Anyone who has ever had their home broken into can tell you that it is a total nightmare. One moment you are minding your own business and looking forward to relaxing with family or preparing dinner for yourself. And the next moment, you’re fearfully staring at the biggest mess you have ever laid eyes on in your own home, wondering if you’re safe and where your dog is (keeping the pets inside is usually not a criminal’s priority, sadly). Having an alarm and security system is a major deterrent to prowlers and burglars, and can serve as a helpful, future eyewitness, in the event that one is not fully deterred. Here are also a few more tips that can help prevent a break-in in the first place that anyone can practice to help keep their home safe, no matter what the crime rate is in your area.

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1. Get to know your neighbors.

Community care is important for a number of reasons. When a catastrophic weather event occurs, social media users in the area will express heartfelt gratitude for the helpers in their neighborhood. Often, there is also a sentiment of getting to know their neighbors for the first time in the wake of destruction. It’s true that we all exist in very busy and different lives, but their relationships are usually worth the extra effort.

A trusted neighbor friend can call you if they see something off, or report suspicious activity to the authorities in your absence. So go ahead and make friends. It will come in handy eventually if you both live there long enough. Let them know when you are leaving town, so they will know to call someone if there is a random moving van or repair truck in the driveway.

2. Manage your mailbox.

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Another helpful reason to get to know folks in your neighborhood is that someone can collect your mail when you go out of town. A mailbox stuffed full of letters (or even just bills and coupons) is a clear sign that no one is home, which attracts the attention of opportunistic burglars. Mail theft is also on the rise in many areas. Those are two good reasons to ask a friend or family member to periodically check your mail for you if you’re going out of town for more than a couple days. Alternatively, you can also ask the post office to hold your mail for the duration of your time away.

3. Let there be light!

It’s no secret that a well-lit home is much less convenient to burglarize. However, this doesn’t just apply to outdoor lighting—although that is important. GE and a host of other companies produce bulbs for indoor lamps that will turn on and off at specified intervals, using an app from your phone. That makes it pretty easy to appear as if someone is home, and you don’t even have to ask your neighbor for help with this one. For the home’s exterior, floodlights can be fine-tuned to light up when they sense either motion or body heat.

4. Use security system decals.

You’ve no doubt seen these on a window or tucked into the landscaping of a home or business you have visited or passed by at some point. That is because they are designed to stick out like a sore thumb. So when you saw one, it was working on any passersby who may or may not have been considering breaking into the structure. Ideally, these small garden stakes and window stickers would come with a full blown security system. But if your lifestyle or rental agreement does not allow a system installation, you can create or order phony ones as theft deterrents. Not all criminals are completely brainless, so in the long term, a real, nonimaginary system will provide a far better shield against crime. But because fear from consequences can discourage criminal activity, even a sticker can trick a trickster. Small things can make a big difference! (And, no, there is no law against announcing security features that aren’t really at a residence.)

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5. Put away potential break-in tools.

Despite what happens in movies and TV shows, thieves are not always expert lock pickers, and they don’t always carry the tools they use to break in with them. Often, the tool that is used to break a window or door is a garden tool or sports equipment item that belongs to the residence. Even the ladder should be put away and locked up tight. Putting away as much as possible removes what might be an inspiration to an unscrupulous character. Even landscaping rocks have been used, and items like that are not always simple to hide or lock up. It’s all the more reason to invest in a hearty security system that could potentially alert authorities about the break-in or scare away a cat burglar.

6. Trim the shrubs and clear the yard.

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Overgrown weedy gardens are good for two things: 1) providing food and mating grounds for your local pollinators and 2) giving trespassers a hiding spot while they stake out a location. Keeping your shrubs trimmed and your yard generally clear creates less potential hideouts for someone attempting to sneak around your property. If you prefer to let your yard grow to help local pollinators and wildlife, consider installing additional outdoor lighting, especially in places with low visibility.

7. Wait until the end of your trip to post about it on social media.

It can be tempting to add snippets of your travels to Instagram and other social media, as the need for rewarding likes does not take a vacation. But this adds a risk of the wrong person learning your home is empty. 

In 2007, a band of California teens repeatedly robbed a handful of celebrities. Twitter, Facebook, and Google Earth made easy work of casing the properties and whereabouts of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and several others. Media dubbed them “The Bling Ring,” and they did millions of dollars worth of damage. Even if you’re not a high-profile celeb and your privacy settings are set to Only Friends, it’s not recommended that you trust every follower with that vacation information. Don’t make yourself look like an easy target. Post about it when you’re back, and maybe even throw in a “We’re back from X!” comment with your pics.

All of these tips have one thing in common, and that’s the mindfulness of your property. It’s not unlike situational awareness, but for your residence. Even the most advanced security system is enhanced with personal awareness. Ultimately, a security system coupled with the good practices that were listed above, will maximize your peace of mind.

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