s can watch for signs that homeowners are on an extended trip, so one of the best ways to keep your home secure is to prevent strangers from knowing you’re away. Most are well known: Put a few lights on timers to go on in the evening and off again at night. (Leaving them on all day and night can signal your absence.) Park your car in the driveway, rather than keeping it in the garage or on the street. Put a temporary stop to your newspapers and mail delivery.
New technology can help, too. Here some high-tech tips for taking home security to the next level while you’re traveling.
Keep Your Social Media Posts Private
One way some crooks might learn that you’ll be away is on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can post about your adventures abroad on social media, but make sure your posts aren’t public. Public posts are available not only to friends of your friends and other strangers, but they actually get indexed on search engines, enabling burglars to search for target homes.
Avoid posting about your absence on Twitter unless you’re among the minority who lock their account. (To turn on this feature, choose the “Protect My Tweets” option in Settings.)
The ill-advised broadcasting of travel is so common on Twitter that one guy created a site called Please Rob Me, which shows people who are publicly broadcasting the fact that they’re not at home via their Twitter and Foursquare check-ins.
Facebook is another major site where burglars can find out that you’re not at home. To protect yourself and still brag about your travels, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner. Click “Privacy” in the left navigation bar, then to the right of “Who can see my stuff?” choose a list that includes only the narrow group you want to share with. (You may have to first set up friends or family lists before doing this.)
On Google+ simply address your posts to narrow circles, such as “Family” and “Friends,” and do not post to “Public” or “Extended Circles.”
Also be careful about location-based check-in sites like Foursquare, which can broadcast your location even if the content of your post is unrelated. If someone knows where you live, a check-in in a different city is evidence enough that you’re away for a while.
Digitize It, View, Then Click to Shred
If you go on a long trip or travel frequently, one alternative to putting a stop to your mail is to have it digitized and made available to you online.
The best-known service for digitizing mail is called Earth Class Mail. The company gives you a new mailing address, and you use that address for all your bills and other mail.
Earth Class Mail can even deposit checks into your bank account, under the right circumstances, and for an additional fee of either $20 per check or $34.95 per month for unlimited checks.
The service is nice, but there are two downsides. First, it’s a commitment: You need to officially change your address as if you’ve moved. Once you’ve done that, it’s a nontrivial chore to cancel the service and change back.
Second, Earth Class Mail is expensive. Although the least-expensive service is $20 per month, the company will almost certainly nickel-and-dime you into paying much more. A few scans here, a couple of checks there, and pretty soon you’re paying a lot more than the base fee.
One way to save money with Earth Class Mail is to use its $19.95 mail forwarding service. It’s the same money as the base price for the Virtual Mailroom, but there are no additional costs involved. You simply give the address where you’ll be and when you’ll be there, and that’s where your mail will show up.
And an alternative to Earth Class Mail is just now emerging. A start-up called Outbox promises to make the digitization of your mail much easier and less expensive.
Outbox actually sends someone to your house three times a week to pick up your mail, so you don’t have to officially change your address. The company then scans it and puts it online for you. A simple check box unsubscribes you from anything you consider junk mail. If there’s mail you actually do want, you can check another box, and it will be redelivered to your house. And all this for only $5 per month.
Right now the service is available only in San Francisco; it had a limited trial in Austin, Texas. The company plans to announce additional cities in the future.
Turn a Smart Phone Into a Security Camera
One way to keep your home safe is to set up motion-detection security cameras. Unfortunately, these can be expensive, especially if you need them only once or twice a year.
My favorite trick is to use old smart phones and tablets for a free and effective security system. All you need is a device capable of taking a picture, connecting to the Internet and running apps. If you’re like some gadget enthusiasts, you’ve got a box full of them somewhere.