More than 2.5 million homes are burglarized each year, or about one every 13 seconds,
according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The estimated loss to homeowners:
more than $3 billion, but there's no way to measure the cost of lost peace of
mind. And, says the FBI, more burglaries occur in August, perhaps due to long
What can you do to keep from becoming a victim?
Most local police departments can send an officer or civilian volunteer
to your home to give tips on burglary prevention. And many insurance companies
have security checklists free for the asking.
The first defense is the most obvious: check that all your doors and
windows are locked. FBI statistics show that in one-fourth of the cases the
burglar slips in through an open door or window.
Burglar alarms are the most effective deterrent. Nine out of 10 convicted
burglars said they avoided homes with alarms.
Security systems are virtually worthless, however, in an otherwise unsecured
Common sense strategies
According to the National Crime Prevention Institute in Louisville, it
takes a burglar an average of one minute to break into a house and less than
10 minutes to grab valuables and make a getaway. But suburban police officers
often average 15 minutes to respond to an alarm; city response time may be much
Jeff Fryrear, director of the National Crime Prevention Institute, who
provides crime and loss-prevention training to police and other groups says,
"The very best thing you can do to prevent your home from being burglarized
is to work with your neighbors and be a good neighbor. Get them to watch out
for you, then reciprocate and watch out for them."
When going on vacation, Fryrear says to "make sure someone continues
doing the basic activities you would do if you were home. Like mowing the grass,
picking up the newspaper, moving the car, taking out the garbage, and even creating
different light patterns inside your house-as long as it is consistent with
your normal lifestyle."
Evaluating security systems
More than $15 billion was spent on alarms last year, with the number
of single-family homes with security systems rising from 14 percent in 1990
to nearly 30 percent by the end of the decade.
However, before you pay big bucks to install a home security system,
ask those monitoring the system these questions:
What's your average response time? The less time between an emergency
call and police arrival, the better.
Do you have backup for power outages? You may need security most after
a natural disaster or a blackout.
Can I call your central monitoring station and speak with an operator?
Doing so will give you an idea of whom you'll deal with in emergencies.
What is your ratio of accounts to operators? The company should have
no fewer than one operator for every 2,000 monitored accounts.
Are you rated by Underwriters Laboratory? This agency evaluates monitoring
The final touches
Security measures that can be nearly as effective as alarms include barking
dogs, window bars, and security lights-especially those with motion sensors.
Be sure to install them high enough off the ground so the bulbs can't
be unscrewed by a burglar. (The FBI says that 35 percent of residential burglaries
occur at night.)
Windows can be made less accessible by moving common items that can
be used to climb in-such as ladders and trash cans.
Keep your curtains closed or at least store valuables out of sight.
Thieves like to "window shop."
Do you have an extra key hidden above your doorframe or under a flower
pot or doormat? Remove it now; burglars know where to look.
Etch your Social Security number or other identifying mark on your belongings.
While only 13 percent of reported burglaries are resolved, at least you'll have
a chance to get back your goods if found.
And last but most important, if you walk in on a burglary, get out.
About one-third of burglars caught in the act will assault their discoverers,