More than 1.5 million residential burglaries occur every year in the United States, according to the FBI. Thieves target electronics, jewelry and other valuables, resulting in an average dollar loss of $2,079.
It's not just about the money for many families, however. Thieves often take sentimental items and other things that can't be replaced. And with identity theft now the fastest growing crime in the United States, burglars are now after your personal information and financial records as well.
There are measures you can take to protect your home and family, many of which are easy and free. Secure your home with these 10 tips:
1. Get a home security system.
It should come as no surprise that the number one tool for crime prevention in your home is a home security system. When confronted with a functioning alarm system, burglars commit crimes elsewhere. If you're serious about protecting your home and family, purchasing a home security system should be your first move. It doesn't have to cost a fortune either; some companies will give you the home security system for free, you just have to pay for the monthly monitoring.
2. Secure your windows.
Broken or cracked windows are an open invitation to thieves. If you have any in your home, replace or repair them as soon as possible. Even broken windows on a second or third level put you at risk, as thieves can and will find a way up there. It's also smart to keep obvious valuables away from windows, so as to not tempt thieves on the prowl.
3. Shed some light on the situation.
Keeping your outside entryways lit provides you with security when you return home late at night and also has a big effect on home security. All exterior lighting is not created equal, however. Motion-sensing lights can be triggered by even the slightest motion, like an animal or tree branch. Opt for heat-sensing lights instead, which only turn on when they detect human body temperature. Also, low wattage lights tend to be better than the high wattage ones, as they don't cast as many dark shadows where thieves can hide.
4. Maintain your yard.
Overgrown trees and shrubs are handy hiding places for thieves and branches can be used to climb into windows, so make sure you keep up your yard and trim trees back from the house. You can use landscaping to your advantage as well, like planting thorny bushes around first-story windows to deter thieves. Make sure to also keep gates, garages and storage sheds locked up, as easily-accessible ladders and tools can make it easier for a thief to break in.
5. Protect your valuables.
A professional thief knows all the obvious hiding places - a freezer, under the mattress or in a cookie jar. Avoid hiding your valuables in these places. If you purchase a new TV or another type of valuable, don't leave empty boxes at the curb for trash pickup, as they're an obvious sign to thieves of what's inside your home.
6. Protect your identity.
Thieves these days are after more than just your jewelry and valuables. Personal information and financial records that make it easy for a thief to steal your identity are also a target. Protect this valuable information by securing it in a lock box or safe, and use a shredder to limit the amount of personal information available to thieves. You can also lower your risk of having your identity stolen with identity theft protection services.
7. Make your home look "lived in."
Burglars typically steer clear of homes that are occupied. That's why it's important to set lights on timers and leave a radio or TV on when you leave the house. Make sure your timers have a random option that will turn lights on at different times on different days, making it harder for a burglar to detect an obvious pattern.
8. Improve your neighborhood.
A good relationship with your neighbors is a strong asset when it comes to home security. You can't always be home, so it can be a great comfort to know that others are looking out for you. In addition to forming relationships with your neighbors, you may want to help form a neighborhood watch program to ensure your block doesn't become a safe haven for thieves.
9. Keep a detailed inventory of the valuables in your home.
In case your home is burglarized, having a detailed list of the valuable items in your home will help the police and insurance company more quickly replace and recover your stolen property. If creating a list seems daunting, pick up your camera and take pictures of your valuables. Make sure you store copies of your photos on a DVD or hard drive, and keep these storage devices in a safe place.
10. Pretend to be a burglar.
Lastly, put yourself in the thief's shoes. Walk around your property with a close friend or neighbor and ask yourself, "If I was a burglar, how would I break in?" And don't do it alone - a friend or neighbor may spot things you overlook.
While you can't secure your home 100 percent, there are things you can do to significantly limit your risk. Burglars aren't looking for a challenge! They're interested in a scenario that makes it easy for them to get in and out with valuables and cash. If you make it difficult for someone to break into your home, your house is not likely going to be a thief's first pick.
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