motion-activated light that can detect movement around the perimeter of your house, and make sure it’s activated the whole time you’re away. Watch out for these signs your house is vulnerable to being robbed.

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Well lit modern home exterior at dusk

Add “vacation mode” lighting

To a potential burglar, a dark house means an empty house. If you want to make it look like you’re home, your lights should be on at the approximate times they’d be on if you were there. With a “smart lighting” system, you can time your lights to turn on and off when you want them to. Some vacation lighting systems even have dimming options and other nuanced settings that really reinforce the illusion that someone is home. “Have the lights turn on in the morning, dim the indoor lights in the evening, and have them turn off at night when you would normally be asleep,” Paine suggests. “Or even randomize the on/off timing to keep would-be intruders guessing.” Buying one of these diversion safes is also a smart move.

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A man holding a tablet with smart home screen.

Try remote-controlled lighting

Today, it couldn’t be easier to monitor your home from afar—all you need is your smartphone to access most smart-lighting systems. “Many smart lights and connected lighting systems now allow for remote-access capabilities, where you can turn lights on and off using a smartphone—whether you’re at the office or enjoying a day at the beach,” Paine says. Make sure that your remote-controlled lighting doesn’t backfire, though. The goal, as Paine emphasizes, is to “mimic human activity,” not to have as many lights on as possible. For instance, if all of your lights turn on or off at the same time, burglars might sense that something is amiss. The same goes for having your outdoor lights on during the day. Here are some other important things you should do to keep your home safe while you’re away.

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3D illustration of a living room led tv on white wall showing soccer game moment .
Vasyl Shulga/Shutterstock

Take TV time

If you’ll only be gone for the day, consider leaving your television on for the duration of your trip. Most burglars will be reluctant to break into a house if they hear noise coming from it or see the glow of a television screen. If you’re going on a longer trip and are understandably reluctant to leave the TV on for that long, a FakeTV device mimics the flickering light of a TV. You can program these devices to kick in at sundown or remain on during the day. Even the sound of a radio or music playing can provide the illusion that someone is home. Learn the things FBI agents do to protect their own homes.

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Luxury family house with luxury car parked on concrete driveway. Residential house on sunny day with blue sky background

Have a car in the driveway

Having a good relationship with your neighbors can be paramount when it’s time to leave your house for a few days. If you’re going on a road trip, or any trip that will leave your driveway empty, ask if one of your neighbors (or someone else, like a family member) wouldn’t mind leaving their car parked in your driveway, at least for some of the time. Sure, burglars may know that a car in the driveway doesn’t guarantee that someone’s home, but chances are they won’t risk it.

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Newspaper delivered in driveway
Andrew Joseph Folts/Shutterstock

Take care of newspapers and mail

An overflowing mailbox or an untouched newspaper in the driveway is instant burglar bait. Before you head out, you can call the post office (or go online) and request that they hold your mail until you return. This is another reason why it’s helpful to have neighbors you’re comfortable enlisting to help you out. Ask someone on your street to pick up and hang on to your mail and newspapers. Particularly sneaky burglars may even leave a flyer or restaurant menu at your door and keep track of how long it takes you to retrieve it, so tell your neighbors to keep an eye out for that, too. These home-security tips could protect your house from a break-in.

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house in winter
Spiroview Inc/Shutterstock

Look into lawn maintenance

If you’re taking a vacation to escape the winter, you’ll probably have to take some extra precautions to keep your house incognito. For instance, potential crooks will take notice if yours is the only lawn in the neighborhood with no tracks in the snow. Ask a neighbor to traipse through fresh snow—even this simple action can fool a burglar—or even to shovel or use a snowblower if you experience heavy-enough precipitation. Even if it’s not wintertime, consider having someone keep an eye on your yard, especially if you’ll be gone long enough for your lawn and vegetation to show signs of neglect.

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Girls hand raise the white blinds with a cord

Beware of your blinds

Bad news: Burglars peek in through your blinds. If you leave them open wide, it might take crooks only a single peek to realize there’s nobody home. Try to leave them “cracked” only slightly open, at least the ones in the ground-floor windows. Or, if you live in an area that’s particularly prone to burglaries, consider investing in a SmartBlinds automation kit that can open and shut them on a timer. Next, learn the 21 secrets burglars don’t want you to know.