"The secret is to make it look as if your house is occupied," says Ken Meanwell, force crime prevention inspector with Lincolnshire police. Simple things you can do to make it look less obvious that you are away include leaving the curtains open, and mowing the lawn just before you leave. Never let post build up in a visible place - ask a neighbour to collect it until you get back.
For around pounds 70 you can help reduce the chances of a break-in using automatic time switches. It sounds corny, but it does work. When Andrew Woodall's father died, his large house in Cambridge had to be left empty for weeks. The Victorian house had lots of windows not visible from the road and breaking in would have been easy. "By putting in time-switch security devices all over the house, we solved the problem," says Mr Woodall. "The television was on all the time, curtains opened and closed automatically and lights went on and off. I would recommend this method to anyone."
Make sure you have decent security locks on all windows and doors - three out of 10 burglars do not have to force an entry, they simply get in through open doors and windows. Before you have security lighting, door and window locks or a burglar alarm installed, make sure that the system is approved by the British Security Industry Association. The association publishes a list of companies that meet its standards (01905 21464).
Security lighting systems cost between pounds 200 and pounds 900 and some come with one or more control panels, which emit a tone when the light beam outside is broken. Although the light shines near the house, the detector can be 200 yards away. Aluminium shutters are unattractive but effective. Widespread in mainland Europe, they have yet to catch on here. The best idea is to fit them to windows on the ground floor at the back of the house. Many models can be opened and shut electronically.
Insurers offer cumulative discounts of up to 20 per cent for householders who take extra security precautions. Your postcode is a key factor - don't expect big reductions if you live in the inner city.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) advises putting gravel down if your home has a front drive. Burglars hate the crunching sound. If the worst happens and thieves break into your home, it helps to have all your property marked. "I would recommend using markers," says Inspector Meanwell. "The stickers in the window deter thieves, marked goods make handlers think twice about taking them, and detection is easier."
When marked goods are recovered the police can identify and return them. DIY shops sell security marking kits. Your local crime prevention officer will be able to supply you with warning stickers to display in the front and back windows of your house, stating that property is marked with your postcode. Take a photograph of anything you cannot mark.
Tips to beat burglars
q Put good locks on all doors and windows.
q Don't leave unopened post visible in porches or through the letterbox.
q Cancel the milk and papers.
q Invest in automatic timers for lights.
q Curtains can be opened and closed using timers.
q Lock the garage and shed - they are full of tools that can be used for a break-in.
q Arrange a visit from your crime prevention officer who will give you detailed information on how to improve security (call the local police station for more details).