11 Common Home Security Mistakes That Put You at Risk

Updated: Feb. 14, 2024

No matter where you live, you must address home security sooner or later. Will you do so before or after a criminal forces the issue?

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hang privacy fence gate
Family Handyman

Too Much Privacy?

Does your home security benefit from a privacy fence? gates and fences? They can actually provide hiding spots and cover for burglars. Too much privacy can allow an intruder to enter your home unseen.

Every home and property has a unique layout. But if possible, plan your privacy fencing before installing security systems so that someone can see at least the main entryway from the street. Doors remain the most common entry point for criminals, and a highly visible door makes their job more difficult. A reinforced door is a great home security tip, and replacing an exterior door is a very rewarding DIY project that can also add to your home’s curb appeal value.

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Collin Quinn Lomax/Shutterstock

Hiding Keys Outside

Many people hide a spare house key outside, somewhere in the yard. That’s great if someone is taking care of your home or if you accidentally lock yourself out. Unfortunately, most homeowners “hide” their key in obvious spots where a burglar will look immediately. Don’t just put that key under the welcome mat!

The further from the house a key is hidden, the better. A disguised item, such as a fake rock, is only useful if hidden among similar items, like actual rocks. Don’t make it easy for a criminal!

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Sarah Camille/Shutterstock

Bushes That Obscure Your Home

Much like a fence, your choices in landscaping can make your home more or less friendly to those with ill intentions. Bushes and trees up against the side of the home provide cover in the same way that a privacy fence might. Correct this mistake by maintaining low height or thin-growing shrubs next to the home, and keep the taller, denser plants more distant.

You don’t have to give up all your plants, just give a little more thought to where they’re placed. Taller or more dense shrubs and bushes are fine against solid walls as long as windows and doors aren’t obscured.

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Light on motion sensors surprise burglars

Installing Outdoor Static Lights

Many homeowners first respond to home security needs by installing outdoor lighting. They turn on the security lights at the end of the day, or maybe install a timer or light sensor so that the lights come on automatically at night. While those fixtures do light up your yard, they also creates dense pockets of shadows that make great hiding spots.

You can find a much better solution in motion sensors. You still have the illumination, but they may surprise someone prowling around the home, and surprises scare most intruders away. Plus, the sudden change can attract attention. Motion sensors save energy, leading to lower electric bills and longer-lasting light bulbs.

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Valuables in plain sight motivate thieves.

Visible Valuables

Besides measures outside your home, give some thought to what can be seen inside your home, as well. Many homeowners forget that windows create a two-way portal: Just as you can see out of them, a potential intruder can see in.

If you have especially valuable items, consider whether they can be seen from a ground-floor window, such as first-floor bedrooms where jewelry or other valuable items may reside on dressers. Some large items like televisions present difficult home-security positioning issues. In that case, pull the shades or shut the blinds each evening. Similarly, give a little thought to putting away valuables by either tucking them out of sight or in a dedicated secret hideaway.

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Packaging from expensive items tips off thieves.

Packaging Left by the Curb

Many neighborhoods employ curbside trash and recycling collection. Don’t just leave packaging from an expensive item such as a television or laptop by the curb. That broadcasts the presence of an expensive new item in the home.

Use a utility knife to cut the packaging into smaller pieces and stack them in a way that doesn’t display what they once held.

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Screen home security controls fron view from windows.
ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Alarm System Line of Sight

Alarm systems are wonderful tools, but sometimes the installation crews don’t guide customers enough during installation. Too often, crews install the control pad where it can be seen from a first floor window. That allows potential thieves to peer in and see whether the system is activated. That alarm company yard sign won’t mean much if they know the system is off — particularly at night when the green or red status light shines like a beacon in a darkened home.

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Careless social media posts can defeat your home security measures.
Vasin Lee/Shutterstock

Social Media Travel Posts

Social media is a fantastic tool, great for staying in touch with friends and sharing travel experiences and photos … after your trip is over.

Remember that social media channels are built as public platforms, like talking to a crowd with a megaphone. Don’t share travel plans unless you’re comfortable with the entire social media community knowing. Because social media accounts default to a public setting, criminals easily search for keywords like trip, travel, vacation and out-of-town to identify homes with their occupants away.

To avoid tipping-off burglars, wait until after you come home to share information about your trip! If you do need to let people know about your trip, ensure to mark the posts as “private” on that social media platform. By limiting its audience and searchability, you can make sharing your schedule much more secure.

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An overflowing mailbox reads like an invitation to burglarize.

Mail Pileups

Few things advertise an absent homeowner like piled-up mail and newspapers. Criminals don’t even need to slow down their vehicle to spot an overflowing mailbox or newspapers scattered on a porch.

To avoid this, contact your local post office and/or newspaper to suspend service while away. Because these services sometimes miss a day or take a little bit of time to cease delivery, it’s also a good idea to ask a friend or neighbor to swing by and collect any mail or newspapers that accumulate.

A little activity around the front of the home also helps to make it look occupied. It’s also a good idea to protect your mail with a security mailbox.

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Don't supply robbers with extra help, like a ladder.

Ladder Access

You may have noticed most of these tips have addressed first-floor issues — burglars looking to remain out-of-sight and move quickly won’t often bring a ladder with them on a break-in. However, some homeowners make it easy on the bad guys by providing simple access to their second floor.

Don’t leave ladders lying around the yard (or hanging on the back of the garage) where prowlers can access them. Most burglars act on opportunity, and won’t consider a second-floor entry unless you make it easy for them by leaving a ladder on hand. Instead, store your ladder safely away.

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Thieves pay attention to when you work, too!

Don’t Sleep on Daytime Risk

Most people associate break-ins with the nighttime. While burglars do appreciate the cover of darkness, what they really appreciate is an empty house. At night, people usually hang around home. Instead, burglars find homes more inviting with everyone at school and work!

Since most break-ins occur during the day, take the appropriate measures. Turn on your alarm system when you’re gone, keep an eye out for suspicious activity and make sure you close and lock all doors and windows. This applies when you go to work, school or just out to run errands. Use factory-installed window and door locks, or use one of these simple DIY window locks to keep your home safe.