BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The recent string of home invasions in Baton Rouge put many folks on edge, especially elderly women living alone. The suspect in those crimes is behind bars, but security experts say this should serve as a wake-up call for homeowners.
"My son in law says you're just one lucky woman. He says you're lucky you're living tonight."
This 81-year-old Baton Rouge woman takes plenty of precautions living alone. She has burglar bars and uses door stops, but last Wednesday two men saw a sign in her yard for a local plumbing company and decided to take advantage.
"The one guy got out and he was at my door before I could even lock the screen door, so he said he came to check the water for rust and that he might have to put some antifreeze in it. I thought 'Antifreeze? You must be crazy,'" she said.
Luckily she saw through their story and called police. The men got away in a shiny red truck.
"Anyone can ride by and say 'I work for this company now,'" says BRPD Sgt. Darryl Honoré. As a member of the department's Community Resources Divisions Honoré regularly speaks to the public about personal and home safety. He says people posing as contractors is a common scam, and those yard signs are just one thing perpetrators look for when casing a house for an easy target.
"I can ride by and I can say 'OK well a man probably lives here or used to at this house – maybe deceased or elderly – because the grass is up, and the car is backed into the yard,'" he said while looking at a nearby house.
To identify weak spots around your home Honoré says it's important to get inside the head of a prospective burglar.
"It's sad to say but as a society we judge the exterior of a home by the landscaping, and we'll say if a yard is not being cut that generally a male is not living there," he said.
So how else can a perp tell if someone is living alone? One dead giveaway can often be a car parked in the middle of a carport or garage. Instead, park on one side as if making room for someone else.
"I always recommend to back in, that way if someone were to come from behind, you're looking forward. If someone was to come toward you, you can drive forward," Honoré said.
If your car has an alarm, consider keeping your keys right next to the bed. The panic button makes for an easy, free and effective alarm if something goes bump in the night; and whether you have a home alarm system or not, just the sign can make a difference.
"You can easily buy those on the internet," Honoré said. "No one is going to stand there and look for a camera. They're going to pass that home up and move to the next one."
Another tip for women living alone: dig through your closets or go to Goodwill and find an old pair of men's shoes or work boots. Leave them by the front door to make it look like a man lives in the home too.
If someone does make it in your house, experts say to call out a man's name and tell him to get the gun.
"You have to stick with your story, and think to yourself 'I'm going to keep calling John or Bill or Ted's name. I'm going to keep doing that so someone thinks I'm not alone,'" Honoré said.
The elderly Baton Rouge woman who fell victim to contractor scammers says she learned her lesson about letting companies put signs in her front yard. She has a plan in case anyone else makes it into her home.
"I have a gun. And I know how to use it," she said.
If you live alone it's also important to watch what you post to social media. Be careful not to advertise that you're home by yourself, because criminals use the internet too.
Here are more security tips for living alone from Hotpads.com:
- Get a dog (or a cat): Having a pet around will naturally ease some of your worries when living alone. Pets can serve as ideal living companions and are often the best kind of security system to invest in-- due to their acute senses and natural instincts, your pet's reaction is sometimes the earliest sign of danger.
- Remove all signs of wealth or opulence: Expensive items (including boxes and packaging) should not be left in plain sight on your lawn or in view in windows
- Only put a last name and/or first initial on mailboxes. Never put the name of a single woman.
- Use "we" instead of "I" when recording your home voicemail greeting to make the number of occupants unknown
- Driveway and door alarms are reasonably priced and available at most hardware stores or online
- Become familiar with the everyday habits of your neighborhood, and meet your neighbors
- Inspect to protect yourself: It is a good idea to have your apartment or house inspected by a police officer who can identify the areas in your home vulnerable to criminal activity. Things to keep in mind are entry points into your home as well as lighting and visibility during the day and night