Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tis the season to be ripped off!

It's that time of year, folks. Trim the tree, buy the presents and hide the Santa gifts in the attic. And pray your house doesn't get broken into. During the months of November and December, there are roughly 400,000 burglaries reported each year. This is, on average, 20% higher than the other months of the year.

I'm fortunate and while I have had things stolen from me in the past, my house has never been broken into. I'm grateful for that, but honestly, it's not because I've been especially cautious. It's just been out of sheer luck, I think. 

I grew up in small towns and live in one now. In these areas, it's common to leave your doors unlocked and curtains wide open because it's easy to trust your neighbors. Everybody in a small town knows everybody else so there's a sense of camaraderie and Neighborhood Watch (even when you don't want them to). Everybody knows who "belongs" and who doesn't, who's doing what, where their neighbors work, what time they get home, who their kids hang out with (and who they shouldn't be hanging out with). All in all, small towns are great for those reasons. Unfortunately, there's also a down side to that because it means everybody knows your every move - when you get home from work and which lights are left on when you're gone. It's easy to become too comfortable in towns this size. 

Last night, my friend's house was broken into. Fortunately, they got spooked and left before they had an opportunity to take much. That doesn't mean it's not unnerving to know that strangers were in the house without permission or knowledge. 

It made me think about how routine our lives are and how easy it would be for someone to rob our house. We discussed this at dinner tonight and we talked about ways to prevent this from happening. Some are obvious things, but others not so much. Our list might help you, so I'll share it here:

1. Lock your doors. Every time you enter and exit. Every. Time. Even if you're at home, even if you're only in the back yard, even if you're just taking a nap, even if you have a dog, even if you have a gun. Lock them. It won't necessarily stop somebody, but it makes it far more difficult to get in. Same goes for your car, shed, garage and other outbuildings. Double-check the window locks, too. It's easy to forget to lock them after the wonderful fall temps have turned cold.

2. Be unpredictable. If you work the same schedule day after day, change things up a bit. Come home for lunch a couple times a week. Take an occasional afternoon off or go into work late. If possible, work from home a day or two a week. Catch a ride with someone else so your car is in the driveway when it normally wouldn't be. If you go somewhere the same time every day or the same day every week, change it up. The more confusing your schedule can be to a potential burglar, the less likely they'll be to break in.

3. Close your curtains. During the Christmas season, it's tempting to leave your blinds and curtains open to show off the twinkly lights on your tree. Stop it. It makes it far too easy to window peep and see who's home. It also gives burglars the opportunity to take inventory of your belongings. When it gets dark, pull 'em closed.

4. Enlist friends. When you're going to be gone overnight or for any extended amount of time, have friends come over and check on things. Park a car in the driveway for a while, turn on different lights in the house and turn others off, turn on the clothes dryer, etc. Have them bring in mail, newspapers and any packages that may have been delivered. Ask if they'll stick around for an hour or two so the house appears lived in. Hire someone to shovel the walk (or in the summertime, mow the lawn) while you're gone. 

5. Make noise. I used to make fun of my mom because she left the television on when we left the house. I never understood why. I finally asked her one day and she said "because it deters burglars." If someone is lurking around your house and they can't see in, they're going to listen for activity: TV, radio, appliances, etc. They'll look for smoke in a chimney or the steam from a clothes dryer. Turn a TV on in one room and in another, leave a talk radio station on in a somewhat muted volume so it sounds like people talking. Plug your vacuum cleaner into a timer for five minutes (make sure it's angled so air can flow through it and it doesn't burn up the motor). Any noise will make a burglar think twice before breaking in. Also, if you still have a land line phone, turn the ringers off or turn it down to 2 rings instead of 4 before it switches to voice mail. Don't forget to turn your clock alarms off. It'll act like a beacon to shady people who are paying attention.

6. Shut up! If you're away from home, don't announce it on social media. (I'm horribly guilty of this.) Or, if you can't control the urge to discuss it, make sure to mention who's still at home or that you're grateful for house/pet sitters (even if you don't have them). At the bare minimum, set your statuses to private so nobody but friends can see what you've posted. Nothing says "I'll all but leave a key under the mat for you" like "Four days til the Bahamas!" on your Twitter.

Obviously, there's no foolproof way to prevent a break-in if someone really wants your stuff, but these are some of the ideas we came up with tonight at dinner. What are some of your suggestions?

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