By Joel Craig, NEWS 9 Contributor

Vacation time is in full swing and the perfect time for an unscrupulous person to help themselves to the things inside of your home.

Leaving a house dark or leaving a light on 24-hours a day is just as inviting as piled up papers. You know to stop the mail and the newspaper when leaving town for any period of time, but it can also be easy and inexpensive to make your home look like someone is home.

The key to making your empty house looked "lived in" are some simple timers. They cost around $5 and can simulate your at-home activity. I suggest buying at least three or four timers for the average home, even if your home is an apartment. For lighting, think about using one in the living room or family room, one in your bedroom, one in another room, like a kid's room and then one for a radio.

The lamps and radio simply plug into the timer and the timer into the wall outlet. Setting them up is easy too. Many have a dial to set the current time of day. Then you use the pins to set when you want the lamp or radio on and off. All the timers have the ability to set a couple of times for on and off for a day.

You do the same with the radio because you want some sound going on in your home. Using a radio provides the perception of activity within the home. Again, set the timer for multiple on/off cycles.

When choosing timers you'll have a few decisions to make. Don't worry, these are easy decisions based on how much you want to spend and the technology you're comfortable using.

First there are the analog clock types that work just like an old style clock. Turn the dial, set the time, adjust the on/off, plug it into the wall. Then there are the digital clock models. These set just like the clock on a clock-radio. You set the on/off just like you would the wake-up alarm.

Another thing to consider is that basic timers repeat the exact same on/off cycles everyday at the exact same time. There are timers that can vary the on/off by themselves thereby giving a more random appearance.

Lastly, you can also purchase 7-day timers. These allow you to set the various on/off cycles differently for each day of the week.

If you want to add timer security and have some home automation turning on and off appliances and dimming lights - that's easy as well.