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How to Protect Your Home Before Going Away on Vacation.

Most thieves, burglars and crooks do not want anyone inside when they are planning their heist or casing a neighborhood. So it will come as no surprise that many offenders will avoid breaking into your house if they think someone is home or that someone will come home while they are still inside. They want to bring as little attention as possible. Noise, lights and disturbances will alert the neighbors, with the police soon to follow. If the thieves are able to enter the residence without anyone noticing and leave just as quite, then they are more likely to get away with your belongings. There are also other precautions we should take prior to leaving on vacation and has nothing to do with crime, its natural occurrences such as power surges and freezing temperatures. Let’s go over the various target hardening precautions you should take prior to leaving for that much needed vacation.

Install security cameras and hire an alarm company

One of the most important things to do prior to going off on vacation or for an extended stay is to hire an alarm company, install video cameras or at least make it look like your house is being monitored at all times. Just like How to protect your car from break-ins, it is important that anyone who walks by your house or enters your door threshold, knows that there are cameras and that they are being recorded. This means that your need to keep your cameras visible and even add stickers and alarm signs throughout your property. The last thing you want is your property to be stolen or vandalized and although having video surveillance of the perp is nice, your still have to go through the hassle of calling the local law enforcement, repairing your property, dealing with the home insurance company and priceless valuables gone. This is why making it clear that your property is being recorded is one of the best precautions you can take.

Notify the Police Before You Leave

Many local police departments have programs or forms/links on their website that allows you to notify them when you will be gone on vacation. Many will allow you to give your key information such as who should be at the residence and what number they should call in-case of an emergency. They also will have roll calls or send out an email notifying the patrol units of the vacation and have them do directed patrols in front of or near the property to make sure it is secured. By notifying the police you also give them the necessary knowledge required to potentially enter and apprehend the suspect if they are inside when the police arrive.

Avoid Posting About Your Vacation on Social Media

This one may come to a surprise to many of you, but do not post anywhere on social media that your will be gone on a trip during a certain time. You should also not post any vacation pictures while you are gone as it will open up opportunities for burglars. It unfortunately happens more then you may think, an unsuspecting home owner posts on Facebook and Instagram, pictures of them on vacation in an entirely different state or even country, only to find out that someone they knew was the in breaking into their house wile they were gone on vacation. Through the investigation and speaking with witnesses and many time co-defendants, it is uncovered that they learned of the vacancies through social media and decided that it was a good opportunity as they knew no one was home.

Set Timers on Interior Lights

With the invention of smart technology, it’s becoming easier and easier to control your home from an app or automatically. If you are able to set your lights to turn on during the night time and to shut off during the day, then you will have a significant advantage when fending off potential thieves. By having lights automatically turn on, thieves may think that there is someone inside manually turning your lights on and off giving the impression that someone is home and ready to protect the valuables inside. Yes the common criminal is beginning to understand that lights and televisions can be controlled electronically and may see right pass your precaution. But don’t you worry, we have more ways of protecting your home.

Exterior Lightning

Thieves do not like drawing attention to themselves and typically use the cover of darkness to do their bidding. It is much easier to avoid detection by neighbors or video surveillance if there is no to little lighting. Lighting will illuminate anyone who approaches the house especially in not so well lit areas such as the backyard or side windows. An easy way to accomplish this is to install or use your motion detection lights. It is becoming increasingly more and more common to have lights turn on when motion presents itself or even when it becomes dark. If not take a quick look at your options and find the best lighting fixtures for your needs.

Secure Valuables

This one may seem strange on the face of it but it is important to take into account prior to taking off on that wonderful vacation you have saved up for. Remember if offenders or thieves can plainly see a valuable lawn mower or snowblower in the shed or your new desktop and laptop through the window, they may decide that the risk is worth the reward and break into your property no matter how many cameras you have or how often your lights turn on. A break can take as little or long as the burglar needs, especially if there is no one in coming home to cause them to leave. A quick smash and grab can honestly be as quick as a few minutes or in extreme cases, less than one minute if they know where the valuables are. A heavy duty home safe could be a great option for those valuable items left behind.

Check Windows and Doors

Check all of your windows and doors before you leave and make it one of the last things you do as a final check. An old saying is that locks won’t keep bad guys out, but they will keep an honest man honest. What that means is that if the offender wants to get in badly enough, they are going to as they can smash a window or kick in a door. However, some individuals or would be offenders are more on the fringe of breaking the law, they will grab the belongings, as long as there are not enough resistance for them. This includes second or third floor windows as some criminals are handy and drive around with ladders attached to their trucks. You can also add a battery powered security alarm to each window or door that will make a loud sound if opened to help alert neighbors.

Arrange for Lawn Care

Many of us already have a lawn crew or person helping us with our law care and may not think twice about their lawn while on vacation. This is however for those individuals who mow their own yards and take care of their garden on their own. If you are going to be away for a prolong period, you may choose to cut the grass the day before or even arrange for a company to come and mow your lawn when you are away. The appearance of a freshly cut lawn is important when showing would be offenders that things are squared away at your household. This will help emphasize your ability to prepare and thus deter would be thieves from entering your property.

Stop Mail and Newspaper Delivery

Stopping your mail is a free and easy way to protect from mail fraud and theft. It also reduces the appearance of your house looking vacant. If there is a mailbox full of mail, bills, packages then one would be sure that the homeowner has not been around for quite some time, leaving an opportunity for the thieves. You can also look into having one of your trusted neighbors or friends stopping by and holding onto the mail for you, especially if you need anything that is time sensitive. Keep in mind that this option leaves room for mistakes or accidents where mail gets lost, misplaced or forgotten about. The easiest way is to just go online or call your local postal office to arrange the mail to be placed on hold.

Don’t Hide a Spare Key Nearby

Don’t leave a spare key laying around under your doormat or the third rock to the right. Yes they are convenience if you lose or misplace the key you have but can cause all sorts of headaches if they end up in the wrong hands. If you need to leave a physical key for your house, give it to the person who needs access to your house as they can keep it safe and away from intruders. Locks are becoming significantly more advanced, as they have locks with key passes and electronic thumb prints available. You can even give someone limited access such as your neighbor, friend, or dog walker that will start and end on a schedule. This is important because you no longer need to worry about your dog sitter or friend losing your physical key, you can have electronic keys that you can turn on and off at the click of a button. A combination lock box may also work if you are unable to switch out your locking system in time.

Assessable Tools

Don’t leave tools or ladders laying around as they can be easily accessible to thieves who will then use your own items to break into your house to steal your stuff. There are many access points into a house that we often overlook as they may be difficult to enter such as a second-floor window or attic access. If you leave a ladder around, they may just use it to enter that window you forgot to lock, or grab that hammer and crow bar to break into your sliding door. Yes having your house vandalized and tossed through stings, but providing the tools for the thieves to carry out the act really stings.

 

Lock garage

Your garage is often overlooked, but is a significant weak point when securing your house. Many of the locks used with garages are simple with verry little protection to manipulation. Sometimes they are older and loose providing little to no protection, while other times they are new and ready to defend your house. If there is a second door within the garage that you can lock, it is best if you don’t overlook this step as the added security can prevent a thief from getting full, uninterrupted access to your households and valuables. A heavy duty lock garage may add that much needed security to your garage door.

Have a Friend and Neighbor Check Your House

Let your neighbors or a trusted friend know that you will be gone on vacation and ask that they do some checks on the house while you are away. It is often unsettling leaving your home in the hands of your neighbors, but often they will be the ones who will call the police if anything suspicious were to happen. Many times, the neighbors know who typically visits you and can notice if someone who does not belong is prowling around. If they are trusted enough, you can ask them to turn your Television on and off at random times while rearranging the curtains to show that the house is not vacant.

Keep Your Car Visible

Unless you need your car for the vacation, you should leave your cars in the driveway or in the garage to give the impression that someone is still inside. With the popularization of Uber and Lyft, it is becoming more convenient to schedule a pick up time and have a driver drop you off at the airport. This helps give your house the impression that nothing has changed, the homeowners are still home and that thieves are not welcome.

Shut Off All electronics and Turn Down the Heat/AC.

Save yourself the hassle of coming home to a fried desktop or laptop when your house took on an unexpected power surge. Shut off and disconnect any electronic you plan on leaving at your house. Who wants to pay to heat or cool an empty house? I know I sure don’t. Don’t forget to lower or increase the thermostat to a more manageable level. However do not lower or shut the heat off in cold temperatures as you may accidently cause your pipes to freeze, break and cause all sorts of havoc on your house.

 

Here is a quick list of things to do to protect your house before leaving on a vacation:

Here is a quick list of things to do to protect your house before leaving on a vacation:

  1. Install security cameras and hire an alarm company
  2. Notify the police before you leave
  3. Do not post your vacation on or before you leave on social media
  4. Set timers on interior lights
  5. Motion sensor or scheduled set exterior lightning
  6. Secure Valuables
  7. Check windows and doors right before you leave
  8. Arrange for lawn care
  9. Stop mail and newspaper delivery
  10. Do not leave a spare key hidden near your home
  11. Do not leave assessable tools such as ladders available to potential thieves
  12. Lock garage
  13. Have a neighbor or friend check on your house
  14. Keep your vehicle visible
  15. Shut off all electronics and manage the heat/AC.

What to do if your house is broken into while you are away on vacation

Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft After Your Identification Was Compromised During a Break-In

Sometimes these offenders hit the jackpot and find documentations such as birth certificates various I.D’s, credit cards or even social security cards inside victims homes. There is no doubt that when these criminals have your identification, your life can be tossed upside down with endless calls and paperwork attempting to keep your identity, property, and livelihood safe. The first thing you need to do is contact the local police, they may have what’s called a fraud packet with valuable information and numbers that you can use after a break in. In the meantime, here are some main precautions to take if your identification and bank/credit cards are stolen, as you await the arrival of the police.

  • Credit Report Agencies: Contact the major credit reporting bureaus where you request added precautions (known as freezing your credit) when anyone (hopefully just you) attempts to apply for various resources such as credit cards, bank loans, mortgages or even personal loans.
  • Contact banks: Contact the banks in which you are a member of and ask them to cancel the stolen card and have them issue a new one. If any checks were taken you will want to open up an entirely new account as the offenders will now have complete access to your hard-earned money. You can go to the Annual Credit Report for a free credit report.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission: The Federal Trade Commission helps monitor and identify the needs of Americans and identity theft is one of their top priorities.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration: Let them know that your identification has been compromised and that someone may have access to your information including your social security number. The Social Security Administration may issue you a new social security number and can place your information on alert which adds another layer of added protection.

What Happens if a Valuable Item was Taken During the Break-in

Keep Serial Numbers and Model Numbers Handy

Many of the expensive items have serial numbers associated with it and is an extremely important piece of information to share with law enforcement during the investigation. Many times, these offenders do not intend to keep or use your item, rather wish to exchange it for cash where they can feed their habit or buy what they want. There are two main ways of exchanging these stolen items for money, through the black market and pawn shops. Most state laws require pawn shops to document everyone who buys or sells an item. These pawn shops can be used as a way of identifying the offender when the police are able to identify the item through the serial and model numbers. Always keep larger ticket items packaging or receipt with the serial number somewhere safe as you never know when you may accidently leave it inside your vehicle and it is gone the next day.

Take a Picture


Take a picture of your jewelry, watch, artifact, or other priceless/unique item. Some items or jewelry pieces are one of a kind or no longer made and are nearly impossible to identify or describe without a picture. Having a model number to a one-of-a-kind pendant is important, but having a picture of that same pendant will far better serve the ability of law enforcement locating the stolen item. Walking into a pawn shop and looking at every ring for identifiers may be time consuming or fruitless but looking for an exact match using a picture will undoubtedly aid the investigation in your favor.

Why it is Important to Report the Incident to the Police

Reporting a break-in into your home serves two main purposes. First it documents that an offender obtained your identification or valuable goods when your home was broken into and can be used if any money or fraudulent activity occurs in your bank/credit card accounts or credit bureaus after the incident. Second it helps the police demonstrate a pattern by these offenders, increasing their ability to find and apprehend the offenders and further protect you and your community members from future offenses.

To-Do-List when Your Home is Broken into and Items Were Taken:

To-Do-List when Your Home is Broken into and Items Were Taken:

  • Contact Credit Report Agencies (If Credit cards, social security card, or I.D’s were taken).
  • Contact Banks (if bank cards or checks were taken).
  • Contact Social Security (if social security card or number was located and visible, even if not taken).
  • Contact The Federal Trade Commission (If identity theft is a risk).
  • Locate Model and Serial Numbers (if valuable items were taken).
  • Take a Picture (prior to being stolen, preferably right when you buy/get it)
  • Report to the police (always document through the police).

Conclusion

In conclusion you can use these target hardening strategies to help prevent offenders from breaking into your home. However, it is not a guaranteed and thus any item left in your home will be vulnerable to break-ins. It may serve you well to double check your homes security often by checking locks and lights to make sure they are working correct. Display those security signs and alarms throughout your property and always remember to lock your front door when you leave.

 

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By Branden

Branden is a Police Lieutenant who has investigated various crimes. He has written and executed multiple search warrants, conducted various protective sweeps, pat frisks and exit orders. He has been involved in numerous police vehicle chases, fights, disturbances, foot pursuits, suspect/hostage negotiations and felony stops. He is trained with an assortment of weapons. He has spoken with countless victims, witnesses and suspects and is using his experience to better protect our communities and loved ones by sharing his knowledge through his writings.

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