Avoiding the Summertime Burglary Blues

BurglarySummer may be the best time to get away from it all, but unfortunately, it's also the season when burglars are most likely to take advantage of your absence to clean you out.

July and August, according to the FBI, are peak months for home robberies. And for those hoping to avoid becoming another statistic by installing a home alarm system, the Better Business Bureau advises consumers to do their homework carefully before purchasing a systemThe BBB cited a study of Home and Business Security by Temple University that found homes without security systems are roughly three times more likely to suffer a break-in than those that have a security system. (Actual statistics, the BBB notes, range from 2.2 times to 3.1 times, depending on the home's value, while losses average $400 less in homes with burglar alarms.)

Although the BBB warns that no security system is burglar-proof, a home security system can reduce your chances of being victimized and buy you a little peace of mind -- provided you exercise caution and good judgment when deciding upon one.

"It's important to investigate the purchase of a home security system with the same care you would any major purchase," Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said in a statement. "There are too many door-to-door salespeople selling home security systems out there [who] don't always have your best interest at heart."

The BBB, which received almost 25,000 inquiries from consumers asking about security systems in 2010, advises home owners to do the following when shopping around for burglar alarm:

1. Choose only a professional installer. The best home security systems fit your lifestyle and secure the valuables you want to protect, so carefully consider your requirements and budget. Your home insurer may recommend someone, but be sure to deal only with reputable firms that don't have negative BBB ratings.

Contact at least three companies before selecting an installer, confirm they're properly licensed in your state, and ask if they screen employees before hiring. Check the Electronic Security Association's website for a list of member companies nationwide that have agreed to abide by the organization's code of ethics.

2. Ask about any and all charges up front. Prices for home security systems can vary quite a bit based on the level of protection and type of technology used, so make sure you compare apples-to-apples bids on similar systems from different vendors. Don't forget to factor in the installation charge, as well as monthly monitoring charges, which will add up over the years. Installing a burglar alarm may also qualify you for a discount on your home insurance premium, so remember to ask.

3. Read the fine print of your contract. If your alarm system includes monitoring -- either by your installer or by a third-party -- determine the contract's length, which tend to range from two to five years. What options are available to you if you're dissatisfied with the security services? Can you cancel the contract? What are your rights if your monitoring company is purchased by a competitor? These are the types of questions you need to have answered before signing on the dotted line.

You should also insist that the installer "walk" you through your system until you understand how it works and are comfortable using it, which will help prevent the most common problem: false alarms. False alarms are an indicator of the quality of the alarm installation and user education. Ask for a complete inspection of your property and an itemized written estimate. Review the sales contract closely -- especially the fine print -- to ensure you understand exactly what equipment and protection will be provided to you.

By doing your homework, you can help ensure that the system you choose is the one that's the best for you and your home.

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