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6 mistakes to avoid when it comes to home burglaries and home insurance

An unlocked door, an open window, a tall bush near your front door -- all of these may lure a thief into your home while you’re away. And don't think that this is just something that happens to your neighbors: In 2010, burglary occurred every 14.6 seconds in the United States during 2010, according to the FBI.

Even those living in seemingly quiet neighborhoods are not exempt from theft, says William Horne, owner of William Warren Consulting, a security firm in Massachusetts. “Living in a low-crime area often leads to a false sense of security,” he says. “Those in the suburbs need to take precautions just like city dwellers.”

To make sure your house and belongings are well protected – no matter where you live – you’ll want to evaluate your home’s current safety measures, and check that you have adequate coverage on your homeowner’s insurance policy.

Here are five mistakes to avoid so you can protect your home from theft.

1. Making your landscaping thief-friendly.

Do you have tall bushes or walls along your entry sidewalk where burglars could hide? What about a tree with thick branches near a second-story window?

Trim any bushes near your sidewalk and entryway, says Robert Sollars, owner of Today’s Training, a security consulting company in Arizona. Also remove any branches on trees that are close to a second-story or attic window. For extra protection, consider installing floodlights or motion-sensor lighting to illuminate dark areas around your home.

2. Leaving your home open.

Leaving a garage door open – even if it seems harmless – can show passersby what’s inside and within easy reach.

“Don’t leave any doors or windows unlocked,” says Robert Rahn, president of Management Resources Ltd. of New York, a private investigation firm.

If you have a sliding glass door, put a strip of wood along the inside of the door’s track that runs along the floor at night or whenever you leave the house to prevent it from being pushed or pried open.

According to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, putting dead bolt locks on your windows and doors could lead to a discount on your homeowner’s insurance policy of 2 percent to 5 percent.

3. Buying a loud alarm – and nothing more.

It may seem easy – and inexpensive – to buy a house alarm from a local store and install it yourself. Yet if the alarm simply makes a loud noise when triggered, your home may still be at risk. “If no one’s around to hear it, no one else will know about it,” Rahn says.

For better protection, choose a more sophisticated setup, such as an alarm system that features central station monitoring. As opposed to an alarm that merely makes a loud noise, central station monitoring, when set off, sends a signal to the alarm company's monitoring facility. This facility – or station – is operated by employees of the alarm company who are trained to respond to these signals. If necessary, workers at the company's monitoring station will call the appropriate authorities, such as the police department, fire department or emergency response crews.

To correctly identify why the alarm was triggered and notify authorities if needed, a worker at the station will call you. If you answer and provide the employee with a unique password, the company will know all is well. If you don’t answer or don't give the password, the company will send the police to your home.

ADT, Rapid Response Monitoring, Security Central and many other companies offer central station monitoring. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a sophisticated alarm system, such as one with central station monitoring, could give you a discount of 15 percent to 20 percent on your home insurance.

4. Not knowing what you own.

If your home gets burglarized and you file a claim with your insurance company, the adjuster will need to know what’s gone. Having your home inventory documented before a burglar strikes can help ensure you’re reimbursed for what's missing.

To keep records accurate, take pictures of your valuables, including jewelry, computers, TVs and other electronic gear, Rahn says. Keep documents listing the make, model and serial number of every item.

5. Not buying enough coverage for your valuables.

A standard homeowner's policy includes coverage from theft for jewelry and other precious items such as watches and furs. But such coverage is limited. A standard policy, for instance, may offer coverage for jewelry only up to $1,500.

If your jewelry or other valuables come in at more than the limit listed on your policy – such as more than the $1,500 in a standard policy – you may want to consider boosting your coverage. You might raise the limit of the coverage on the policy, or insure the individual pieces by purchasing what’s known as a floater policy, which generally covers just one item.

Raising the limit of your coverage is the cheapest option; however, there may be a limit on the amount you can claim for the loss of any individual piece. For instance, the policy may include a limit of $2,000 for any individual item. It also may cite a maximum, such as $5,000, for all jewelry items. Floater policies may raise your premiums but offer broader protection.

6. Leaving computer passwords in plain sight.

Don’t leave a list of computer passwords within arm’s reach of your home workstation.

“Computer files can be incredibly valuable, not only because of the worth of the information on them, but also because of the investment they represent in time and expertise,” Horne says. “Every homeowner should have coverage for computer data.”

Depending on your homeowner's insurance policy, you already may have some coverage for your computer equipment. If you need more, some insurance companies, such as State Farm, offer a personal articles policy for extra computer coverage.

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