The last thing you’d want when you return from holidays is to find that your home has been broken into. Intruders’ tactics are getting smarter than ever, according to the three security experts we spoke to. But here’s how you can stop unwelcome visitors in their tracks and keep your home secure while you’re sunning yourself on a beach in a faraway destination.
1. Assess your home’s security
“Undertake a security audit of your home before you go on holiday, giving yourself plenty of time to fix any security gaps, such as a broken gate,” says Darryn Bull,residential and small business manager at ADT Security Australia.
“There are many telltale signs that a burglar may look for in an unoccupied home, including piles of mail, the absence of cars in a driveway or bins left out on the street,” he says. “Burglars may also check whether you have a home-security system or video camera. If you do, they are more likely to move on to another property.”
“Look at both the inside and outside of your property from the perspective of a burglar,” says Jeremy Stewart, vice president of global marketing at Swann security firm. “This will help you identify any entry points or weak spots.”
2. Check window and door locks
“Broken window and door locks provide easy access for intruders and can cause problems with your insurer if your home gets broken into,” says David Anderson, a franchisee at Lock & Roll.
“Spending a few minutes checking the condition of your locks before you go on holiday can prevent thousands of dollars of loss. Don’t just assume they work – lock them and then try to open them again.
“If you live in a coastal area, be aware that salt corrosion can make locks freeze up, and they may require cleaning and maintenance to work again. If you need to call in a professional to do this, allow plenty of time as they get busy over the holiday season,” says Anderson.
Tip: “It’s important that your locks are keyed,” he says. “While a burglar might break the glass on your doors or windows, it will be harder for them to get in through broken glass if the door or window is still locked. Hide the keys away or take them with you on holiday.”
3. Tidy the garden
“Burglars may see an unkempt garden as a sign that nobody is home, so it’s important to take the time to mow the lawn and trim your hedges before you go away,” says Stewart. “If you’ll be away for a while, arrange for a gardener to come in and do some garden maintenance during your absence.”
4. Hand over a spare key
“Many homeowners keep a spare key hiding in a pot plant near the front door or under the doormat, but it’s the oldest trick in the book and these are likely to be the first places a burglar will look,” says Stewart. “It’s far safer to hand over your spare key to a trusted neighbour in case of emergencies.”
5. Conceal valuables
“Burglars like to be in and out of a home as fast as possible, so don’t make it easy for them to grab your most precious possessions by leaving them in view,” says Bull. “Hide valuables such as watches and jewellery in secure, hard-to-find places, and etch electronics with an identifiable code.”
6. Stay off social media
“Social media has become another access point for burglars to see if people are away,” says Stewart. “Innocent actions such as posting photos of your holiday, check-ins or status updates can easily be exploited.
“Avoid these risks by auditing your social-media following and removing people you don’t know in real life,” he says. “You can also safeguard against burglaries by reviewing your social-media privacy settings and carefully considering what you post online and disclosing your whereabouts.”
“Don’t reveal holiday plans when communicating with friends on social media platforms and ensure your children don’t inadvertently do the same,” adds Bull.
7. Get your post collected
“Nothing says ‘nobody’s home’ like an overflowing mailbox,” says Stewart. “Before you go away, ask a trusted neighbour to collect your mail and any parcels and newspapers.”
It’s also a good idea to ask them to bring in your rubbish bins, says Bull.
8. Secure the garage
“Checking your doors and windows isn’t enough – you’ll want to secure the garage too,” says Anderson. “Intruders can get into an unsecured garage and access tools and ladders to break into your house.”
A driveway that’s empty for days on end is another telltale sign that the house is empty, says Bull. “Ask a family member or trusted neighbour to park their car out the front of your house. Try to give them as much notice as possible, particularly over the busy Christmas break, and offer to return the favour,” he says.
9. Get a security system…
Installing cameras outside your home can be a great deterrent to burglars and will also allow you to keep an eye on your home while you’re away, says Bull. “Live-streaming cameras can be linked to an interactive security system and give you a live feed of your home at any time,” he says.
“Home-security technology is now smarter than ever. You can now operate many systems remotely from a smart phone or tablet, and arm or disarm your security from anyway in the world,” says Bull. “They can also send an alert to your phone if the alarm is triggered and give you a live view through the cameras set up in your home, or turn on lamps or appliances remotely to give the appearance that somebody is in residence.”
10. …And maintain systems regularly
“If you have a monitored security system, check the sensors are clean and free of cobwebs,” says Bull. “Also spray the sensors lightly with insect repellant to help deter spiders and insects from triggering a false alarm while you’re away and causing you unnecessary worry.
“And don’t forget to update your nominated ‘emergency contact’ with your security provider before you go away,” he says.
11. Install security signs and stickers
“Simple things such as putting security signs and stickers on your windows can act as visual deterrents to thieves,” says Stewart.
“And while this might seem like a no-brainer, double-check that all your doors and windows are securely locked before leaving the house to go on holiday,” he says.
“If you live in a unit or townhouse, be sure to lock up balcony doors too in order to prevent intruders from accessing your home via a neighbour’s balcony,” says Anderson.