You might expect a tightwad like me to recommend a cheap home security device. Guilty as charged. Spending $1,000 or more on a real burglar alarm seems like overkill when you can get the job done for much less with good locks and a few fakes.
No less of an expert than Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia recommends the "fake" deterrents such as the security system yard signs and window stickers (but without an alarm), leaving burglars to assume we're secured. "I don't have an alarm system, but I like the idea of having an ADT or Brinks sign in the front yard. You can get them on eBay," said Garcia.
Garcia also recommends lots of lighting for darker, sheltered areas of your home. He leaves the light on all night in his own back yard. He also leaves a radio on when no one is home to give the impression that someone is. At night, he recommends keeping shades drawn so burglars can't see in and start a mental shopping list.
Strong locks and deadbolts are important on any home with or without a security system. Consumer Reports rated door locks in its January issue. If you're hiring a locksmith for installation, Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit that rates local service providers, rated two locksmiths highly for quality of service and reasonable prices: A Dave's Lock & Safe (612-529-0863 and White Bear Locksmith (651-426-0333).
Although burglaries are down in Minneapolis compared with 2007, Garcia said that an uncertain economy may change that. He suggested that most residents can discourage burglars by giving the impression that someone is home. If a break-in still occurs, then a person might want to consider a security system.
I asked Garcia to assess several home security products.
Security signs and stickers
Taking the path of least resistance, burglars prefer a house without security signs in the front yard or stickers on the windows. But you don't have to buy the whole security system. Let the sign be your alarm. Go to eBay and buy ADT or Brinks yard signs and stickers. (Save time by choosing one of the "buy it now" products.) Prices ranged from $16 to $46 last week. If you don't own a computer, I do not know of any local stores that sell fake security signs and window stickers. I tried Radio Shack, Brookstone and Spencer Gifts. No luck.
Garcia's assessment: A good deterrent.
Co-invented by Rein Teder of Eden Prairie and sold since April, Fake TV is a small, unobtrusive device that simulates the flashing images of a TV set. About the size of a travel alarm, the device looks nothing like a TV, but its simulation is impressive. Its built-in light sensors automatically turn on the device at dusk and then turn it off four or seven hours later (user's choice). The flashing images should be viewed from the outside through a translucent shade (such as in an upstairs bedroom), so a burglar can't see the device directly. The LED light uses no more energy than a night light and much less energy than leaving a TV on.
Bob Wilde of Minnetonka bought one for a family member who is frequently out of town. Has the product prevented a break-in? In six months there have been no break-ins, but Wilde said it's impossible to know if the Fake TV should get the credit. "It's cheap insurance," he said. Regularly $40, it can be ordered for $30 using the coupon code FALL at faketv.com or 1-888-621-5800. Shipping ($4.95) and tax are extra. Teder's device will be featured on QVC at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Garcia's assessment: A good deterrent.
The imitation security camera by Winn from www.homesecuritystore.com (1-888-501-7870) sells for only $31 to $35, but it's a good match for the real thing. It installs easily and flashes a red LED light powered by two AA batteries. Put it by a front or back door or a garage roof as a deterrent, said Annie Blanko, media developer at Home Security Store.
Garcia's assessment: The flashing red light is good, but few homeowners have security cameras. Thieves might assume that it's fake if they see it at all. Probably a better bet for small businesses.
Several manufacturers, including Qwikset and Schlage, have come out with deadbolt locks with an electronic keypad. Although the locks also have a key, the user programs a code so the key can be put away. It's great for anyone prone to losing keys and safer than putting a key under the mat. It also works well for temporary guests. The locks can be programmed with multiple codes that can be deleted after the guest leaves. Schlage sells the locks at Lowe's, Home Depot and Menards, although I found them priced for less at www.ahturf.com.
The latest keyless locks include a fingerprint verification door lock made by Adel (Biometric Fingerprint Door Lock, $150, www. homesecuritystore.com). Up to 99 different finger or thumb prints can be stored. In October, Schlage releases its wireless LINK door locks ($299 for a starter system, plus $13 a month) that in addition to keypad access, allow homeowners to grant entry to family members, friends, and handymen and housekeepers via web-enabled cell phones or computers (www.link.schlage.com).
Garcia's assessment: He likes the keypad locks and has not heard of any security issues with them. He also likes the fingerprint system, but questions the reliability if you cut your finger. (A user can store both a fingerprint and a thumbprint. A code or key can also be used.) The new LINK system was not available for review.