Imagine returning from a long weekend away to find your home has been burglarized.

That’s what Rick Vernon and several other families in his neighborhood experienced recently when thieves targeted their quiet suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Vernon (not his real name) and his wife knew something was amiss as soon as they stepped inside.

Vernon’s first inclination was to see what was missing, so he and he wife searched the house. But when they called police afterward, they learned they’d made a big mistake. Roaming through a burgled house is unsafe and unwise. Thieves may still be lurking, and crucial evidence may be destroyed.

According to the FBI’s latest crime statistics, more than eight million property crimes were reported by local law enforcement in 2014. Financial losses suffered by victims are roughly more than $14 billion.

Financial loss isn’t the only difficulty. It took at least two full days of research and talking to the right people to finish the insurance report, said Vernon. He still needs to get new passports for his family of four. But that’s just “stuff.” Vernon said the incident was disturbing and that he and his wife “definitely feel violated.”

LifeZette talked to two police officers, one retired, one up-and-coming. With 40 years of experience between them, they shared ways to protect your home and what to do if a break-in does occur.

Trust No One
Be aware of those who come into your home. If you don’t know them, you have no idea of their intentions. Think of the cleaning people, the plumber, the party guest brought by a coworker, your teenager’s friend. People who break into homes tend to know what’s in there and what they want to steal. One police officer stresses watching teens: They may be the biggest threats to your property. "You often don’t know much about them, you don’t know what they’re capable of, and you don’t know what they may be after," he said.

Keep Your Guard Up
Whenever you let someone into your home to do work, be on guard. Do not walk in front of them; instead, walk behind them and direct them where they need to go. That puts them at a slight disadvantage; if they plan to attack you, they won’t be able to get you from behind where you are more vulnerable.

Make These Smart Moves

  • Invest in proper lighting, motion sensors for outside, timers for inside. Keep entryways well lit.
  • Keep your slider door secure. Lock it but also use a cross-bar or the equivalent in the track. These doors are easy to get into; this method was used by the thieves who broke into Vernon’s house.
  • Secure important documents in a waterproof, fireproof strong box and hide it in a secure place. Consider leaving a decoy box under the bed or in a closet. If you can afford to, rent a safety deposit box at a bank.
  • Deadbolt all doors with a quality lock that goes deep into the door. Builders typically don’t invest in good locks. Upgrade. A good lock can slow down or stop a criminal from breaking into your home.
  • Always keep your car locked.
  • Keep your garage door closed.
  • Secure all prescription drugs.
  • Present an "at home appearance" to your residence at all times. Keep your grass cut. Keep your driveway is shoveled. Hold your newspaper delivery when away.
  • Invest in an alarm system if possible and stay with certified, major market companies. If that cost is prohibitive, consider just displaying a sign.
  • Dogs are a meaningful deterrent. But only get a dog if you have the want and means to care for it.
  • Join and participate in police-sponsored neighborhood watch programs.

Avoid These Dumb Moves

  • Don't get complacent. Thieves often target more affluent neighborhoods where people think they’re safe. Police told Vernon several burglaries occurred in his neighborhood the same night as his. Vernon admitted he never thought he'd be targeted, so he was lax about securing his property and valuables.
  • Don't let your mail pile up. Not only is it a sign you’re away, it increases the chance criminals could steal your mail to hack into your bank account or steal your identity. Have a neighbor get your mail or put it on hold.
  • Don't post your whereabouts on social media. Broadcasting on Facebook that you’re away from home and your house is empty "is stupid," said one officer.
  • Don't leave a baseball bat or other weapons by the door. Criminals know to look for them there. Keep them under your bed, where they are much more effective.
  • Never have firearms visible. Secure them at all times and place a childproof lock on guns. Consider a trigger guard lock. (And, of course, DO get proper training if you have a firearm.)

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