Just before the holidays, on December 12th, one of our neighbors on Dunstan had a break in. The burglars used a very common method of casing the house, they watched the owner drive away, then knocked on the door. They knocked again and again to make sure no one was home. But in this instance, the teenage son was home sick from school. Not feeling well, he didn’t open the door, but called his dad to find out if he was expecting someone. Unfortunately their back sliding door wasn’t locked (who hasn’t forgotten this at some point?) and the thief came into the house, at which point the son went into the master bedroom, locked the door, then went into the bathroom and locked that door, called his dad, who was just down the street running an errand, and then called 911. The burglar kicked in the bedroom door and possibly heard the teen on the phone in the bathroom because when the police arrived, guns drawn, he was gone. The circumstances were incredibly frightening but luckily the boy did the right thing by not confronting the burglar, as did the dad by not rushing into the house, as the police requested. (FYI: burglary related assaults most commonly occur when someone surprises/corners a thief, so please keep that in mind if you walk in on a suspicious situation in your own home.)
The homeowner on Dunstan shared his own thoughts about what to watch out for in your neighborhood:
Be aware of the cars and people on your street. When I pulled up to my house I noticed a large, white, unmarked van sitting up the street with only one driver in it. I think they may have been the ones who saw me leave and were ready to throw my stuff into the truck. Also take notice if someone is loitering on your street – maybe it just looks like a teenager or someone is sitting on a curb smoking or talking on the phone, but what they’re actually doing is waiting for someone to leave and then calling the crew to let them know which house is a ready target.
Luckily nothing was taken in the Dunstan case, but thieves are not discriminating and usually it’s not so much the things that can be replaced, but the process of replacing them, the irreplaceable items, and the sense of security that you lose. Only about 13% of all reported burglaries are solved by police so you will likely never see your grandma Hazel’s costume jewelry again!
Now that the holidays are over and all the gifts have been delivered, it’s a good time to be aware and update yourself with tips on how to prevent home break-ins. There are a lot of good tips out there so I’ve included links to a couple of easy, concise lists from Moneycrashers.com and Nationwide insurance and a pretty comprehensive list below from Scambusters.com – I only scooped the tips from their in depth article by criminologist Elicka S.L. Peterson-Sparks, so if you want more info from them, just follow that link.
* If have tips or you’ve had a break-in, please feel free to comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share info and help keep our neighborhood safe!
…Elicka graciously agreed to let us publish her home burglary protection tips to her neighbors, to which we’ve also added a few thoughts of our own. Here they are.
- People are your best defense — be a visibly nosy neighbor. Let anyone walking the neighborhood or sitting in a parked car see you watching them.Make a note of car license plates and if anyone behaves suspiciously or stays in their car for a lengthy period, call the police.
- Tell close neighbors you trust if you plan to be away or expect any deliveries.If they’re in the know they’re more likely to notice something you didn’t mention and spot unexpected callers at your home (burglars often call at the front door of a house to check if anyone is there).
- And, if you are going away, use timers to switch lights on and off at random, cancel newspapers and put a hold on your mail deliveries — or, to guard your schedule, arrange for the trusted neighbor to collect them.
- Having a dog is a huge deterrent. Ironically, burglars are far more likely to avoid a house with a small dog than a big one — small dogs tend to be nervous and less easy to trick into calming down. They’re less trustful and bark louder and longer.
- Take a walk around your home, inside and out, to figure where the weakest link in your security might be — like leaving a window open in a secluded spot.High-risk places include the door from your garage into the house, back doors, side “breezeways” where a burglar would not be seen, and large shrubs close to the residence where thieves could hide.
- Take action to increase protection in these vulnerable places — like installing keyed window locks and deadbolts on doors and using toughened glass in windows and doors. Remove those shrubs.If you leave windows open on the second floor, make sure your extension ladder is locked away.
- Be wary about who you allow into your home and how much information you give about your belongings and schedule.This applies even with neighbors you don’t know or fully trust (“inside” jobs are not uncommon). And don’t leave valuables in view, inside or from outside the house.
- If you’re able, vary the times you leave and return home. If your household has several cars, vary who drives them, making it more difficult for an observer to know who is home and when.
- Make it tough for home burglary prowlers to know whether they’re under surveillance.Fake cameras can be good — but only if they could be taken for the real thing, not cheap plastic devices with flashing lights, which home burglars easily identify.Fake security stickers or signs don’t work either, but, if you have an alarm, real stickers and signs work.
- Control access to and around your property. Consider motion-activated lights, even on the street outside your home.Neighborhood Watch, Video Surveillance, No Parking,and No Outlet signs can be effective against home burglary too. This way, would-be thieves know you mean business.
- Motion-activated cameras are another powerful weapon — both as a home burglary deterrent and, linked to a computer (and, better yet, to a home network), to record images of your unwelcome visitors.These days, these devices are inexpensive. Network-linked cameras costing around $85 can even email images so you have an off-site backup (ours sends images automatically to a separate gmail account, so even if the camera is disabled, we still have the pictures online).
- An alarm system, preferably with a visible box outside the house, will not only deter crooks but sound an immediate alert of a home burglary.You might seriously consider a system that’s monitored 24/7 by a security company who will quickly notify law enforcement of an incident.
- Gates, both to your property and in gated communities, can also be a home burglary deterrent, (even if there is another way out). If you have a guarded, gated community, use “Resident” stickers.Renters could have a temporary sticker they must surrender at the end of their lease, while visitors collect a pass which they must return on leaving.
- Avoid creating temptation. Don’t leave things like lawn mowers and bikes unattended outside; lock them up.Inside, burglars are more likely to go for “middle of the road” valuables than expensive jewelry and appliances — because they’re easier to redeem for cash.
- Don’t hide a key. Home burglary crooks know all those “secret” places.Elicka recalls: “I interviewed a burglar who hit the same house every few years for 30 years.”Astonishingly, as he was showing us what he liked about it, he jumped out of the car to show us where they had hidden the key, over the door, for about 10 years!”
More Home Burglary Dangers
There are two other important home burglary facts you should know.
First, if you’ve previously been burglarized, you’re statistically more likely — six times more, according to Elicka– to be targeted again, so you will need to take extra precautions.
And second, home burglaries can involve much more than the theft of your valuables. If the crooks steal personal and confidential information, you could become a victim of another major scam –identity theft. Visit the Scambusters Identity Theft Information Center to learn more about this crime.