(and what you should do about them)
It goes without saying that hanging a sign on your front door letting everyone know your home is vacant while you and your family are sunning yourselves down south is probably not the most sensible thing to do. But as unwise as that sounds, there are other actions that you may take (or not take) which are almost as obvious to a would-be intruder. Below are some clear signs that announce your home is empty, and what can be done to ensure those mistakes are avoided.
1. Telling the World
As close as you can get to putting a sign on your front door is announcing on social media that you're about to jet off into the sun for three unfettered weeks of margherita mayhem. You probably have hundreds of Facebook "friends", who in turn have hundreds more "friends". You've likely heard of the theory of six degrees of separation (also a decent Will Smith film, pre-slap, if you've not seen it), so you can safely assume that somewhere in that glorious web of social connectivity there is a spectrum of people who would take more or less interest in knowing about your family vacation. In fact, often a burglar is known to their victim (although not as often as some websites would have you believe, so don't always believe what you read - get to the source of the data, like this for example). Can you say "make yourself at home"? If you must post pictures of how great your life is, wait until your return and talk about it in the past tense: "Look where we've just been for three weeks, suckers!". And social media is not the only source of unintended public interest. Think who else you may have slipped the golden ticket to: work colleagues, cab drivers, garbage men, doctors, dentists, barbers - pretty much anyone who you chatted with in the last 6 months and couldn't hold back the exciting news. Basically, just try to keep schtum about things until you're back home safely.
2. Lights, Curtains ... No Action!
We're creatures of habit; when we are home we have fairly consistent routines. Every day, we wake up at about the same time, we leave the house at about the same time, we pick up the kids at about the same time, we go to bed at about the same time, we wish we had done something else with our lives at about the same time. But we're not robots; most days are slightly if not wildly different from others and generally (unless we are perhaps of German origin) our routines are NEVER completely the same, day in, day out. When you're absent from your home, it doesn't take a PhD in Home Burglary to figure out the lights are on a timer (even if randomized by Alexa) and the curtains have remained unnaturally stationary over the course of a few days. Along with other signs, this all adds up to easy pickings that can even be accomplished under the cover and comfort of darkness (unlike most burglaries which are carried out during the riskier daylight period while you're out earning a crust to pay for your home insurance and security system).
3. Keeping Up Appearances
Having a stuffed mailbox or a pile of parcels on the front doorstep is not normal "at home" behaviour. Not that they would stay there for too long anyway; after all, why would a thief risk entering a home when the goods are already waiting outside? At minimum, you need to make sure your "urgent" parcels are left at the back of the house (either have a small notice on the front door, or add a note to the delivery), and that either a neighbour collects your mail or the post office holds it securely for a fee and delivers it to you when you return.
But while mail and parcels may be obvious items for the homeowner to deal with, there is also a trick used by nefarious types who are "casing" your house: flyers left on door handles can easily identify homes that have not been entered since the flyer was placed. So be be aware if there is a flurry of flyer activity in your neighbourhood, because it might mean criminals are on the prowl. And be a good citizen - look out for your neighbours who may be away and who may fall foul of this deceitful trickery, and remove the flyers for them. I'm sure they didn't want really want 20% off their next eavestrough installation anyway.
Other exterior signs which help to paint a more complete picture of your absence include unshoveled/untrampled snow, cars that never move, missing garbage cans on garbage day or alternatively garbage cans left out for days after collection, disheveled flowerbeds and uncut lawns.
So What Can You Do?
Let's be honest: you don't have to be the brightest spark to figure out if someone is away for any extended period of time, but try not to make it any easier than it is. Installing a security system is one great way to protect yourself, although when convicted criminals were asked if it was a deterrent, some said they could easily disarm one or that it didn't faze them since they are generally in and out before you can say "hey, didn't we used to have a TV?". The presence of security cameras is typically a decent deterrent, and an alarm going off during the crime will usually ensure a quick exit stage left. Getting a large dog is another option, although obviously quite the commitment, and remember what they say: large dogs are for life, not just for Christmas or home security. OK, I added the last bit myself.
Really though, non repetitive change is key to sewing seeds of doubt and keeping intruders out in the first place. If the curtains are partially open one day, fully open the next, with different lights, radio and TV on at different times, mail collected, garbage put out and taken in on time, pathways shovelled, lawns mowed, cars moved - it's a pretty good sign someone is ostensibly home. And as yet, both Alexa and Google won't get the job done; the only way to accomplish that when you're not home is to have someone else home, be it a neighbour, a friend, a relative - or dare I say it, a professional house sitter who won't let you down!
For some lighter relief, the Onion also has a say on the matter.
“A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams."