What You Will Learn
- How a Simple Timer Can Save you from Being a Victim
- Why you Should be Careful where you leave your Keys
- Build a ‘SAFE’ place for you Belongings
- How to Make you Home seem Less Attractive
- Keep Ladders and Tools Locked Away
- Why a Dog isn’t always a good Deterrent
- Motion-Activated Security Lights
- Install a Smart Security System
- How Tall Hedges might not be the Protection you Think it is
- Why a Fence might be the Answer
- Why you Should have Strong Doors and Locks
- More about Deadbolts…
- Why its a Good Idea to Get to Know you Neighbours
- How to Setup a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme
- Is the Royal Mail Keepsafe Service a Good Idea
- Why you Shouldn’t Advertise you New TV
- How Social Media could make you a Victim
About half a million UK homes are broken into ever year. The potential costs of a burglary run to many thousands of pounds.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, less than 15% of burglars are ever caught or convicted.
In addition to hitting your wallet hard, home invasions can be psychologically devastating. According to an article in the ‘Journal of Traumatology’,
“As a group, victims of burglary reported post-traumatic stress symptoms at a medium level of severity, while 41% met the cut-off for the high level of severity.”
Victims, especially those at an impressionable age, can have a very hard time dealing with a burglary.
Here, then, are 17 tried-and-tested methods that can help YOU avoid a home invasion, keeping your home, your possessions and (by far the most important thing) your family, safe.
Burglars, like bullies, are always looking for an easier target – and, like bullies, they are easily discouraged once their target starts to resemble any kind of challenge.
Forget the Hollywood myths of slinky black catsuits and bright red laser lines, burglary is about taking whatever you can get and escaping before you get caught. In reality, all thieves are opportunists.
While there certainly are some burglars who will watch a house for a few nights, getting a sense of its comings and goings and general level of security, this type is very rare compared to the average burglar, who is just looking for easy money. They would far rather break into an unoccupied house than an occupied one. Who wouldn’t?
A brief night drive down any street, anywhere, will quickly reveal which homes are occupied and which are not. Honest people recognise this fact and do nothing with it, but to a robber, this must be a bit like catalogue shopping.
As such, a simple, effective method of home protection is to make it look like somebody is at home. You can accomplish this by leaving the lights, radio or television on when you go out, but this is much better accomplished by purchasing a timer.
A timer is a relatively affordable device that can turn your lights or other devices on automatically at a set time in the evening. The better ones allow for multiple cycles, which really helps to give the illusion that somebody is home. You can set different timers to different lights, so that the bedroom lights come on at bedtime and etcetera. Setting your radio to a talk station and then programming the timer to turn the radio on at a certain time can actually be an excellent deterrent.
This approach may seem hopelessly optimistic, but, as discussed above, burglars aren’t looking for a challenge. Think back to our dark street. If there’s one house that is definitely occupied, one that might be occupied and one that definitely isn’t, which one is likely to be the target?
Having a key really is the easiest way into any locked building and, if you’ll remember, our burglar is always looking for the easiest payday.
Make sure that you only leave your spare house keys with trusted people. DO NOT hand them to neighbours that you barely know, or friends of friends. Be careful if copying keys for your children. Always be aware of how many keys there are to your home at any given time – and for goodness’ sake don’t put your home address on them!
It may seem surprising, but keeping your keys within easy reach of the door (as most of us do) is probably not as safe as you think. If your keys are easily viewed from a window, or even through the letterbox, they can probably be stolen.
Thieves have ingenious ways of obtaining your keys, even when you are home. Some have even gone as far as to construct simple hooks or magnetic devices that can be fed through the letterbox and used to pick keys up (even if they happen to be in handbags). This is known as ‘the fishing method’.
Sometimes, only car keys are taken, with the thieves simply turning up, stealing the keys through the letterbox and driving the car away as the victim sleeps!
When you move into a new home, it is important to change the locks as soon as possible. Unless you change the locks, you actually have no idea who may still have access to your house.
According to the FBI, the average burglary in the states lasts between 8 and 12 minutes. Unless their robbers are doing it differently, it seems safe to assume that our UK-based home invaders are taking about the same amount of time.
Reformed burglar-turned-TV-presenter Michael Fraser asserts that breaking into a place is a swift, efficient process – and often takes place during the day while the occupants are out at work. He says that a quick knock on the door will ascertain whether anybody is in or not and, after that, it is simply a matter of finding a way in.
A swift kick to the bottom right corner of the door will expose the presence of a deadlock. Cobwebs or dust on an alarm system, back door keyhole or front door deadlock are all seen as “invitations”, by burglars and could also help them find a way in.
Peering into the window, a burglar can potentially even read your calendar, which may tell him when you’re next leaving town.
According to Fraser, an effective burglar can easily remove a glass window from your front door and then open it from the inside. To passers-by, it’ll just look like you’re having some work done, if anyone notices at all. An unlocked shed or garage in the garden would likely contain all the tools an intruder would need to gain access to your property.
So, how much can a burglar get in just under a quarter of an hour?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. A lot of the things in our home that are of the most monetary value are also the things we use most often (that way, they justify the hefty price tags).
However, a burglar may not be after your stereo, TV or laptop. In fact, they’re more likely going to steal any personal documentation you have. Doing this will enable them to steal your identity, or even clone your credit cards. Grabbing a travel bag or carrier from inside the house, the thief will then stock up on anything else of immediate value (often with an eye toward blackmail) and leave.
An experienced burglar will use their time extremely efficiently, searching out common targets such as medicine cabinets (there is a strong demand for controlled substances), bedrooms (where valuables such as jewellery are often kept), home offices (for documents or portable tech) and playrooms (usually for video game systems and etc).
Many people feel safer by simply hiding things before they go out. Usually this doesn’t work because those people are not as imaginative as they think they are. A career burglar has probably robbed and ransacked a lot of homes. He knows about the keys under the mat, the money hidden under the mattress and even valuables stored in freezers and toilet wells. He’s seen it all.
One solution to this problem is to buy a safe.
‘…But hold on’, you may ask, ‘if the burglars would steal my computer, what’s to stop them stealing a safe and opening it by force when they get home?’
Nothing at all. That’s why you buy two, a hidden safe and a decoy safe. In the hidden safe, you can store your real valuables and, in the decoy, well, you can store whatever you damn well please.
Obviously, you then hide the hidden safe, but keep the decoy somewhere plausible, like the office, where it looks like it might just contain everything the burglar is looking for.
According to Fraser, the safest storage space for valuables (including your hidden safe) is the loft, because burglars can’t make an easy escape from up there. He also recommends watermarking your valuables and putting a sticker in your window to advertise this fact.
Visible deterrents outside your house can be really effective. The burglar is looking for a quick, easy payday – so don’t give them one.
Timers and window stickers are cheap, effective methods of discouragement, as are automatic security lights and a visible alarm system. If an alarm is too expensive, then a dummy alarm (in reality a simple model that looks like an alarm) can be purchased for under £20 online.
The dummy alarm won’t stand up to close scrutiny (burglars are aware of them and can identify them easily enough), but it may just provide that extra deterrent if you happen to be on a tight budget.
On the whole, you want it to look like you’re very security conscious. The rub is that, in order to show potential burglars that you take your home security seriously; you actually have to take your home security seriously.
Here are a few general tips (some of which will be expanded upon later):
- An internal or external CCTV system is a turn off, but not a deal breaker. If the intruder can cover his/her head (for example, with a hoodie) and avoid the lens, then they may still attempt to gain access. Still, a house with highly visible CCTV is far less appealing than a house without it.
- If your windows lock, you should be sure to keep them locked. Robbers will check to see if they are locked before attempting to gain access.
- Always lock your shed or garage.
- Keep your garden well tended, it helps to remind a burglar that you’re often at home.
- Notes to service people, delivery personnel and etc such as “back in 10” are a definite ‘no-no’. You may well be back in 10, but 5 is all the burglar needs.
- A standard Yale lock offers no protection at all from a seasoned burglar, better to get an additional five-lever mortise lock for the main entrance.
- A thin, flimsy door should be replaced as soon as possible with a thicker, more secure model.
- Ensure that your windows are double, or even triple glazed.
- Be aware of what can be seen through your windows. Go outside and have a look in if you’re not sure. Avoid keeping keys, calendars and valuables in plain sight. For that matter, you should ask a neighbour to collect your mail, as a pile of letters easily visible from outside is a sign that the occupants are away.
- Avoid flaunting your valuables. If you just had a new computer or phone delivered, put the box/accompanying paraphernalia away, don’t leave it where it can be seen from outside. Do not chuck the box straight into the recycling, either. All it does it sit outside overnight, advertising your latest purchase to burglars.
- Be aware that some ‘door-to-door sales’ and unsolicited phone calls are used by potential burglars to find out about your schedule, “Can I call back tomorrow around twelve?” should never be answered with, “no, sorry. I’ll be at work then” for example.
- Advertise some of your external security measures so the burglar knows what he is getting into.
What puts your home at a greater risk? Well, living in a high crime area for one (it seems obvious, but its true). If your home has been burgled before, or if other homes near to you have been, then you are likely to have been considered, or even lined up, as a possible target.
So, the perfect home for a burglar (to break into, not live in) is…
- Situated in a low traffic area (which means that there are less potential witnesses).
- Often unoccupied for extended periods of time.
- Surrounded by bushes, dark corners or overgrowth, (basically anywhere thieves can hide).
- Completely devoid of security systems.
- Full of old, single-paned windows, with minimum locks on doors.
- Slightly off the beaten track.
Lets face it, no burglar wants to be caught walking down the street carrying a crowbar in an otherwise empty bag and wearing leather driving gloves, does he?
If he’s going to do it that way, he might as well be wearing a mask and a stripy shirt and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’!
Most burglars will simply find a bag in your closet, or on top of your wardrobe, fill it with whatever they can find, and then leave. Worryingly, the average UK shed contains more than enough tools to break in to the average house, if you know how. Hammers, chisels, even trowels can be used by skilled hands to quickly, quietly and cleanly gain entry into a locked house. Often, this process takes less than a minute.
Ladders are also dangerous things to leave out, even if it is workmen leaving them on your property when they finish for lunch. A ladder can offer entry into the upper floors of the house, a place where the windows are more likely to be open and therefore an easier access point for the enterprising thief.
A great idea is to buy a lock for your side door/garden gate. It’s not a last line of defence, admittedly, but it will help to put the robber off. Your garden is likely the easiest point of entry into your house, and an open gate makes your garage or shed all the easier to access.
We tend to think of owning a dog as being the best deterrent against break-ins. After all, they’re naturally protective; intelligent enough to know what’s up and, in most cases, will bark at intruders. In addition, no other deterrent on this list will take a bite out of your would-be home invader.
…But is having a dog really a deterrent?
A 2012 study, undertaken by the University of North Carolina and the Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, interviewed 422 convicted burglars and asked them questions about their methods and motives.
Of the prisoners interviewed, just 34% said that a dog in the house was a deterrent. The presence of a dog fell far behind the presence of people inside the house (60%), a nearby police presence (55%), an alarm system (45%) and even people walking around nearby (35%). In fact, only steel bars (25%) were less of a deterrent. However, it should be noted that 51% of those asked did put the dog down as a factor to be considered when selecting a target.
Many burglars will actually bring dog treats along with them, in order to keep your ‘canine security system’ at bay.
Despite the US Department of Justice formally concluding that houses containing dogs are statistically less likely to be burgled, it seems that good old Fido might not be all you need after all.
Another questionable method of deterring burglars involves purchasing a ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign when you don’t actually own a dog, with some people even going as far as to put out bowls of food and dog toys. Of course, if the would-be intruder cottons on to the fact that there is no dog in the house, they may try to break-in in the belief that the sign was your home’s main form of defence. More effective is the ‘barking dog’ alarm, which emits the sound of a dog barking whenever it goes off.
The barking, rather than the biting, is the real thing that most burglars are put off by. A barking dog attracts attention, even if that attention only comes from nosey neighbours looking outside to see what’s going on. To return to the North Carolina study, 45% of interviewees listed seeing the neighbours around the area as a deterrent.
Despite this, there are a good many stories of dogs protecting their homes from intruders, so let’s not give up on the ‘doggy deterrent’ method completely.
Retired police officer Tim Dees, speaking to the blog ‘Ring’, said, “A nasty dog that threatens to attack people is just a liability and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Instead, get a friendly dog that goes nuts when he sees someone in your yard or someone comes to the door. My dog wouldn’t hurt a soul, but you can’t tell that when you hear him on the other side of the door.”
The subject of security lights has come up already, but it really bears further examination.
Burglars will often target properties with plenty of available hiding places, such as overgrowth and short trees. Under the cover of darkness, it can be nearly impossible to locate a person who is hiding in one of these areas. Activated by motion sensors, security lights illuminate the area around the movement, making camouflage a far more difficult prospect for the would-be thief or prowler.
Simply illuminating the outside of your house all night can be a double-edged sword, as security blogger Amanda Li points out. She writes that regular porch lighting can simply serve to give the burglar a helping hand. It is also unlikely to be seen by burglars as definitive proof that the home’s occupants are inside and is absolutely useless without witnesses from the neighbourhood to see, then report the break-in.
Even then, the odds of an arrest or conviction are slim.
A motion-activated security light, on the other hand, can surprise and disorient the intruder, in addition to warding him off in the first place.
If you’re lucky, the worst perp your security light will ever need to catch will be the neighbours’ cat on his way to befoul your lawn, but if not, the security light could be the difference between being burgled and not being burgled.
Security lights should be placed all around the home, but especially at the entrances (over all doors is best). Smaller lights can be used to tastefully light up decking and patios, which can then act as a security system at the same time. In general, however, floodlights are best for, ahem, shining a light on home invasion.
If you can afford to do so, it is definitely worth investing in a high quality home security system from a trusted brand. Yes, it’ll be a pain to sift through the various models, read all the reviews and compare prices. It also won’t be cheap, but the alternative (in this case getting burgled) could end up costing you a heck of a lot more!
“…OK”, you may say, “but isn’t it enough to just have a decent burglar alarm?”
Yes, burglar alarms ARE a deterrent. However, in this area, the would-be burglar probably has you at a major disadvantage. You may have read a few articles and seen a few reviews before purchasing your alarm, but he gets around these things for a living. You need to be absolutely certain that your purchase is the best option in your price range.
Besides, what good does a loud alarm actually do?
Sure, it’ll frighten the burglar, but probably not before he can hightail it out of there with a bag full of your stuff.
What will your neighbours do if they see him? Not a lot, most likely.
In busy, over-populated areas, alarms can go off all the time. In many cases, people just tune them out.
The trick, therefore, must be to buy better security system and to employ it along with the other suggestions on this list. A smart security system (like the ones discussed in this article from ‘Which?’) allows you to use the Internet to watch your home in real time. Remotely, you can also lock doors, set off alarms and alert police to a break-in, even if you aren’t home.
Motion detectors, security cameras and other sensors all connect to a smart, easy-to-use app. Of course, such systems are pretty expensive, but good for your peace of mind, if nothing else.
If you cannot afford a new security system, here are a couple of tips to get more from your alarms.
- A clever thief can easily disable an alarm system with obvious wiring, so conceal your wiring and look for an alarm that cannot easily be tampered with.
- If you can get a monitored alarm, police will be alerted the second the alarm goes off. Of course, this should be advertised with window stickers and so on.
- Ensure that your alarm system is always in use – and that it looks as new as possible. Don’t let it get dusty or dirty or fall into disrepair.
Too much greenery around a property can provide perfect hiding places for a burglar. A security hedge however, can be almost as effective as a wall – and actually looks a lot prettier.
Believe it or not, hedges can sometimes deter would-be burglars from forcing their way onto your property. Once a burglar breaks in to a home with a hedge, there is really only one way out – and burglars don’t like that. They like multiple exit possibilities so they can leave in a hurry and hiding places in case they can’t, a hedge provides them with neither.
However, if the hedge is too high, it can also cause problems. In addition to being singled out in England and Wales’ Anti Social Behaviour Act of 2003 (Part 8) as a nuisance, a high hedge can also help, rather than hinder, a break-in. One police officer, writing for ‘The Crime Prevention Website’ recalled,
“In one memorable incident during a hot summer in Acton a male suspect, who was arrested at the scene, had climbed through a wide-open sliding sash window situated behind a very high hedge, whereupon he sexually assaulted a young woman who had simply been sitting on her couch watching TV. Fortunately a neighbour heard the poor lady’s cries for help and me and my colleague were literally around the corner when we received the call. The high hedge was removed the following day!”
If you’re after something that intruders will regret trying to climb, pyracantha, hawthorn, red barberry or holly (festive for you, less so for the burglar) are all good choices. If you want a taller hedge, consider buying Japanese yew, pittosporum or wax myrtle. The only trouble is that a full-size hedge will take between 3 and 5 years to fully grow.
As previously noted, the garden is an ideal point of entry for a burglar. It is quiet, away from prying eyes, full of potential hiding places and often stocked with easily accessible tools. Plus, if old Mrs. Warren pokes her head over the wall, she’ll likely just assume that you’re having some work done (after all, if the person is already in the garden, then somebody must have let them in, right?) don’t think that your burglar won’t give a friendly wave to her either, just so she knows its all above board!
Fences leading to locked gates can really put burglars off, sending them in search of an easier target. Staffordshire Police recommend getting rear fencing around 1.8 metres high (planning permission is not usually required, though they recommend checking anyway just to be sure).
Front fencing, on the other hand, will require planning permission and should only be about 1metre in height. The aim here is no so much to keep people out as to demarcate a clear boundary around your house. This way, it is very difficult for anybody to claim that they have wandered onto your property by accident.
There are quite a few ‘dos and don’ts’ when it comes to fences. A couple are listed here, but only as a prelude to further research specific to your own needs.
- Keep your fencing as close to the ground as possible.
- Keep your fence/wall well maintained, to allow it to fall into disrepair sends a clear message that your security is lax.
- Topping your fence with diamond design trellis, a trailing rose bush, or both, will make it much harder for intruders to gain a foothold.
- For that matter, try to avoid designs that offer an easy foothold.
- If you have a gate with a drop-on, two-part hinge, reverse one hinge to prevent the gate being lifted off. This small move would go unnoticed by an ordinary member of the public, but sends a clear message to a would-be burglar that you pay proper attention to home security, and that he’d be better served by looking elsewhere.
To be frank, the topic of perimeter fencing is a complex one. There is, it must be said, far more to it than can adequately be discussed here.
If your immediate thoughts run somewhere in the vicinity of ‘if some so-and-so comes into my garden, all bets are off!’ keep in mind that, in the legal terminology of this instance, the word ‘trespasser’ could apply to anybody found on the premises without your express consent, from a mad axe murderer to a small child trying to retrieve her ball.
Under this law, anything that could harm said trespasser must be clearly labelled, so the person understands the danger going in. In addition, the danger must be clearly seen, not hidden. All of this (and more) should be clear in your mind before you start securing the perimeter of your home.
(Not so) fun fact: 75% of home invaders gain access via a door.
Comparatively few burglars are climbing through windows, the vast majority aren’t being invited in to steal stuff and almost none are coming down chimneys. No, these robbers are walking through our front doors (often utilising nothing more technical than a credit card to gain entry) and, by utilizing poor quality doors and locks; we are letting them do it.
Lock snapping is a growing concern among private citizens and police. Put simply, it involves breaking the lock cylinder in order to open the door and gain entry. This is not a subtle or special skill and requires little, if any, training. In fact, lock snapping is so simple that about 25% of UK break-ins are achieved via this method. To avoid this, it is recommended that you buy a Sold Secure (SS312) Diamond Standard lock, these cannot be lock snapped.
Any lock with a 3-star specification (or above), will prevent lock snapping, so this is well worth investing in.
It sounds obvious, but another popular method of burglary is simply to kick the door in (remember Michael Fraser kicking the door in search of a deadbolt).
Obviously, you want a door that can’t be kicked in. Your front door (in fact, any door leading outside), should be solid wood, or at least have a solid wood core. Other options would be fibreglass or metal, but remember, it MUST be kick proof.
A deadbolt lock should prevent your door being kicked in, but it must go deep and it must be a decent one. If not, then even the toughest door can be kicked down. If necessary, you may even have to bolster your doorframe to accommodate the new lock.
A windowless front door (with a spyhole, of course) is also a good deal safer than the alternative and a letter cage beneath the letterbox will help guard against the ‘fishing’ tactic discussed above.
“Every home is vulnerable,” said a career burglar in the US, the veteran of “at least” 5,000 home invasions. The un-named man (at the time incarcerated) was interviewed by Florida’s WPTV in 2010 (the interview itself can be seen on the Left) and was surprisingly forthright when questioned about his methods.
Sliding glass doors, he said, are a major weak spot in any house that has them. Often, a basic latch is all that keeps these doors shut, and these can usually be opened simply by ‘jiggling them about a bit’, which is useful if you get locked out by accident, but not so useful if you don’t fancy having your Xbox stolen.
Fortunately, there are ways to bolster these doors, such as the addition of alarms, double bolt locks or master locks.
To stop a burglar from simply breaking the glass in order to gain entry (more common than you might think, despite the noise it makes), you can attach a security film to the window. This will make it harder (but not impossible) to break.
There is also such as thing as a glass break detector. This was enough of a deterrent that the burglar interviewed above said it made him “stay away”, so that would definitely be worth a look if your property has sliding glass doors.
As mentioned elsewhere in this article, a deadbolt lock is a secure lock that can only be opened from a key or a knob and cannot be easily bent, battered, bored or broken. Such locks are designed to resist forced entry and, as such, they form an important part of a modern home’s overall security.
The UK Home Office recommends fitting 5 lever deadlocks to all external doors (to the standard 3621: 2004).
You’ll want to ensure that the deadbolt lock you buy is of good quality. A cheap lock is no more secure than any other lock and is especially vulnerable to drilling. Many of the better deadbolts do come with anti-drilling features, so it definitely pays to shop around.
Ultimately, you’ll of course have to choose a lock that suits the specific needs of your property. There are many things to consider when purchasing a deadbolt lock, for example the choice between double and single cylinder locks. Whilst the double is a tad more secure, it has been known to hamper exits (such as in the case of fire) as well as entries.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to fit it yourself or hire a locksmith.
If you’re a Brit, then you likely have little or nothing to do with your neighbours. Oh, you’re probably very adept at smiling sheepishly when you see them in the street or even making painful small talk when you’re in the same queue in the corner shop.
If you know anything about them, it’s probably a first name, followed by an amazingly generalised fact. “That’s Julie from Number 12. She likes cats” “Mahmoud in Number 26 smokes too much” etc etc.
Well, now that you’re reading this article and you’re already good and scared, you might as well take the plunge and make more of an effort. Not only are Julie and Mahmoud probably very nice people, but also a neighbourhood that is close-knit and knows one another is far more likely to keep each other abreast of strangers walking around or of local break-ins and car thefts.
Having the neighbours onside is also invaluable if you have to go away. The peace of mind you’ll get from knowing that someone is keeping an eye on your place is considerable.
A kindly neighbour can pick up your mail, water your plants, even walk the dog for you and all you have to do in return is bring them a half-melted box of chocolates from whatever island paradise you happened to visit (until they go away for their own vacations, that is, then its payback time for them and melty chocolates for you!).
Plus, people are far more likely to investigate a loud crash from your place if they know and care about you.
There are lots of ways to meet your neighbours properly, but the best method is just not to be shy. Nobody is going to bite your head off for starting a conversation. You could begin by complimenting a change of hairstyle or their choice of outfit and go from there.
It sounds trite, but those ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ stickers can quickly and painlessly send a potential burglar elsewhere in search of loot.
For those who don’t know, a neighbourhood watch scheme involves a group of neighbours agreeing to keep an eye on each other’s homes and report suspicious activity to the homeowners and, if necessary, the police.
As a system, it is simple, but also quite effective. Dan the security guard, for example, may be at home in the day and more than happy to keep an eye on Mary’s house while she’s at work. In return, she’ll cast a watchful eye over Dan’s place at night, while he’s out, and so on.
The first thing to do if you wish to set up a scheme is talk to your neighbours. Some won’t be interested, but that’s OK, you only need a few people to watch the neighbourhood efficiently. Once you’ve agreed to it with the other participants, you can then contact the local police, who will be happy to put you through to the appropriate departments.
Once everything is official (and the stickers are in the post), you must then agree on a coordinator and possibly a deputy. This person/people will be the principal liaison between members, as well as between the rest of the neighbourhood and the police.
Typically, a neighbourhood watch scheme involves regular meetings, informing the police of any suspicious activity (some groups even publish regular newsletters).
The NW can be used to crack down on anti-social behaviour, as well as make your neighbourhood a safer, friendlier place to live and, as such, it is well worth donating your time to.
If you like, you can also join Crimestoppers
The Royal Mail provides a service, called a Keepsafe, whereby they hold your mail for you if you’re away and unable to get to it. Whilst this can help to deter burglars by reducing a visible pile of envelopes, catalogues and parcels on the welcome mat, it can also make your absence an obvious fact.
One reformed burglar in the US (who managed to lift something like $70m worth of jewellery over a long career) talked of getting ‘tips’ from local informants as to when a person was going away on vacation. Having your mail/deliveries stopped would simply confirm this rumour as a fact for the interested observer.
In reality, the best solution is as low tech and obvious as it gets, befriend your neighbour and ask them to pick it up for you.
For all the potential burglar knows, this neighbour is simply popping over for a cup of tea – and he never knows when they might return, so that fact alone upgrades your house from ‘easy pickings’ to ‘potentially risky’.
OK, so you bought that new console, or laptop, or sound system, or car. Whatever it is, you’re probably feeling pretty proud of yourself right about now – and why not? Look at all the features! It lights up! It orders the shopping for you! It can toast a crumpet AND clean the toilet (though hopefully not at the same time!) basically, this thing RULES and OF COURSE you want to show it off.
However, you should keep in mind that, as fun as it is making your friends jealous and telling anyone who will listen about your latest purchase, you’re probably also advertising it to a potential thief.
Yes, the word used was ‘advertising’. Let’s look at advertising, shall we? Advertising creates a demand for a product by extolling the virtues of that product, then informing us when and where it is available.
…Exactly what you’re doing by bragging about your new super-duper-gizmodiac plus, or whatever it is.
As stated above, even putting the packaging outside on recycling day can be asking for trouble. During the last world cup, the insurance company Churchill put up a notice warning people about buying new TVs and then inadvertently displaying their purchases in this manner. Martin Scott, Head of Churchill Home Insurance explained that,
“Over half of respondents said they put empty TV boxes straight in the recycling bin and seven per cent put packaging straight in the rubbish as it is. Leaving packaging outside the house advertises the brand new TV to opportunist thieves.”
So remember, it pays to be humble, even unassuming with your purchases. If you wanted it, then the chances are good that somebody else does as well.
A Facebook ‘check in’ at the airport and a bunch of wacky selfies from the departure lounge might seem like a nice way for your friends and family to share in the magic of your summer hols, but it also sends a very clear message: you aren’t at home.
So, you might post something like, “Having a great time floating about in the Dead Sea, see you all in two weeks xxx”
But to a burglar, this reads, “I am away, in another country, no less. You literally have fourteen days to visit my house, take whatever you like and leave me with nothing. Even if somebody finds out, it’ll be AGES before anyone can do anything about it. Scroll through my photo albums and you should find enough clues about where I live to find the place xxx”
“But hold on” you cry, “nobody on my ‘Friends List’ is a burglar. I’d know about it!”
…Can you really be so sure?
Pew Research Center maintains that the average number of Facebook friends for an adult is 338. We also know that over half of all Facebook users have 200+ friends. As of 2014, roughly 24 Million Brits were logging into the site every day.
How well do you really know these people? In the 1990’s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar published the theory of ‘Dunbar’s Number’, a study that correlated primate brain size with social group size.
His conclusion was that a human being can only comfortably maintain around 150 stable relationships at any given time. These would include varying degrees of closeness and familiarity, of course. But if you have 890 friends of Facebook, the chances are that some of them aren’t really your friends. One or two may not even be people.
Today, Dunbar’s number is actually looking overly optimistic. In 2011, the organisation Time Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (which they’ve somehow contorted into ‘TESS’ for short) suggested that we each have only two close friends (here ‘close’ is defined as somebody with whom you can confide utterly).
So, if we take TESS’ research, apply it to Dunbar’s Number and run it through Pew’s data, we find that the average person has 300+ friends on Facebook, can only seriously have relationships of any meaningful kind with 150 of them and, of that 150 only two are considered close friends, meaning that out there somewhere could be a potential burglar ready to pounce.
A 2017 study, this time by Together Mutual Insurance, found that over a 30-day period, something like 1.5Million holiday-related posts had gone up on social media. 66,000 of these were British people openly discussing their holiday plans on Twitter. Astoundingly, 8% of people even uploaded photos of their passports (some of which included sensitive data).
Home security firm Friedlands interviewed 50 ex-burglars, 77% of whom said they had used social media to pick their targets. 75% of them had then used Google Street View in order to ‘get a better feel’ for the property and plan their escape.
Still think you’re safe? ‘SafeZone’ reports that roughly 58% of all social media users have not improved the privacy settings of their various accounts, leaving them wide open to attack (and even searchable by their geographic location).
What can you do to remedy this? Well, for starters, Facebook is actually pretty customisable. You can set your profile to varying degrees of privacy, from completely open to anyone anywhere (and searchable on Google), to totally private and un-searchable, even to other Facebook users. You can also tailor your statuses so that they can be seen only be those you deem to be close friends. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know and toggle the ‘privacy’ settings until you are comfortable (a quick Google search should show you how if you’re confused).
Even with these precautions, there are risks. A friend could be mugged, hacked or simply lose their phone, which could then find its way into the hands of a local ne’er-do-well, or else they could mention your holiday in conversation and be overheard by the wrong person.
To update a wartime classic, “careless talk costs Blu Ray players”.
The best idea is only to tell a few special people that you’re going away. You can upload all the pictures you like upon your return. If you really want to update people, why not create a special group, just for you and your close friends (y’know, both of them) and make the pictures/statuses exclusive to it?
…So there you have it. When thinking about home security, don’t be scared of being burgled, just be aware of how, where and why burglars strike, then make your house that thing that 99% of burglars hate: a challenge.