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You never know who might be watching: how to protect your home when you are away

Don't make it this easy for the bad guys to figure out when you aren't going to be home.
Don't make it this easy for the bad guys to figure out when you aren't going to be home., a blog that calls attention to the risks of publicizing your absences from home via social media like Twitter ( and location-aware services such as Foursquare (, made a big splash in the last week. Founded by a three-person team of developers in the Netherlands, the site was prominently featured in mainstream U.S. media including numerous print and online publications, and by popular radio program "The Osgood Files" with commentator Charles Osgood.

Although the creators of the web site are leveraging Web 2.0 media in an innovative way, the problem they are spotlighting is likely as old as the first door locks, which date back 4,000 years. Securing the contents of a home against theft, particularly while the abode is unoccupied, was a concern in ancient Egypt, just as it is now.

Even if you aren't actively tweeting about your tropical vacation or letting all your friends (and strangers) know that you are sitting at your favorite coffee shop, there are many other ways you might tip off a potential burglar who is looking for an unoccupied home to raid. Here are 8 great ways you can keep the bad guys guessing and make it seem like you are safely at home, even when you are sitting on the beach.

1. Indoor lights on timers

Operate a few strategically located interior lights with programmable timers. Even while you are home, timed lights can help you establish a daily routine and provide added convenience, safety, and security - instead of entering a darkened home when you return from work in the evening. Using timers year-round can establish a visual pattern that does not vary, regardless of whether your home is occupied or not, preventing an outside observer from easily determining if it's a safe bet to break in. Televisions and/or radios can also be operated on timers and help reinforce the illusion that you at home.

2. Outdoor motion-activated lighting

If you leave home for several days, continually burning outside lamps are a tip-off that no one is home. And leaving the exterior of your house dark can also invite unwanted attention. Instead, motion-activated lighting is an effective crime deterrent and saves energy. A dusk-to-dawn photocell or timer can also be used to operate external lighting.

3. Stop mail and newspaper delivery

A pileup of newspapers or a stuffed mailbox is a sure sign that no one is home. If you are away for more than 3 days, either stop deliveries or arrange for a reliable and trusted neighbor or friend to make regular collections until you return. Ask them to also check your doors for hanging notices or other advertising materials.

4. Post "no solicitors" signs

No one except people whom you have invited have any need to visit your home. Post a prominent sign letting others know they are not welcome. Residential burglars have been known to masquerade as utility workers or door-to-door solicitors, allowing them to survey houses in a neighborhood without raising suspicions.

5. Window coverings

Even when you are home, use light filtering shades or drapes in addition to heavier light-blocking window treatments. No one should ever be able to clearly see into your home, at any time of day, particularly the side(s) of your home facing the street. While you are gone on vacation or during the day, the light filtering window coverings will permit light to escape from your home, making it appear occupied.

6. Telephone usage

Never leave a greeting on your voicemail or answering machine that suggests you are not home. A very brief message that simply states you are unavailable is best. Turn down or turn off the ringers on your phones so they cannot be heard from outside your home. Using a voicemail service or an answering machine that allows remote message retrieval is a good idea, so you can check periodically for important or suspicious messages.

7. Confidentiality

The military calls it OPSEC (Operational Security). Your vacation or other plans which take you away from home should only be shared on a need-to-know basis with those you trust. Yes, your trip next week to Cozumel is exciting, but the barista and the four other people standing in line as you chatter away with your friend don't need to know about your plans.

8. Call in the professionals

Posting an armed guard at your door probably isn't in the budget. But a professionally installed and monitored security system is the next best thing, and can be surprisingly affordable. A security system can provide protection against intrusion and fire that never takes a break or calls in sick. But an alarm system is only as good as the company that stands behind it, so be sure to choose a reliable provider with a great reputation for quality and service.

About the author: George A. White is a state-licensed security professional. His passion for home safety and security has lead him to pursue training in locksmithing; safe and vault installation and service; and alarm system installation and programming, including National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) certification. For more information or to receive a free home security assessment, please contact George at


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