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20 Secrets a Home Security Installer Won’t Tell You

Updated: Sep. 01, 2023

Home security system installers share tips that will keep you and your home safe and secure.

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Don’t forget the sign

The 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.

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Alarm systems aren’t the most reliable

That 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.

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Systems are improving

That’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. If you’re looking to purchase a home security system, buy the best system on the market.

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Buy a camera

If 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.

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Lock you doors and cover your windows

Some 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.

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Watch out for contracts that lock you in

If 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. These are some things that home security experts never do in their homes.

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Ask around before you hire

The 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.

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Ask for more equipment

You 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.

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Always turn it on when you leave

If 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.

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Lock your doors

While 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.

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Make a strong password

Make sure you change the default password on your system, and avoid using an easy-to-guess one. (If your code is 1-2-3-4, we are talking to you!) And one more word of advice: if you have to write down your code to remember it, don’t post it next to your alarm keypad! 

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If you change your mind…

Having second thoughts about the alarm company contract you just signed? The FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel for any reason if you sign the contract in your home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. You can change your mind, even if the equipment has already been installed.

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Don’t just lock up jewelry

Remember, your paper documents can be just as valuable as your jewelry. Stash your birth certificate, social security card and other papers in a bolted-down safe, keep them in a safe deposit box or hide them in an unexpected spot. Becoming a victim of identity theft is much harder to recover from than having your jewelry stolen.

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Never assume it’s a false alarm

If your alarm is going off and your security company calls to tell you when you’re not at home, let us send the police. We’ve had customers tell us not to send authorities because they assume it’s a false alarm, and it turns out they were getting robbed.

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The police don’t respond right away

Police response times are slow, and burglars know it. In many large cities, it can take police 30 minutes to an hour to respond to an alarm call, according to the New York Times. Even in small towns, it typically takes 7 to 8 minutes for authorities to arrive. By then, a snatch-and-go burglar will be long gone. (A siren will limit how long a burglar stays in your home, however.)

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We have fees

We may increase your monthly monitoring fee even though you are under a long-term service contract. Most of our contracts give us the right to raise our rates due to the increasing cost of doing business.

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Don’t keep valuables in the master bedroom

Want to trick a thief? Don’t keep jewelry or cash in the master bedroom. That’s always the first place they look. If you really want to protect your stuff from being snatched, stash it in a safe that is bolted down. Or at the very least, don’t hide it in the obvious spots – dresser or desk drawers, your bedside table or the kitchen freezer.

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Do it yourself and save

You can save hundreds of dollars by buying and installing a home security system yourself. Most are wireless, easy to set up and require no special mounting hardware. You can even get one with professional monitoring if you want that extra peace of mind and don’t mind paying a monthly fee.

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Steer clear of glass doors

Doors with clear glass panels and a view into your home are the greatest thing in the world for a burglar. They may look inside and say, ‘Great, I can smash this window, get in there and grab the laptop I see on the kitchen counter before the cops are called.’ Or ‘Oh, the dog is in a cage… I’m good.’ If your door has glass, get it frosted.

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Fences can do more harm than good

Your five-foot privacy fence may shield your backyard from your neighbors, but it also offers cover to a burglar breaking in. A U.S. Dept. of Justice study noted that burglars are more likely to target homes that have high fences and walls to shield them.

Sources: An anonymous home security system installer in Louisville, Ky.; David DeMille, a security expert with ASecureLife.com, a home security website; Chad Laurans, CEO of SimpliSafe; Sgt. Tim Downes, a sergeant who specializes in burglaries in Clearwater Fla.; and Joseph Kuhns, PH.d. professor of criminal justice at UNC Charlotte who has surveyed convicted burglars

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest