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13 Safety Tips That Could Save Your Home from a Break-In

Secure your home with these expert-vetted home safety tips that turn burglars into bunglers.

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iStock/Alina Solovyova

Store valuables carefully

hieves already know you’re stashing valuables, so upgrade your secret hiding places to ones that are harder to detect. A simple solution is keeping important documents and objects in your child’s room. Thieves often scour drawers in the master bedroom but tend to leave children’s rooms untouched. Just make sure it’s a place your child can’t easily access, like on a high closet shelf. Never leave your house without doing these 13 things first.

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iStock/Federico Rostagno

Install your security system in the right spot

Decorative glass or large windows may be important for your front entrance feng shui, but they also make it easy for burglars to see inside your home. Install your security keypad in a spot that is not visible from the doorstep so no one can see if your alarm is set. These are the 20 secrets home security installers don’t want you to know.

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iStock/Luis Ramos, Jr.

Get rid of that mail slot

Having one is basically asking burglars to rob your house. A mail slot goes against the wood grain, weakening the horizontal integrity of a door and making it easier to kick in. Opt for a mailbox, or install your slot near the bottom of the front door, no higher than a quarter of the way up.

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Keep car keys next to your bed

Giving car keys a permanent home on your nightstand is a sure way to never lose them again, and it can ward off suspicious activity. If you hear an unusual noise and suspect that someone is trying to break into your car or home, press the “Panic” button on your key ring. The car alarm will sound, and the intruder will have no choice but to flee the scene.

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Add thorny shrubs to your landscape

Here’s a tip you won’t learn at a gardening center: Your plants can act as a barrier between your home and sneaky intruders. Plant thorny shrubs, such as rosebushes, beneath ground-floor windows. They’ll add beauty to your garden and deter burglars. These are the 13 signs your home is vulnerable to being robbed.

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Let your neighbors be your eyes

Knowing your house is completely unattended can make your vacation unnecessarily stressful. Whether you’re going away for two weeks or just a long weekend, ask a neighbor to check daily for flyers stuck in your front door. Crafty criminals have been known to leave pizza ads in doors to see how long it takes for residents to remove them.  Stopping newspapers and mail delivery for the duration of your trip is a sure way to prevent mail from piling up at your doorstep.

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Pack your car right before you leave

Rather than loading up the car the night before a weekend getaway, do it in the morning right before you leave. Left in front of the house, a fully packed car can serve as a green light for those looking for one. Before you drive away, make sure a few exterior lights are on to give the impression that someone’s home. And don’t post pictures until you get back. These 10 cars are the most likely to be stolen.

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Lower the volume of your telephone ringer

Yes, we’re talking about landline phones, which are definitely still worth having. If the ringer is too loud, a passerby may hear it ring, then go to voice mail—an undeniable sign that no one is home. And speaking of signs, don’t leave any notes on your door (for the mailman, delivery messengers, or anyone else) saying you’re away. Keep neighbors in the loop so they can look out for packages.

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Don’t store wood near the side of the house

Some criminals are so dumb they basically arrest themselves. Others are more crafty and will see a pile of wood as a conveniently placed ladder up to a window. Keep logs in the garage or in a pile at the edge of the yard.

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Pay attention to bathroom windows

Burglars are often people you’ve seen before, like a serviceman working on your house. If a yard worker or unknown visitor uses the bathroom, he may unlatch the window so he can gain entry later. Be sure to double-check that lock after this seemingly innocent person leaves.

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Choose your locksmith wisely

One of the best secrets locksmiths won’t tell you is that a double cylinder lock can prevent break-ins. Unfortunately, not all locksmiths are so helpful. Some are unlicensed or dishonest, which can cause problems with your locks or an unnecessarily high bill. Always look for a well-established locksmith business that is bonded and insured. These are the 21 things your locksmith wishes you knew.

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Get a decal for your window

If you can’t afford a security system, buy an alarm or patrol service decal to place on your front door. While an accomplished thief is not fooled, decals may deter a less-experienced thief from entering.

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iStock/Ben Harding

Join a community-wide crime prevention program

Cops are getting creative when it comes to catching criminals, and there are lots of opportunities for you to do your part to keep your community safe. Operation Identification is a nationwide project that encourages people to mark their property to combat burglary and theft. In some cities, burglary rates for Operation Identification households were significantly lower than those of non-participants. Also look into groups like Neighbhorhood Watch to see how you can get involved. These are the 21 secrets a burglar would never tell you.

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Serge Bloch for Reader's Digest

Want more tips?

For more info on the best locks, alarm systems, and staying secure while on vacation, check out How to Be Safe ($24.99, Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.), by Guardsmark founder Ira A. Lipman. Buy the book here.