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The Grinch: Not the Only Thief Around

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Easy ways to safeguard your apartment while you’re away

By Tara Plath

When I was five years old, my house was robbed. Upon entering through the basement door to see our television gone and house phone strung across the floor, my mother exclaimed; “The house has been broken into!”

“How,” my five-year old brain puzzled, “did any one manage to break my house in two?” We soon after installed a security system that we proceeded to never use.

No matter where you live, there is always a chance that your house or apartment could also be broken in two. With the holiday season fast approaching and flights home soon to be booked, here are a few ways you can keep your home and valuables safe while you’re away on vacation.

F spoke with two SAIC security guards, who, due to legal reasons, must remain anonymous.

One security guard, working the front desk in the MacLean building, took a moment to share some tips: “Take all your valuables with you if you’re going to be gone [for a long period of time].”

The officer has had several experiences with break-ins. Years ago, when her children were small, she returned from Christmas shopping and set the new presents under the Christmas tree. The family left, and when they returned, the gifts and tree were gone. “It was somebody who lived in the building,” she said (the back door was secure and undamaged).
While we’d all like to think our apartment buildings and neighborhoods are safe and filled with conscientious people, it’s not always the case.

A security officer in the 116 South Michigan building echoed these sentiments: “Nowadays, you can’t trust your neighbors or your neighborhood. Don’t let people see you coming up with valuables.” She emphasized protecting yourself against targeted attacks, where someone might observe your daily routine and know when you are and are not home. She advised that students “change [their] routine up.” While school schedules probably ensure that you don’t come home at the same time every day, an extra precaution could be to change the door you enter each time, so that someone consistently observing from the front street or back alley won’t notice if you’re gone for extended periods of time.

There are also ways to make your apartment seem occupied while you’re not there. “Keep your radio on, so people think you’re home. That’s what I’ve always been taught,” she says. If your budget allows, you can keep a radio or light on, giving the appearance that someone is living there. You can also purchase inexpensive timers from Target or most hardware stores that can turn your light, radio, or television on and off at certain times.

While advice like this may seem to some overly paranoid, students have been affected by targeted attacks. Third-year animation student Ryan Bock listed a multitude of things that had been stolen from his house in Logan Square on several occasions: “I’ve had three laptops stolen, power tools, my digital camera, iPods. A lot of the stuff from the garage was taken. They came through the door and through the window,” he recounted.

After the most recent robbery, Bock and his roommates called the police, who eventually sent over an investigator. Once the police got involved, the robberies immediately stopped, leading Bock to believe that it had been someone who lived in the area: “They knew when we were there and when we weren’t and where we keep our stuff.”

While you’re away, put all of your valuables out of sight. Jewelry, electronics, and anything else you’d hate to lose should be placed somewhere discreet.

If you do have a neighbor in the building you can trust, let them know how long you’ll be gone and if you’re expecting anyone in the apartment. If you’re going to be gone a considerable amount of time, consider having the mail put on hold so that piling newspapers and letters don’t make it evident that you’re away.

If you haven’t already, do some research on renter’s insurance. If you can afford it, renter’s insurance is a good way to safeguard your things and protects against break-ins and other damages that might happen in a rented apartment. While some landlords require you have renter’s insurance, many do not. Depending on where you live and how many valuable things you keep in your apartment, renter’s insurance is a relatively inexpensive way to protect your things, often ranging from $100-$300 a year (coming out to less than your wireless Internet).

Finally, and most obviously, make sure that all of your doors and windows are securely closed and locked before leaving for the holidays.

Quick Tips on How to Protect Your Apartment While You’re Home or Away:

Make sure to lock (knobs and deadbolts) all of your doors and windows.

Put your valuables, such as jewelry and electronics, out of sight and in discreet places.

Be cautious when entering your apartment with new or expensive purchases. Take note if you notice someone observing you.

Try not to enter your apartment at the same time and through the same door daily.

Leave a light or radio on, or purchase a timer from Target to program your lights with. (Hunter NiteTime Easy Set Timer available at Target for $12.99 or the GE 15 amp Plug-In Dual-Outlet Light-Sensing Timer from Home Depot for $ 9.97, which turns lights on at dusk and off at dawn.)

Let a trustworthy neighbor or friend know you’re going away and whether or not you anticipate anyone in the apartment.

Put the mail and newspapers on hold until you return.

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