At home

Last reviewed: June 2011
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Making a break-in too easy

"About half of all break-ins aren't break-ins but walk-ins," says Bob Portenier, consultant, lecturer, and former burglar. "Families get in a hurry in the morning—kids going to school, running late for work, doctors' appointments, what have you—and forget to take that one or two minutes to check the doors and locks, usually on the back side. You have a pet, you let it out to do its business—and then forget the security French door or sliding glass door."

Remember, don't forget to turn on your home alarm. In a security survey of 1,038 U.S. homeowners we conducted in February, 43 percent of people in our survey who had an alarm said they at least occasionally don't turn it on when they're not at home. Some other troubling numbers. Nineteen percent of people in our survey said they at least occasionally leave doors at home unlocked when they're out, and 26 percent of survey respondents said they at least occasionally leave windows unlocked when they're not at home.

Leaving your garage door open

In addition to providing access to everything in the garage, the door most likely leads to an interior door and access to your house. That interior door probably isn't as strong as an exterior door. And once a burglar's in your garage, the neighbors can't see him.

Obscuring your house

Tall hedges and fences hide windows and doors, giving thieves cover to work, says Walter T. Shaw, former burglar and co-author of "A License to Steal."

Leaving valuables in sight

"When we targeted a house, we would approach the door and look in—the quality of furniture, whatever there was—to give us an idea of how these people spend their money," says Portenier. "So with mirror-tinted windows, it eliminates that."

Advertising a vacation

People often don't do anything to make the house look occupied, says Maj. Kurt Philipps of the Memphis police department. Lt. John Dzwlewicz of the New York City police department suggests this trick: Put some inexpensive kids' toys on the lawn. On Facebook, share news of your trip only after you return.

Being carefree with keys

Leaving keys under the doormat or elsewhere outside the home is a risk that 12 percent of people in our survey say they often take. Another 7 percent say they do it occasionally. And 66 percent say they have given a key to someone other than a resident of their home.

And avoid hiding your car keys inside or outside the car. That just makes it easier for thieves to engage in a spur-of-the-moment theft, authorities say. Many of today's cars make it difficult to lock your keys inside. If you're concerned about that anyway, keep a spare in your wallet or purse. Eleven percent of people in our survey said they at least occasionally leave car keys in the ignition when parked. And 52 percent of people from nonmetro areas in our survey said they at least occasionally leave their car unlocked outside.

Tossing prescription bottles

Prescription labels on pill bottles can contain important information such as phone numbers, doctors, and prescription numbers. Remove the labels and shred them. Also be careful with medical records. And also treat your benefit claims forms, insurance reimbursements, and even medical tests as confidential information and destroy them before discarding.

Thinking a gun is your best defense

Gun ownership is a controversial topic, but research has shown that homeowners with guns increase the risks in their home. Homeowners might make the mistake of not getting proper training and not securing their firearms. Thirty-two percent reported having a gun as a security measure. And 73 percent of gun owners thought it was very good or excellent for protection.