Plan your home security now with these tips, to make sure the holiday season stays festive.
School’s finished for the year, many businesses are closed and most South Africans are in the holiday mood this month. But there is one group of people still hard at work - the criminals, for whom the summer is generally a most lucrative period.
In fact, most suburban areas experience a sharp increase in home burglaries at this time of year, because criminals know that many people buy new electronic goods and other easily-disposed-of luxuries now – and because they are quick to spot any sign that homeowners are out or away on holiday.
“And there are few things calculated to ruin a family holiday more thoroughly than returning to find your home has been broken into, burgled and perhaps even vandalised while you were away,” says Shaun Rademeyer, CEO of BetterLife Home Loans, SA’s biggest mortgage originator.
“So, before you take off for that well-earned break, or just go out to visit family or friends for the day, you should not only check that you have adequate insurance to cover such events but also take some preventative measures to secure your safety, home and belongings.”
The following are the most important steps recommended by security experts to improve your chances of enjoying a crime-free holiday season:
Install a dual-link alarm system supported by a reputable security company. This will offer you and your family year-round protection and you will probably also pay a lower household insurance premium if you have one. You should also tell your security company if you are going away and arrange for more frequent patrols or visits during your absence.
Use “smart” technology that makes it possible to check on your home via CCTV cameras linked to your smartphone, to turn music and lights on and off remotely and even to open and close blinds so that your home looks occupied. Alternatively, plug some tables lamps and perhaps a radio or TV, into programmable time-switches.
Band together. Tell at least one of your neighbours you are going away and ask them to immediately report the presence of any strangers on your unoccupied property, or the activation of your alarm, to your security company and the police. And be prepared to offer similar help when it's their turn to go away – it’s even better to keep criminals out of your neighbourhood than out of your house.
Check your locks. Good quality doorlocks are still the first line of defence, and they are usually quick and easy to install. Don’t forget to also fit locks to the top and bottom of all sliding patio doors to prevent them being lifted out of their tracks, even if you have security gates that go across them.
Keep your keys safe. Only you or your family members or a trusted friend that you have known for a long time should ever have access to your house keys or remotes. If you even suspect that someone has managed to get their hands on them (taken them from your car or bag, for example) change the locks and remote codes immediately.
Secure your garage. Garage doors are prime targets for intruders, and you should not rely solely on the lock fitted to the door. Sink a strong hasp and staple into the concrete floor and if the garage leads into the house, fit a strong security gate to the inner door. You should also double secure outside laundries, storage rooms and sheds in this way.
Get light on the scene. Replace globes in outside lights with photosensitive CFLs that will turn on automatically at dusk. Consider fitting some additional motion-sensitive exterior lights that will not only detect any night-time intruders but are also linked to your alarm system and security company.
Stop criminals from “window-shopping”. Unplug all your electronic devices, sound systems and TVs and lock them all up out of sight while you’re away. This will also prevent lightning damage.
Don’t leave a gap. Trailers, caravans, boats and ATVs that are stored in the same place for most of the time and then disappear for two or three weeks are a dead giveaway to burglars. Rearrange them regularly during the year and if possible get a friend or neighbour to park a spare vehicle at your house while you’re away.
Keep things tidy. Stop any home deliveries at least a week before you go on holiday, and ask a friend or neighbour to clear your mailbox regularly while you’re away. Mow your lawn and clean your pool before you go, and if you’re planning a long trip, arrange to have someone maintain the garden. Knee-high grass and dead flowers are a sure signal to burglars that there’s nobody home.
Don’t advertise your absence by recording phone messages saying you are out or away, or by openly posting travel and holiday pictures and updates on social media. You never know which “friend” of a friend might take this as an invitation to drop around and help themselves to your belongings.
Meanwhile some additional advice for those staying home for the holidays is to:
Remember to be vigilant about keeping your gates and doors locked – even if you’re just out by the pool, sitting watching TV, taking a shower or quickly popping out to the local shop.
Remember that intruders often work in pairs or groups. Don’t be duped into talking to a stranger at your front entrance while others enter the back of your property.
Remember not to leave your lawnmower, hose, ladder or tools lying around when you’ve been gardening or doing some home maintenance, even if you’ve just stopped for lunch or stepped inside for a cooldrink.