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High-tech and no-tech ways to keep your home safe without spending a fortune

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Is your home protected?
(Jason Ford/For The Times)

Let me introduce you to a new player in home security. Because of her, would-be thieves think I have a dog and a baby and that I throw a lot of parties and play a lot of table tennis. You may know her. Her name is Alexa — yes, that Alexa — and she’s one of a host of ways you can keep your home safer this summer.

Home security, said retired LAPD Det. Kevin Coffey, is about layers, not just about having a great security system, although that helps too. The more reasons you give a thief to pass up your home and move on, the safer you are. Here are some of the tools in the home security grab bag.

▶Illusion is part of the strategy. Making people think you’re home when you’re not is one way to fool bad guys. To access sounds that are supposed to make a burglar think you’re there, beckon Alexa on your Dot, Echo or whatever Amazon device you’re using and say, “Alexa, play burglar deterrent.”

She then gives you a choice of nine sounds, including barking dog, crying baby, living room (where presumably those parties are occurring), game room (table tennis match), bathroom (shower and toilet flushing), kitchen (lots of clanking) and so on.

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Sometimes she asks whether it’s day or night use and how loudly you would like to have the sound played. She also reminds you that barking dog won’t endear you to your neighbors if you leave it on all night. When you issue the stop command, she welcomes you home.

Smart bulbs also offer the perception of activity at home. Certain kinds of bulbs can be controlled with your phone, and some will even dim. Check out CNET’s guide to home lighting at bit.ly/CNETsmartbulbs.

Less high-tech alternatives include mechanical timers for the lights, radio or TV so you can control the on/off and create light and sound. Some will allow you to set different schedules so your on/off isn’t quite as predictable.

▶Catch bad guys on camera. Security experts increasingly recommend video doorbells, which are now available for apartments too. Not only can you respond to visitors before opening the door, but if you’re not at home, you also can respond to visitors from wherever you are, using a smart phone app.

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Depending on the company, the video is saved and may be accessible later (or there may be a storage fee for keeping it in the cloud). Cost for a unit can be as little as $100.

Ring and Nest are among the better known brands, but check out PC magazine’s recommendations at bit.ly/PCMagdoorbellrecs.

You also can consider camera coverage around your house. Miguel Suro, a Miami attorney who writes the Rich Miser blog offering money-saving tips, wanted a camera system for a new home, but a contractor’s quote for hard-wired cameras was excessive, he said in an email. Instead he did it himself, using Netgear’s Arlo system, which negated the need for hard wiring. He checks his system before leaving home to ensure his gear has enough juice to record, turn on, etc., which is a downside of such systems.

There are many do-it-yourself systems. Some sound an alarm but are unmonitored by humans who can contact authorities; others sound an alarm and send police or fire. You shouldn’t rush into making a decision because there is much to know not only about the system but also about the costs and contracts that may be associated with installing such a system. Ask friends, read reviews and consider long-term costs.

▶Stay informed by monitoring user communities. The Next Door app helps neighbors exchange information on a host of issues. Know a good contractor? Need a dining table? And, for our purposes here, did you see a white van cruising slowly down the street? It will not prevent crimes, but heightened awareness is important.

Ring takes that idea one more step. Its user community often shows clips of people lurking, stealing packages from the front step or other suspicious behavior. These can be (and are) shared with law enforcement.

▶Don’t leave clues that you’re not home. Of course, you should put a vacation hold on newspapers and mail. Coffey has two additional recommendations: If you’re expecting a delivery from UPS or FedEx, ask that these be held as well.

Also know what to expect. For U.S. mail, he is a big proponent (and I have become one) of the postal service’s Informed Delivery option. An email tells you what’s coming in that day’s mail. It won’t prevent theft, but at least you’ll know if something doesn’t arrive.

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▶Don’t tell people what a wonderful time you’re having until after you’re home. Announcing on social media, “Hey, having a wonderful time in XXX” is tantamount to adding, “Please come burglarize our home.” Don’t think for a minute criminals don’t monitor social media.

▶Ask a trusted friend or relative to check on the house while you’re gone. Giving someone a key is a kind of forever thing, and that’s fine if it’s someone you know well. But some electronic door-entry keypads allow you to create a temporary code you can give to your drop-in person. There’s no substitute for a human touch because more than just theft can happen while you’re away, pipes and hoses that misbehave, among them.

You can’t anticipate every rotten thing that might happen to you, but thinking about it now could mean peace at home and peace of mind, two places you need it most.

Have a travel problem, question or dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.


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