Most of us consider our loved one’s home to be secure. We’ve set up timers to control the lights and made sure they lock their doors. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Justice, an American household falls prey to burglary every 15 seconds. Often it only takes around 10 minutes for a burglar to empty a home of cherished valuables, and the elderly are the second most likely group to be targeted.
As caregivers, we take every measure possible to keep our loved ones safe, but we cannot be there 24/7/365. Caregivers with loved ones who still live independently in their own homes face even greater challenges when it comes to ensuring their security (especially if they are providing care from a distance). While it may seem like burglars only strike when a home is unoccupied, nearly 30 percent of residential burglaries occur while a household member is present. Even if your loved one does not leave their home very frequently, they can still be victimized.
Make a point of regularly inspecting your loved one’s home for potential weaknesses that burglars can take advantage of. Use the following proven measures to increase their home security and reduce the risk of a break-in.
- Check the Exterior
Items stored outside the home could potentially help a burglar break in. Think about the giant ladder that is propped against the back fence or the house key that is hidden in the planter by the front door. Consider the stack of bricks surrounding the front flower bed and the shovel you leave leaning against the side of the house. All of these items can help a robber gain access to a home. Instead, make sure ladders, tools and gardening or building materials are stored in the garage or shed, and never hide keys outside the home. Some landscaping may be in order as well. Dense vegetation or shrubs—especially between houses, beside entrances and surrounding windows—can provide excellent cover for robbers.
- Fortify Points of Entry
Be sure to inspect all windows and doors for absent, weak or faulty locking mechanisms. Consumer Reports suggests checking all windows to be sure they lock properly and securing window air conditioning units with a metal bracket, sliding window locks or steel corner braces to prevent them from being pushed into or pulled out of the home.
Also, never underestimate the importance of a solid door and lock. Consumer Reports recommends securing entry doors (including the door from the garage to the interior of the home) with locks that have 1-inch dead bolts and reinforced-metal boxes and strike plates. Use 3-inch mounting screws to install these locks and provide added reinforcement to the door jam. Consider installing “Charlie bars” on sliding glass doors, which typically have weak or defective locks and latches.
Even more importantly, make sure your loved one is actually using these features! They may be accustomed to leaving a back door unlocked or a window open, for example. This is a popular habit that crooks take advantage of. According to a U.S. Department of Justice Special Report, open and unlocked doors and windows are the most common method of entry for robbers. Stress how important it is for them to remember to use locks any time they are out, even if only for a moment, and overnight as well.
- Check the Lighting
A well-lit property provides safety for those coming and going and can also deter criminals from targeting a home. Front porch lights should be strong enough to illuminate the entrance and front yard. You should also note the dark areas between homes. The sides of homes can be an ideal place for burglars to hide, so angling an exterior light to illuminate these areas can compel them to go someplace else. Adding motion sensors to exterior lights can be helpful, too, since they do not require any fiddling with to turn on and off.
- Consider What Gets Thrown Out
Many burglars track a homeowner’s behavior by what goes out in the trash. They can also collect important personal information from residential garbage that can aid in stealing identities. Big-ticket items often come in large boxes that boldly advertise a new TV, laptop, video game system or stereo. When a loved one has introduced a new item to the home (especially over the holidays), be sure to break down the packaging so people can’t see it from the street. The volume of trash and the location of a resident's trashcans can show a burglar whether or not someone is home, too. If it is difficult for your loved one to move the trash cans, arrange to have a neighbor or a home care aide move them to and from the street.
- Test It Out
You might not recognize the vulnerable spots in your loved one’s home, but somebody else may spot them easily. Many local police departments offer free home security evaluations. If your loved one’s department does not, ask a family member or trusted friend to walk around the property to help you conduct an inspection. Be sure to actually test the windows and sliding glass doors rather than just visually examine them.
Another helpful exercise is to have them scout out the interior of the home as well. This can help you identify how easy it is to access valuables or personal information throughout the home. As a result, you may recommend that your loved one purchase a small safe to hide AND bolt down. Or, you both may discover a safer way to store other expensive items that cannot be conveniently locked up. If a loved one owns jewelry or heirlooms that they do not wear or use frequently, offer to help relocate these items to a safe deposit box. Storing charging cords separate from electronic devices also discourages a thief from stealing them since devices are more difficult to hawk when they lack the accompanying cords. Try to think like a crook when conducting these inspections and get creative with solutions.
- Meet the Neighbors
Recently, a batch of career burglars admitted that the best deterrent to burglarizing a home wasn’t a security system (they could disappear by the time the alarm was reported or processed) or a guard dog (a big wad of peanut butter often kept the animal busy). Instead, a curious neighbor was the biggest obstacle. Much like an assertive receptionist who asks questions and monitors the arrival of new guests, an alert neighbor can stave off burglars just by being aware of what is going on next door. Residential areas where the neighbors know each other, their cars, work schedules, and vacation plans make sneaking into a home unnoticed extremely difficult.
- Be Wary of Suspicious Behavior
Seniors are commonly thought of as generous and trusting individuals, and criminals tend to prey on this. Make sure your loved one knows when to be on their guard and how to report unusual behavior. Criminals are especially clever when it comes to investigating and hitting targets without drawing attention to themselves. A stranger may pose as an employee from a utility company, a landscaper or a door-to-door salesperson—anything to scope out a property and the people (and things) that reside there. Urge your loved one to ask for credentials if they ever feel uncomfortable and help them to find trustworthy home maintenance and other service providers that conduct background checks on their employees.
By checking the exterior of your loved one’s home, controlling trash, welcoming a different perspective on security, and recruiting the neighborhood to help keep watch, you and your loved one can benefit from added peace of mind. If you are still concerned for their overall safety, consider installing an alarm system in their home or purchasing an emergency alert device, which can be life-saving in the event of medical emergencies, fires, intrusions and accidents. Use all of these tips together to ensure your loved one and their belongings stay safe.