How To: Prevent Home Invasion
Home invasion is a terrifying prospect that most of us don’t want to think about, but a few simple steps can help protect your home and family.
Home invasions can take a significant financial toll on victims; the emotional toll is perhaps even greater. The loss of precious and expensive items is difficult, but the loss of the sense of safety in a home is incalculable, and is difficult to regain. Many people feel the need to move after the sanctity of the home has been breached. Therefore, taking as many steps as possible to prevent a home invasion is a worthwhile investment of time and funds.
The United States Department of Justice defines a home invasion as an event in which “an offender forcibly enters an occupied residence with the specific intent of robbing or violently harming those inside.” Many studies show that homeowners and renters alike are concerned about burglary in general, but specifically about home invasion, as this crime threatens the safety of themselves and their families. Renters are burglarized more often than homeowners, possibly because renters often don’t have the freedom to upgrade the structure and don’t want to invest in a property they don’t own. So if you’re a renter, it’s worth asking your landlord about security upgrades or offering to share some of the costs; rental property owners may want to consider the long-term cost-effectiveness of providing safer swellings with some security features.
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Increasing the security of your residence doesn’t have to be expensive; many of the home security tips here are inexpensive or free and simply involve changing habits. However, all will add to the sense of safety you feel in your home.
Some Home Invasion Statistics to Know
How important is it to ramp up your home security? You may be thinking, “But I live in a great neighborhood in a safe town!” Unfortunately, home invasions occur even in the safest of towns—sometimes even more often. The statistics may surprise you into taking steps right away to protect your home.
- A burglary occurs in the United States once every 30 seconds.
- Rural and suburban areas are significantly more likely to experience home burglaries than urban areas.
- 81 percent of home invasions occur through first-floor doors or windows.
- 61 percent of offenders were unarmed when they entered a home, and 12 percent of those who were armed possessed a firearm.
- Victims of burglaries lost an estimated $3.0 billion in property losses in 2019.
- Home invasions are more common in the warmer months, with the highest percentages in March, April, and June.
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Tips for Preventing a Home Invasion
- Quality doors and windows with secure locks make great deterrents.
- Make your home less appealing to a potential home intruder by reducing the number of hiding places and installing bright lighting.
- Obscure the view of valuables in your home from the outside, and secure easy-to-grab valuables in a mounted safe.
- Make it less obvious when you’re not home by sharing vacation plans only with close and trusted friends and engaging technology and friendly neighbors to make your home look occupied while you’re away.
- Install a home security system. You’ll be better protected by the signage and presence of cameras, which deter potential home intruders. In the event of an intrusion, the monitoring software can call for assistance if you can’t.
- As with all home projects, use standard safety precautions and turn off the power when installing lighting or security components involving electricity.
- Choose contractors carefully; make sure that any home security professionals you consult are well known, insured, and recommended by other people you know.
STEP 1: Stick to the basics: Keep all windows and doors locked most of the time, if not at all times.
It’s astonishing to think that such a simple approach can make such a big difference in the likelihood that your home will be broken into. Home intruders don’t want to draw attention to themselves by noisily breaking glass and hammering through doors. When casing a home, they look for easy, quiet access, and unlocked doors and windows provide it. In home burglaries that occur when residents are home, 27 percent percent of entries occurred through an open window and 28 percent through an unlocked one. Keeping your doors and windows locked and engaging night locks on windows you’d like open for ventilation sends a signal to anyone looking for a quick hit that they won’t be able to access your home quietly.
STEP 2: Address the locks: Change the lock after moving in, invest in a smart lock, or change the passcode to your locks often.
Who has keys to your home? Even if you trust the previous owners, do you know who they gave keys to? Or how many sets of keys may have been lost? Friends, tradespeople, caregivers, and anyone who had access to their keys now have access to your home. A call to a locksmith who can rekey the locks (usually inexpensively without replacing the whole lockset) or replace any that are old or structurally weak will provide an extra level of security and peace of mind.
Options for new locks include smart locks, which allow you to program a code into the lock that can be changed, and some smart locks even allow users to lock and unlock the doors from a smartphone. An advantage of this type of lock is that it allows the user to easily add temporary codes, so if you need to allow a repair person, babysitter, caregiver, or even another family member into your home when you aren’t there, you can provide that person with a code that allows access for a certain period of time and is then disabled, securing your home. A caveat: As with your banking passwords, it’s important to change your own access code regularly to maintain security and to keep a passcode lock on any phone that can be used to control the home’s access.
STEP 3: Invest in motion sensor lights, and avoid hiding a spare key outside.
Home invaders don’t want to draw attention to themselves—they prefer to work undercover. Some particularly brazen criminals might not object to a quick break-in under a normal porch light. Motion sensor lights that flash on when they sense movement, however, will cause neighbors to glance out the window and homeowners to check their doors, making a home with several motion lights less appealing to most thieves. It’s a good idea to read the instructions for setting the sensitivity of the motion detector: If it’s too sensitive, the lights may turn on every time a bunny hops through the yard, which will make the lights less effective as everyone gets accustomed to their frequent illumination.
If you have found a clever spot to hide a spare key, an experienced thief will find it, probably more easily than you can imagine. If you’re prone to locking yourself out or losing your keys, invest in a smart lock that uses a code, or trust a neighbor to hold a spare safely inside their home to prevent a home burglary.
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STEP 4: Never post on social media that you are going on vacation or on a trip.
The relief of a long-anticipated vacation can make you want to shout about it from the rooftop—and shouting it from the rooftop would probably be safer than posting it on social media. Even if you believe the security settings on your account limit the viewers to people you know, posting that your home will be empty over the course of several days or weeks is like an invitation to thieves. It only takes one friend sharing your post to their friends to make your home a potential target. Save the excitement and photos for when you’re back home. In a startling set of statistics, it’s worth noting that 30 percent of burglaries are committed by offenders known to the homeowners, and that in cases where violence occurs, the offender is known to the homeowner 65 percent of the time. Social media circles are wide—post carefully.
STEP 5: Secure valuables in a safe.
Your sock drawer isn’t really an ideal spot for your valuables, as it’s one of the first places a burglar will check. If someone has invaded your home, you can reduce the financial toll by keeping valuables in a safe that is well concealed. Jewelry, extra cash or checkbooks, and the external hard drive with all your financial information on it are good places to start, but also consider less-obvious items. Many people order 90-day supplies of prescription drugs at one time; the extra bottles are an easy target for burglars. Information that is useful for identity theft—passports, birth certificates, social security cards—should also be tucked away in a safe. And while it may seem appealing to have personal firearms available in the event of a home invasion, these items are also targets for burglars and if unsecured could result in more violence during the home invasion. A relatively small percentage of home invaders come armed, so most, if not all, firearms should be secured in a locked safe. If the safe is not mounted into a wall, consider bolting it to a floor so burglars can’t just grab it and go. If you’re home during the burglary, a safe won’t completely prevent these items from being taken, but the extra time a safe will require might just be enough of a deterrent to encourage the home intruder to grab the more obvious and available items of value.
STEP 6: Add a privacy film to your windows and close your blinds.
Burglars want to know that a home is worth the effort of breaking into before they take the risk, and will often “case” a neighborhood before selecting the homes they’ll target. Make it harder for them to see what’s available in your home by limiting visual access to the interior. Closing blinds or curtains is an effective way to do this, especially in the evening when open windows and cheerful lights offer a clear view of the new TV, the laptop and tablet on the coffee table, and the rack of cell phone chargers and car keys hanging by the door.
There’s no need to make your home look like a fortress: Semi-sheer curtains and stick-on privacy film can do a great job of blurring and obscuring the view during the day, and closing blinds or curtains in the evening provides interior privacy when the lights come on.
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STEP 7: Make your home look “lived in.”
If you’ll be away, an attentive burglar will notice the change in routine and activity. But there’s no need to advertise: Simple steps such as stopping the mail or asking a neighbor to pick it up for you, hiring someone to keep the lawn mowed, and inviting a neighbor to park in the driveway from time to time will keep the activity levels up and the appearance of your home maintained. Placing lights on a variable timer, whether it’s a smart timer controlled by Wi-Fi or old-fashioned plug-in timers, helps to make your home look occupied. Savvy residents may include a radio or television on the timers so the noise level indoors changes as well.
STEP 8: Keep the garage door closed.
Garages are often a treasure trove for casual burglars. Tools are easy to steal and have great resale value: Thieves can pull up a van that looks like a contractor’s vehicle, casually slip into a garage door and pick up an armload of tools or a tool box and walk back to the van—neighbors will assume you’re having work done and not even blink. In addition to tools, garages hold spare car parts, bicycles, hobby items, and, often, a spare key to the house. The garage door should be closed at all times unless you’re actively working in it to keep the space secure and reduce the opportunity for casual passersby to see what you’ve stored in there. Don’t be fooled by the security that daylight provides: FBI burglary data from 2019 shows that 45 percent of burglaries occurred during the daylight.
Even more vulnerable than the items in the garage, however, is the door that connects the garage to the house. Doors that provide access into a house from a garage should be treated as external access points and should feature a door that you’d put on any other exterior opening and a security lock that is kept locked. Many people mistakenly think that this door is an interior door, similar to a closet or bedroom door, because the garage door itself will provide security. But think about how often homeowners leave the garage door open while working in the backyard or how frequently you’ve driven away from your home and wondered, sometimes hours later, if you remembered to close the garage door. Consider the security of the door itself and its lock, and think about adjusting your habit to keep that door securely locked.
STEP 9: Upgrade your door.
Television shows and movies would have you believe that every door can be bashed in with a well-placed shoulder or kick. While it’s not quite that simple or easy, burglars know how to assess the quality of a door and do know where to place that kick to push through a lock. Damaging or removing a door is the most common type of entry in a forcible invasion. The strongest lock in the world won’t protect a home if the door in which the lock is mounted will splinter easily around the lock. Consider upgrading to a thicker, sturdier door and doorframe so the lock has something to hold on to.
Sliding doors are also potential access points; installing a lift-proof sliding door with a ceiling bolt lock will add security, but placing a dowel or piece of wood in the track so the door can’t be forced open will prevent easy access.
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STEP 10: Make your home more visible.
Heavy foundation planting and dense shrubs can offer hiding places and cover for someone breaking into your home. While this doesn’t mean you can’t have attractive landscaping, consider the positioning of the plantings and make sure you haven’t offered a burglar a shield to use as they work on defeating your window or door locks. Trim back unruly hedges that make your home invisible to neighbors, and reduce the height of hedges that obscure the entry points to the home.
STEP 11: Install a home security system.
Home security systems come in many more forms than the old-fashioned window sensors and blaring alarms. A professional home security assessment and installation can provide a custom approach combining deterrence, lighting, and monitoring that works for your home and lifestyle and can make you more comfortable and secure whether you’re at home or away. A SafeWise survey showed that homeowners worry about burglary more than any other crime, and that 58 percent of survey respondents are actively afraid that a break-in will occur while they’re sleeping; a security system can help you be confident that professionals have helped you create a secure home and will be able to assist immediately should an attempted invasion occur.
Gabe Turner, chief editor at Security.org, says, “To prevent a home invasion, get a smart security system that you can check from your phone. You’ll be alerted whenever there’s movement or a person and can check on the live footage via your smart security cameras. Then, if you see anything suspicious, you can contact law enforcement immediately.”
The very idea of a home invasion is frightening, but don’t let fear keep you from taking steps to create a secure home. While there’s no way to completely prevent a home invasion, these security tips will go a long way toward making your house less appealing to potential burglars and provide stronger defenses against those who might try. And remember—the most important part of home security is to protect the people who live in it. Nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t do anything to deter burglars. After experiencing a burglary, 49 percent of victims changed their locks, 41 percent added a home security system, and 38 percent installed security cameras. You can choose to be proactive and protect your home and family rather than waiting to shore up your security after experiencing a burglary.
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