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Common Sense and Smart-Home Technology Help Protect Latchkey Kids

latchkey

It’s not easy being the parent of a “latchkey kid,” a child who’s left at home alone during the period after school but before Mom or Dad get home from work. It’s a time when they’re vulnerable not just to intruders, but also to the temptations that go along with having an extra little bit of freedom – even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

School’s back in session, so it’s a good time to talk about what parents can do to make sure their children remain safe – and out of trouble – while they’re home alone. Safety and security is what Monitronics does best, so (naturally) we have some ideas that will help ease everyone’s mind.

Start with the basics

It’d be nice if kids would sit quietly and waited for their parents to get home, but it just doesn’t work that way. That’s why it’s important to set ground rules. Much of it is common sense, like making sure that homework is complete before video games begin, or letting them know that certain parts of the house are off-limits when they’re alone.

But don’t be afraid to dig deeper. For example, it seems drastic to limit the number of friends who are allowed in the house after school, or even to specifically call out which “friends” aren’t welcome. But it doesn’t take long for peer pressure to build, and for mild temptations to become serious situations.

Have an honest, candid dialogue to discuss everyone’s expectations. There may be some room for compromise; don’t hesitate to meet your kids halfway, but stick to your guns.

Trust, but verify

Once the ground rules have been established, how do you know that everything is going according to plan? One easy way is through video security cameras at strategic locations throughout the house.

Everyone knows that video surveillance is a proven deterrent to burglars when no one is home. But it’s also a valuable way of keeping tabs on what’s happening when the kids are on their own. You not only make sure that the rules are being followed, but you also can be alerted to any trouble at a moment’s notice through text and email. Plus, there’s always recorded video that can help settle any disputes about what “really happened.”

Accessing live video through your smartphone doesn’t make you a spy. It doesn’t make you a distrustful parent. It makes you feel secure knowing that everything is OK.

Security starts at the door

Video also extends to the front door, with video doorbells like SkyBell HD. You can see who’s at the front door any time of day, which is especially important when your kids are home alone. You can get an alert on your smartphone, check out the video, and even speak to the person remotely. It’s a simple but powerful security tool.

Ultimately, though, the most important thing is knowing they arrived home safely. SkyBell (which can track visitors even when they don’t ring the doorbell) can play an important role, but you can also get real-time alerts through smart-home door locks. Plus, if they accidentally get locked out, you can let them in with a swipe of your finger.

Those are just a few of the ways that you can help make your kids safer when you can’t be home. Call Monitronics today and we’ll give you some more ideas.

Lawn Care 101 – Plants and Shrubs Can Help Protect Your Home

It’s easy to take landscaping for granted as just another way to make your home look great. But there are a number of ways to thoughtfully use natural vegetation to your advantage, particularly when it comes to energy conservation and home security.

Lawn Care 101 - Infographic

Take Simple Steps to Protect Yourself Online

online

Doing any kind of business online can put you at risk, especially since Internet-related crimes and hacking are now more common than ever. Consumers owe it to themselves and their families to be extra diligent in order to minimize the risks of being victimized.

According to 2015 statistics, there are now more than 3.17 billion internet users worldwide. If just one-half of 1 percent of those users goes online with criminal intent, that will work out to as many as 15 million people just looking for victims.

Consumers need to be just as diligent about protecting themselves online as they are about preventing burglary, property crimes, and the like. In fact, anyone with a home security system or home automation that depends on a wireless network also needs to engage in safe practices to avoid being compromised. Home security and home automation systems from Monitronics authorized dealers are designed to be secure, but you can take positive steps to help keep them that way.

Guard Personal Information

We hear warnings all the time, yet the importance of guarding personal information is still lost on far too many people.

  • Never transmit information online unless you are positive you are working with a reputable merchant with adequate security policies. That means credit card numbers, social security numbers or any other personal information.
  • Never share your passwords with anyone, even your best friends or family members. This especially applies to your network and any smartphone apps you use for your home.
  • Be sure to change all of your passwords on a regular basis, and use a combination of capital and small characters, numbers, and punctuation marks. The more complicated the password, the more difficult it is to hack.
  • Should you receive unsolicited e-mails from any company, even if you trust that company, take a minute to hover your cursor over all of the links in that e-mail to see where they lead. This is a good way to tell if an unsolicited e-mail is a scam. Also be aware of “phishing scams” that try to convince you to provide sensitive information online.
  • When it comes to doing business with websites or answering emails that you’re unsure about, the simple rule is: If you’re in doubt, don’t.

Keep an Eye on Your Monthly Bill

Credit card hackers love people who simply leave their monthly bank or credit card statement unopened on the desk or countertop each month. It takes time to go through it, and it’s easy to put it off. But just a cursory glance at your statement can show you potential trouble spots. If there’s a charge that you’re not sure about, it means you may have been hacked. Often, hackers will try a small charge with a well-known company – just to see if you’re paying attention – before trying a big transaction.

Only Use Secured Websites

Any websites that require you to enter personal information should be encrypted and secure. Look at the web address in your browser. If the address begins with “https,” the site is secure and encrypted. If it starts with “http,” the site is not secure.

Use Social Media Wisely

When you use social media to tell the world you are on vacation, or you have just checked in at a café downtown, you’re also telling criminals that you are not home. It’s tempting to think that your social media “friends” would never take advantage of the situation, but it’s more common than you think. You’re also susceptible if your social media account (or one of your friends) is hacked. The less information you make publicly available, the more secure you will be.

Take Advantage of Credit Monitoring

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to provide you with a free credit report at your request once every 12 months. There are other sources of credit reporting as well, including banks, credit card companies, and other providers, though they may include hidden charges or upsell opportunities. Consider enrolling in an ongoing credit monitoring service, which keeps track of your accounts and warns you if someone is trying to use your information fraudulently.

Don’t take your online security for granted. Being careful and diligent will help to keep you one step ahead of the hackers.

Sources:

1. Satista – http://www.statista.com/statistics/273018/number-of-internet-users-worldwide/

Quick and Easy Home Improvements Add Value Before the Sale

Home Improvements

Your home is probably the single biggest investment you’ll ever make, so you want it to retain – and even improve – its value for as long as you own it. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of time and effort, there are a number of quick and easy home improvements that will add value when it comes time to sell. Even better, they don’t cost a lot of money, which means you’ll enjoy maximum return on your dollar by investing more elbow grease than actual cash.

Keep Your Yard Neat and Trimmed

What potential buyers see from the curb will create the first impression of your home in their mind, so keep your home looking neat from the outside. For several weeks before listing your home, make a point to regularly cut the grass, remove any and all clutter, replace worn flowerpots, remove unattractive lawn ornaments, and so on.

Trim and shape the shrubs so that they do not block first-floor windows or the front entryway. This not only improves the curb appeal of your house, but also makes it difficult for would-be burglars to do their business unnoticed. A quick application of mulch around the base of your shrubs will spruce things up quickly and easily.

Give the Kitchen Some Class

Real estate experts say that the kitchen is the most important room in your home, so start by doing a thorough cleaning that includes countertops, stove, floors and cupboards. Look at easy ways to make other areas look sharp; for example, if the caulking around the kitchen sink is looking old and ratty, you can scrape it off and put down new caulk in a matter of minutes.

It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to replace a linoleum floor with something brand-new. Update your cupboards with new hardware and, in the case of worn paint or stain, a quick refinish that you can accomplish over the weekend. Applying matching cosmetic panels to appliances creates a coordinated look in the kitchen. The panels are inexpensive and a breeze to install.

Brighten up the Bathroom

The second-most important room in your home is the bathroom. Unfortunately, it’s often the most neglected area. Start by sprucing it up with a new toilet seat and a re-grout, if necessary. You can purchase an inexpensive pedestal sink to replace your current unit if it’s looking worn. You’ll want to replace any chipped tiles on the floor or walls. Finally, hit all of the painted walls with a fresh coat of gloss or semi-gloss.

New Paint Makes Everything Look Great

Most homeowners are surprised by how much better things look after a new coat of paint. A freshly painted house looks clean and new as long as you buy good quality paint, take your time, and be sure to use painter’s tape to create clean lines in the finished product.

A fresh coat of paint in the family room, living room, and all of the bedrooms will instantly give new life to your house. Best of all, paint is relatively inexpensive compared to replacing carpets and buying all new appliances.

With a small investment of time and money, you can add value to your house that will make it easier sell, and command a higher price.

 

Don’t Trust Your Security to the Cable Company

cable-security

Think about the service providers you consistently depend on. Now ask yourself if you’d want to take your dry cleaning to the bakery, or if you’d ask a plumber to install a new front door. And you definitely don’t want to consider letting your auto mechanic fill a cavity in your tooth.

That’s one of several reasons why it makes sense to think twice before you trust the cable company for home security or home automation.

Expertise Means Everything

Cable companies provide television, telephone and broadband services. This is how they make most of their money, and most of them do it reasonably well. At Monitronics, we don’t provide your TV signal or internet connection, and we don’t think the cable company should be in charge of your protection at home.

As a consumer, you want to look for the best provider for whatever service you’re shopping for, and home security and home automation are what we do for a living. We do it for more than a million customers, and we’ve been doing it for more than 20 years.

However, one broadband provider is smart enough to understand the difference. Consolidated Communications – a provider with services in 11 states – has partnered with Monitronics to allow us to provide home security and home automation to their customers. They know that we’re each successful when we stick to what we know, and work together to provide customers with top-notch services.

Better Price Does Not Mean Better Service

Cable companies have found that offering home security and automation is a way to increase revenues with a very limited amount of investment on their part. They already have the infrastructure in place through their cable systems and broadband servers; they only need to add some equipment and monitoring staff to pull it all together.

While your cable company might be able to offer a better price by bundling home security with television, telephone and broadband access, a better price does not mean better service. Also, in many instances, there is only one provider servicing a municipality because regulation keeps competition out. With limited competition, cable companies do not have any incentive to provide high-quality service.

Risking poor service for your television is one thing; it’s an entirely different thing when you’re talking about home security and monitoring.

Maintenance Service Problems

One final thing to consider about home security and the cable company is the very real possibility of encountering maintenance problems. It’s not always easy when you need the cable company to come and take a look at your television or internet service, so good luck calling them if you’re having a problem with your home security system.

As we already mentioned, poor customer service among cable companies is a product of the lack of competition. Cable companies have no incentive to treat their customers right. Yet Monitronics and our fellow home security specialists have all the incentive in the world. You are our incentive. We want to keep our customers because we know you could go elsewhere if you wanted.

The home security industry existed long before cable companies decided to get into the business. That’s just one reason we believe the cable company is not your best choice for home security. Let them provide television and broadband internet access. Let the experts at Monitronics take care of your home security and automation.