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Alan Heavens, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Published June 25 2012

With burglaries on the rise, homeowners take precautions

Burglaries across the United States increased 0.3 percent from 2010 to 2011, the FBI said in a preliminary report earlier this month.

No matter which way the statistics trend for this year, it’s still better to be safe than sorry when it comes to keeping your home secure, especially if you’re planning a week or two away for vacation.

The obvious way to deter break-ins, of course, is to invest in a home-security system. That often, but not always, involves installation and monthly monitoring costs. Consumer Reports magazine says homeowners should expect to pay $1 to $2 per square foot for a complete system, and about $25 per month for monitoring.

If you buy a system, Homesecurity.org says, costs start at $400 to $500 for a 1,200-square-foot home. If you lease a system, start-up expenses range from zero to $99, plus the costs of a monitoring package.

State Farm insurance describes monitored systems as those in which a private company keeps watch 24 hours a day, every day, alerting police if something goes wrong and you cannot be contacted.

Monitoring subscriptions can run month to month or up to 36 months, Homesecurity.org says, and it recommends that you obtain multiple quotes “to ensure you are getting the best value.” The website offers tips for assessing the type of system that’s best for your house, as well as for comparing prices of alarm companies.

If you sign a contract, make sure you know the financial costs of early cancellation if you are not happy. Many security companies place limits on their liability if a break-in occurs, even through their negligence.

There are less-expensive ways to deter burglars, too, such as do-it-yourself alarm systems that aren’t monitored, but instead have on-site sirens and flashing lights that alert your neighbors to a break-in. The neighbors then contact police if you aren’t home.

There’s no guarantee that any precaution will keep burglars out of your house, but the more you do make it look as if the house is occupied, the less likely it is to be targeted. Among the experts’ suggestions:

• Lock doors and windows. Dead bolts are preferable – push-button locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. And special locks are available to better safeguard against entry through sliding-glass doors, which can be vulnerable. Most windows can be “pinned” for security by drilling a hole on a slight downward slant through the inside window frame and halfway into the outside frame, then placing a nail in the hole to secure the window.

• Install motion-sensitive lights in your backyard, and trim trees and shrubs so they can’t be used as hiding places. Connect some interior lamps to automatic timers that turn them on in the evening and off during the day.

• Keep garage doors closed and locked, including doors leading into the house. Lock garage windows, as well.

• Arrange with the U.S. Postal Service to hold your mail. You can do this by asking your letter carrier for a card to fill out or by going online. If you have a newspaper delivered, either interrupt the service for the duration of your vacation or have a neighbor take it in for you.

• Arrange for your lawn to be mowed if you are going away for more than a week or so.

• Do not leave keys under doormats or flower pots, or in mailboxes or other “secret” hiding places. Burglars know where to look.

Other precautions are less house-centered, but still important, such as keeping a detailed inventory of your valuable possessions: a description of the items, date of purchase, original value and serial numbers. Keep a copy in a safe place away from home.

– this is a good idea in case of fire or other disasters, as well.

And consider making a photographic or video record of valuable objects, heirlooms, and antiques. Your insurance company can provide assistance in compiling the inventory and keeping it up to date.

Finally, avoid doing dumb things that might make even a secure property vulnerable.

Prime example: Posting photos of your trip to the Grand Canyon on Facebook while you’re there, even if only a limited number of “friends” can access your page. That’s really asking for trouble. Wait till you get home. The Grand Canyon isn’t going anywhere.