An economic recession affects everyone, even robbers. When money is short, more people turn to crime and those already involved tend to get more desperate.
According to a new survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, nearly half of police departments have reported an increase in certain crimes they say can be attributed to the economic crisis -- including home burglaries.
With more houses sitting empty due to foreclosures, once safe neighborhoods are becoming more tempting to looters.
But there are ways to keep your home safe from even the most dogged burglars without breaking the bank.
"Good Morning America" housing contributor and Wall Street Journal editor Wendy Bounds knows a thing or two about home security and compiled some tips, with the help of Consumer Report's Shop Smart, for burglar-proofing your home on the cheap.
Before Robbers Decide on Your House: Make It Unappealing to Them
"You make it as difficult and frustrating as possible for thieves to break in, so you create multiple layers that a thief must get through in order to gain access to your home," Bounds said. "You want your house to be the least appealing to thieves on the block. And you can do that by dissuading them from even coming up your driveway."
Don't put out a calling card with boxes of expensive items, like the flat-screen TV you just bought. You're advertising all the great loot that's inside your house. Keep all that stuff in the garage until garbage day.
Don't leave mail piled up in the mailbox if you're away. Again, you're telling the thieves what's going on, that you're not home.
Take your name off the mailbox altogether. These days with Google and the Internet, it's very easy to find your phone number online, then the thief can call and see if you're home.
Finally, light up the house. Scare off those burglars with motion-sensor lights. Look for ones with adjustable sensitivity to avoid getting a false alarm from things like tree branches rustling. And keep the outside of your home illuminated an all sides using energy efficient compact fluorescents.
If They Pick Your House: Make It Hard to Get In
"If they've made it through, then they're wondering how they can get inside. Make it as hard as possible for them to think about that with landscaping," Bounds said. "If they're up at the window and peering in, don't have a calling card for what's inside."
Shrubs can make a great deterrent to getting into the house, but keep them low enough to make sure burglars can't hide there, and that your neighbors can see what's going on in your yard. Some safety experts suggest the three-foot-by-six-foot rule, keeping shrubs down to three feet in height and keeping tree branches pruned up to six feet off the ground. Consider thorny shrubs or rose bushes to add an extra deterrent.
Close the blinds when you're not home so they can't peruse the items in your house and decide you have something worth stealing.
Make sure you don't give obvious clues that you're not home.
Turn down the telephone ringer, so burglars won't hear you aren't there.
Make the house seem like someone is home with lamps or a radio on a timer.
If They Try to Break In: Consider Tough Glass, Alarm System
Alarm systems are more expensive than the other tips, but if you live in a particularly vulnerable neighborhood, Bounds said, you may still want to consider one.
"They are one of the best defenses, and you can get a system for about $50 to $100 a month," she said. "But make sure you check with the Better Business Bureau before picking an alarm company. There have been many complaints about companies in recent years, and there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there talking alarm systems."
Consider installing safety and security window films near windows that are close to door handles, or that you think are especially vulnerable. It makes glass tough to smash, and frustrates intruders by making them hit it again and again. It's more expensive, but very effective.
You can control some alarms from your cell phone while you're away on vacation. Some models even allow you to have remote live video so you can see your home even when you're not there.
If They Get in Your House: Beat Them in the Treasure Hunt
"You can still protect your valuables even if the intruders make it inside your house, but you have to prepare for the worst case scenario, too. The burglars want to get in and out as fast as they can, so you need to make it hard for them to find anything worth taking," Bounds said.
Don't put your valuables in obvious places. Get a hollowed-out book or a fake wall outlet. Put your family heirlooms and other precious items in there.
Video record each room to prove what was in there for a police report. You may think you know what you have, but close your eyes and try to recount everything that's in the room with you. Most people will find that it's very hard to do.
List all the serial numbers of expensive items on one list, and if you're really concerned, you can etch your name and address on valuables like your TV and stereo. This makes it harder to sell on the black market and is something of a deterrent to thieves.
Finally, many local police departments maintain something called a "vacant house list" when you travel for an extended period of time, like a week or more. Police will drive by and check on your house when you're gone. If a criminal knows the police are watching your house, most won't want to take the chance of breaking in.