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13 Sneaky Ways FBI Agents Protect Their Homes

Who better to get advice from about home protection than FBI agents who have studied and observed the minds of criminals? Even better? These home security tips are totally doable!

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Know your neighborhood

“Oftentimes, crime can be discouraged by the mere presence of an alert neighbor,” says Douglas Kane, the president of Risk Control Strategies who’s also a 27-year veteran of the FBI and an expert in criminal investigations, strategic planning, crisis management, and tactical leadership. When you’re familiar with your neighborhood, you’re more likely to notice strangers or unfamiliar vehicles. “If something appears suspicious, call the police,” advises Kane. “If a vehicle is repeatedly seen in the neighborhood, copy down the license plate and alert authorities.”

But that’s only the first step you need to take in order to keep your home safe from burglars, who often use sneaky tactics to break into your house. FBI agents employ numerous defensive measures to ward off break-ins, and we’re sharing some of their top tips here with you. Remember: If you’re not doing these things, you’re leaving your home and your family vulnerable. Once you’re up to speed, learn how to outsmart burglars with these other home security tips.

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Zip it


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We know you’re psyched about your trip to Italy, but zip it when it comes to sharing the details of your vacation with friends on social media, as well as with shopkeepers and tradesmen. “There is no reason to needlessly alert others when the house will be unoccupied,” says Kane. “While your favorite barista may not rob you blind while you’re away, it doesn’t mean a person standing in line behind you won’t pick up on the details without your realizing it. Or your barista could talk about the trip to other people, unknowingly giving the scoop to a thief who will seize the opportunity of an empty house.” This also applies to sharing work schedules or even a weekend getaway.

Of course, abiding by this rule is easier said than done. And even if you’re being super careful with your conversations, you might not escape the notice of a criminal. To hedge your bets, just in case, confuse anyone who might think they know your whereabouts with light timers. A set of super affordable BN-LNK mechanical outlet timers will help simulate activity in your home by turning on and off lamps so it looks like you’re there, even when you’re not. Here are another 13 things you should do before you leave for vacation.

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How well do you know your dog walker?


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“It is important you research anyone who will have access to your home when you are away for any period of time,” says Kane. “Be sure you have conducted a background check on anyone who has access to your property.” This could include vendors, a house sitter, nanny, dog walker, or housekeeper. “There have been many situations where homeowners have been robbed or vandalized by individuals they trusted and later realized they didn’t even know their complete name or where they lived,” says Kane.

Even with a background check, you never truly know someone, so it’s smart to take extra precautions. A super small nanny cam that blends into its surroundings can give you peace of mind while you’re away. For added safety, it’s best not to give out copies of your keys. If you want someone outside of your family to have access to your home for necessary jobs, make that access temporary with a smart lock. The Schlage Encode Wi-Fi Deadbolt—when paired with the Schlage Home app or Key by Amazon app—allows you to dole out access codes on a temporary, recurring, or permanent basis, as well as lock and unlock your door from anywhere. Find out the 21 secrets burglars won’t tell you.

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Secure your home with a smart alarm


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Security systems are more affordable and simpler to use these days. Kane recommends an alarm system with glass break and motion detection technology. Smartphone apps make it even easier to monitor, arm, and disarm devices remotely. “With the ease of use, individuals tend to utilize the device more and benefit from the additional layer of security which is a proven deterrent,” says Kane. Try the Ring Alarm system, which works with Alexa and can also be connected with professional monitoring for an extra fee if you choose. Monitoring systems for housing components like lights, thermostats, and even sump pumps also help you keep your eyes on things while you are away. Check out these other smart devices that are worth every penny.

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Smile, you’re on camera!


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Kane also suggests installing a perimeter camera system to cover all access points of your home. Luckily, you don’t have to shell out thousands to get quality facial recognition. “Currently, you can buy a high-definition two-megapixel bullet camera, with infrared for night viewing, for several hundred dollars,” he says. “These entry-level cameras will give you better facial recognition than older cameras that originally were in excess of $1,500 apiece.” This Google Nest system comes with two cameras that provide clear HD images, even at night, and the built-in speaker and microphone allows you to listen and talk to visitors. Of course, everyone’s needs are different. Here’s how to find the best home security system for you.

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Use a shining deterrent


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And you thought only cockroaches scattered when the lights come on. “You cannot underestimate the deterrent effect of motion-activated lighting,” says Kane. Exterior and perimeter motion-activated lighting is a low-cost and efficient security measure that will alert the homeowner and scare off an intruder. That being said, you’re more likely to be robbed at this time of the day, and night lights may not help you then.

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Fortify your doors


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Solid wood, metal, and fiberglass doors at the front and rear entries of your home are good, but if they are in bad shape, they won’t help much. “The easiest way for a predator to enter your home is through a weak door or unsecured window,” says Steve Kardian, a 30-year law enforcement officer and FBI defense tactics instructor and the author of The New Super Power for Women. “Layer on security with bump-proof and pick-proof locks, and use three-inch screws on the strike plate that burrows deep into the door frame, using a deep box strike plate,” says Kardian. You’ll especially want to do this if you notice any of the 13 sneaky signs your house is being watched.

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Strengthen your windows


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When it comes to windows, the most secure ones are acrylic or polycarbonate, says Kardian. He suggests adding even more security by installing 12 mil security film over windows and sliding glass doors. The security film will give them added resistance from breakage. It’s also smart to place a wood or metal dowel that fits snugly on the sliding glass door track to keep the door from sliding open, even if the door is unlocked. Don’t miss these 22 signs your house is vulnerable to being robbed.

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Don’t forget about the garage


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Take smart security measures whether you have a detached or attached garage. “The two most important tips for securing the attached garage door is the two-point vulnerability: the windows and doors of the garage. They need to be secured just like your exterior doors and windows, and alarms can be installed on the garage door and windows,” says Kardian. Plus, an electronic garage door opener—like the Chamberlain smart garage door opener, which has more than 1,700 five-star reviews—allows you to stay safe in your car while you drive into the garage. Be sure to immediately close the door before exiting the vehicle. Other reminders: “Never leave your garage door open when you leave home, and always lock the garage entry door,” says Kardian.

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Get the right safe for your valuables


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You may think a small household safe is a secure way to store your cherished valuables, but it’s actually a convenient way for a thief to carry out all the valuables in one step. “A safe has to be either installed in concrete, hidden from sight in an undetectable location, or be of the size and weight that it can’t be removed without great difficulty,” says Kane. Here are more of the best home safes that security experts use in their own homes.

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Set up a safe room


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“Designate a room as a safe room that the family can go to in the event of an emergency like a home invasion or burglary,” recommends Kardian. “The safe room can be an elaborate, reinforced walk-in closet or a bathroom with a solid door and good lock.” A door security bar can be purchased for $25 or less, and you should also always keep a prepaid cell in the safe room in case you need to call for help and you’ve left your regular cell phone behind.

It’s also a good idea to keep a TigerLight D.A.D. (Defense Alert Device) in your safe room. “The reason I like the D.A.D. is that you can silently send an emergency GPS alert to your contact list, including your family. It has a crowd alert that will notify anyone within one mile of your location that you are in danger,” explains Kardian. “It also has a built-in flashlight, police/military-grade pepper spray, and superior technology, and it’s legal in all 50 states.” You can also keep some of your valuables in your safe room, to avoid leaving them in the 10 hiding spots burglars always look first.

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Employ defensive landscaping


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A landscaped yard can have a dual-purpose: to create a beautiful outdoor space and a defensive barrier. “Prickly or spiny plants, such as various types of rose bushes and evergreens, can be used to create a hedge that can become an impenetrable barrier,” says Kane. “They can also be trained to climb along an existing wall or fence to deter an intruder from climbing.” Placing these types of plants near doors and windows will prevent intruders from hiding close to your home. On the other hand, home security experts never do these 14 things in their own homes.

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Beat criminals at their own game


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Inexpensive technology and common sense can make would-be intruders think you’re home. Light switches are effective, but Kane suggests making the lights similar to how daily and evening lighting may look like by programming them to turn on and off multiple times during the day and night. A radio, programmed to talk radio, is another deterrent that gives the impression someone is home. How can you work this magic? With Amazon smart plugs that you can control with Alexa—something that will come in handy in a different way when you’re home, as well.

Finally, don’t stop services or deliveries if you’re gone for an extended stretch. Let your friends or neighbors handle these matters because the fewer people who know you are away, the safer your house will be. You need to take extra precautions when you’re away from home, too. These 9 tricks to outsmart criminals will keep you safe from theft wherever you go.


Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.