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A broken window

A broken window
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Some criminals will throw a rock through a house or car window before even trying to break in, just to see what happens, says Joel Logan, COO of Las Vegas-based Reliance Security. If an alarm goes off and neighbours peer outside to see what’s happening, they might be scared off. But if the homeowners are clearly out of the house or the police never arrive, they might break in that night or soon after. Call the police right away if you’re home, and install motion-sensor floodlights for when you aren’t there, Logan recommends. Check out the 10 hiding spots burglars always look first.

A strolling stranger

A strolling stranger
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You probably don’t know everyone in your neighbourhood, but a criminal scoping out the area likely won’t just look like an innocent walker. If someone is walking by repeatedly, check their body language, says Logan. “If you take your dog for a walk, you just walk around the neighbourhood. You’re not always checking behind you or looking over your shoulder,” he says. Pay attention to clothing, too. Most people taking a walk for the sake of fitness will be wearing workout gear, so someone in plainclothes who’s out for long periods of time might be up to no good, adds Everett Stern, intelligence director of private intelligence company Tactical Rabbit. Any time you’re feeling uneasy, call the police, he suggests. It’s better to bring them out of their way for a bit than to regret ignoring the warning signs.

An eager photographer

An eager photographer
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Beyond just looking jumpy, someone watching your home might be taking pictures. They’ll be documenting hiding spots and how close the houses are together – less space between houses means more chance a neighbour will spot them, says Stern. If you notice strangers acting fishy with their cameras, defend yourself by taking your own picture of them, Logan recommends. “You might get into an argument, but if there’s a person with bad intentions, taking a picture of him is a good chance of scaring them off,” he says. And speaking of cameras, here’s the real likelihood that you’re being watched through your laptop camera.

Light bulb problems

Light bulb problems
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“Lights are burglars’ enemy,” says Logan. “In lights, they can be seen.” A thief who’s planning to break in might unscrew the bulbs around your house so they don’t turn on and reveal the burglar. Check the bulbs if your lights stop working suddenly. If they’re unscrewed but aren’t burnt out, a thief might be scoping your home, says Logan.

A vehicle that keeps driving by

A vehicle that keeps driving by
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You don’t need to question every unfamiliar car that drives by, but take note if one passes your house over and over. One with an out-of-state license plate or no plate at all could signal someone is there to watch your neighbourhood, especially if the passengers park the car and don’t get out. Write down the license plate number (if there is one), get a description of the driver or the number of people in the car, and call the police if you’re suspicious, says Logan.

Missing rubbish

Missing rubbish
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A stolen identity can be more valuable than some jewellery and cash. “A lot of burglars won’t enter a home,” says Stern. “They’ll start stealing your garbage.” From there, they’ll rummage around for documents containing any details they can use for stealing your identity, along with what type of job you have or when you’ll be going on holiday. Shred any papers before chucking them to make it harder for crooks to put the pieces together, says Stern. Find out 11 ways that thieves can steal your identity here.

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Untouched mail

Untouched mail
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An observant criminal will take note when there’s a pile of newspapers building up in front of your house. “When you’re on holiday, that’s a telltale sign you’re not there,” says Stern. When you’re away, ask a neighbour to pick up your papers, pamphlets and anything else signalling no one is home, he suggests.

A missing dog

A missing dog
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A barking dog is the last thing a burglar wants when trying to break into your home. If a thief has been scoping your home and is intent on getting in, he or she will let the dog out well before attempting the break-in. “Then they go back in a week or the next day and know the dog isn’t going to alert the neighbours or homeowners,” says Logan. A runaway dog isn’t always the fault of a criminal, but people with bad intentions will use the strategy from time to time.

An empty petrol tank

An empty petrol tank
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You could have sworn you had more than a half a tank when you got home last night, but when you left in the morning, the petrol gauge was on empty – and you couldn’t make it to the petrol station in time. There’s a chance a determined burglar drained your tank with a hole or a tube the night before. Now the thief can watch you leave for work, then enter your home without worrying about when you’ll be back.

A moving truck

A moving truck
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Criminals rely on the fact that people don’t always know much about their neighbours. While a homeowner is on holiday, they might park a removal truck in the empty driveway – after all, the owners would have taken the car on their trip – then load up without being questioned, says Stern.

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– The Reader’s Digest team