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By Stephanie Mann

The best way to stay safe at home is to keep criminals out of it. Much of the advice about staving safe at home may sound obvious, but don't overlook it � a little bit of common sense can go a long way in preventing crime.

Don't Open Your Door To A Stranger

No one intentionally puts out a welcome mat to a criminal, yet unsuspecting victims open their doors Io intruders all the time, often without even thinking to ask, "Who's there?"

The simplest way to protect yourself at the front door is to observe the person on the other side before opening the door � preferably without being seen yourself. Ideally you would do this through a peephole. If you do not know the person, you can either ignore him altogether or speak through the door (or intercom), to find out who he is and what he wants.

Trust your instincts. You do not have to be overly paranoid, but if you are at all suspicious, do not open the door. As long as your door is closed, you have a relative degree of safely. Once you open it, however, anything can happen. And do not rely on a door chain to protect you if you plan on partially opening the door. These chains are notoriously ineffective and easy to break if someone wants to enter your house.

Here's how to handle different types of people at your door.

Emergency calls. Suppose two people came to your door saying they just had a terrible accident and need to use your phone right away. What would you do? Stop first, and think. You are home alone and something does not feel right about the situation. Trust your instincts. Do not let the couple in. Instead, offer to call the emergency number so they can return to the scene and wail for help to arrive. Some con artists have been known to use the emergency ruse to get into homes and commit robberies.

Fundraisers and solicitors. If a person comes to your door asking for money for a cause or wanting to sell you a product, and you're not interested in the cause or product, simply say so. If you are interested, either ask them to show identification first, before you open the door, or request that they leave literature for you to read. You could also ask the person to return later; specify a time when you know you will not be alone.

Should the solicitor become rude, ask them to leave, and then walk away from the door. If they don't leave, call the police.

Repairs, deliveries and collections. Unless you are expecting them, ask repair people and others who claim to have business with you to hold up their identification cards for you to see through a peephole or door window. If you have the slightest doubt of their authenticity, telephone their business office (get the number from the phone book or from information) to verify whether the house call is legitimate. Do the same with individuals making deliveries or taking collections. If you are not expecting a floral arrangement, you can call the florist to clear up any doubts about the person making the delivery. If someone claims to be collecting for your newspaper subscription, and it is not the usual person, do not open your door. Instead, call the newspaper office and let them know you will be mailing in a check, or wait until your regular delivery person is back on the job.

Do not leave repair people alone in your home unless you know them well. And if you have any suspicions about them, do not stay in the house alone with them.

In any of the above situations, if you ask a person to leave your home and they refuse, or if something about the person arouses your suspicions, call the police. And if the person appears to be going door-to-door on your block, you will want to alert your neighbors.

Don't Let Intruders Fool You On The Phone

A person who is intent on stealing your property would prefer to do it when you are not there. To reduce the odds of getting caught, a burglar may phone first to see if anyone is home. He may get your name from the mailbox, or from the cute sign with the family moniker above the door. Or he could simply look up your name in the phone book. If he gets no answer, he may decide it's a good time to break into your house.

If someone does answer the phone, the potential intruder may try to get as much information as possible about the household in order to determine the best time to strike. Rapists sometimes use this tactic to determine if a woman is home alone. Kidnappers will sometimes use the telephone to determine if children are home without adult supervision.

Because criminals can be very adroit at extracting information, it's important that you treat a stranger on the phone the same as if that person came to your door.
Here are some suggestions:
Watch what you say. Warn family members not to give information to strangers over the phone about who is home, who is out, or how long anyone is expected to be gone. Do not continue talking to a person who refuses to identify himself. Nor should you get into a conversation with a survey-taker or anyone else who wants your name, address, marital status or other information that would reveal you are alone, or that you are vulnerable because of a broken leg or other disability.
Do not give your credit card number over the phone to anyone unless you initiated the call and are absolutely positive that you are dealing with a reputable organization � for example, when making reservations for a plane flight or buying tickets through an agency.
Code names. If you are bothered by frequent calls from strangers, you might set up a code name to be used by friends and family members.
Example: A group of teenagers pestered an older woman by pretending to be her grandson Jason. The grandmother notified the phone company to see if they could trace the calls, and then she and her grandson worked out a signal. Jason would ask for "Hank" whenever he called. That way, the grandmother knew it was her grandson and not the other kids. From time to time, they changed the code word to be sure no one could bother the grandmother.

Answering machines. If you use a phone answering machine, your recording should not say that you will be gone for a specific time. It's better to say, "We can't take your call right now but we'll get back to you as soon as possible." This is also a good message for a single woman to put on her phone machine, since it conveys the impression that she is not living alone. For added security, some women who live alone ask a male friend to record their outgoing message.

Unlisted phone number and address. Consider getting an unlisted phone number or removing your address from the phone book. You could also use initials rather than list your full name in the book.

An intruder might see your name on the directory of an apartment building and use it to throw you off the track while calling over the lobby telephone or intercom system. Consider all of the places that your name might be seen by the public and then use your discretion about where and how you want to list it.

Obscene callers and other unusual calk. Hang up on obscene callers immediately. Do not cry or show that you are upset or afraid. Many nuisance calls are made by teenagers who pick out names randomly from the phone book. If you do not react and simply hang up, most of the time they will not call back. If the caller continues to harass you, consider keeping a loud whistle next to your phone. The next time the person calls, blow the whistle as loudly as possible into the mouthpiece. But remember to move the receiver's ear piece away from your ear when you blow the whistle, so that you do not hurt your own eardrums.

When to call the police. Police should be notified if you receive an abnormal number of wrong number calls, hang-ups, late night calls from strangers, obscene or other unusual phone calls. Call the police immediately if someone threatens you or your family. Your local phone service may also be able to offer a remedy. If necessary, you can change your phone number.