By Bianca Fortis
While on vacation, people often leave lights in the home on overnight to scare off any would-be burglars, but that old trick may not be too wise after all.
Thieves can monitor a home and see that the lights remain on day after day, using this as a signal the homeowner may be away on holiday, according to Capt. Christopher Manson, of the 104th Precinct. He advised residents to use lights with timers instead.
This was one of several tips he offered to help community members stay safe during the summer at a news briefing for the precinct, which covers Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale and Middle Village.
He said a resident should arrange with a neighbor to pick up any mail or newspapers or have the post office temporarily stop service.
He also advised people not to leave large sums of cash or valuables inside an unattended home. He said he knows of burglary victims who have had as much as $15,000 in cash stolen.
“That’s what the safety deposit boxes at the banks are for,” he said. “That’s what bank accounts are for.”
Officer Otoniel Jimenez, of the Community Affairs Department at the precinct, said it is unwise to change the home answering machine to notify potential callers that the residents will be away. That could let a burglar know exactly when to strike.
Jimenez also cautioned that window air-conditioning units should be properly affixed to a wall. If they are not, burglars can push a unit into the house and then climb in through the window. Fire escapes are another easy means of illegal entry.
Another piece of advice from Manson is to remove any ladders from around the house or backyard. He said there have been cases in which homeowners leave a ladder outside and a thief uses it to climb into an open window on an upper story.
Manson gave a warning about leaving windows open altogether.
“I know it’s 95 degrees, but you’ve got to have some common sense,” he said, “especially if you go out at night.”
Manson said shades are a smarter, safer way to keep the inside of a home cool during the day.
Lastly, he advised to be aware of scams.
“It’s no different here than anywhere else,” he said. “It’s always people trying to capitalize on other people who have good hearts and don’t know about this.”
One scam involves a caller asking a homeowner if he or she has an alarm system installed. If the homeowner says no, the caller now knows that home is a potential target for a burglary. There have also been scams involving thieves dressed up as utility workers or FedEx employees.
Manson said a call to the company or the police can help determine whether the stranger is a thief or an innocent person. And he said to always get a good description of anyone who shows up at the home unannounced, because a thief will likely try the same scenario in another neighborhood.
“The two old rules apply,” he said. “If it’s too good to be true, it is. And when in doubt, use your instincts.”
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.