One night, you come home to find your door kicked open. Your house has been torn apart. Your electronics are missing. No laptop, no iPad, no television left. Your wife's jewelry is gone.
You've just been the victim of a burglary. According to the latest data from the FBI, about 1.4 million burglaries happened in 2017, a slight drop from previous years. However, victims lost $3.4 billion in property.
With folks leaving home to travel for the holidays, burglaries pick up this month and next (the same applies during summer travel season). If this happens to you, you might ask yourself – what could I have done to prevent this? And if it's never happened to you, you'll want to protect yourself before it happens.
A few years ago, we put together a list based on an investigative report. Folks from the television news station KGW in Portland, Oregon asked 86 convicted burglars about how they chose homes to target. Everyone should read their findings and protect themselves today...
1. Keep your doors and windows locked. This might be common sense, but most homes broken into had an unlocked entrance that burglars used. This included windows on second or third floors. With this is mind, lock up any items that someone can use to get to a second floor. Don't keep ladders in your backyard or in an unlocked garage.
2. Secure your doorway. This is a tip sent to us from G.E., a retired police officer from Phoenix. First, high quality glass does deter entry, but not as much as protector screens and/or roll-down security shutters. And second, utilize security doors or iron entry doors where it applies, top-notch locks, or a steel door with steel frames if you can afford it (especially if you have a double front door).
3. Don't advertise. Keep valuables out of sight. If you have an expensive computer or television, keep it away from windows, particularly windows that face the street. Similarly, one of the burglars surveyed in the report said to avoid certain advertisements. The example he used was putting an NRA sticker on your car or in your window – it alerts the burglar that you have guns to steal. Similarly, don't put photos of recent gifts or purchases on social media. It's a blatant advertisement for someone to come steal your expensive new TV or pearl necklace.
4. Be visible. Keep the front of your house visible to the street, if possible. Burglars prefer homes with large trees, bushes, or other growth near the door to shield them from the street. Similarly, repair or upgrade any weak doors or old windows that might be easier to break.
5. Lean on your neighbors. Ask one of your trustworthy neighbors to keep an eye on your house and report suspicious activity. If you're gone the same time every day, burglars could case your home and know exactly how much time they have to rob you. Prime time for this, according to the survey, was between 12:30 and 2:30 in the afternoon. Most folks are at work and kids are still at school, so few people are home. If your area is prone to package thieves, ask a trusted neighbor to get your packages for you. UPS also allows you to pick up from a storefront location as well. Another good resource is to join your neighborhood page on the website Nextdoor or a crime watch group on Facebook. Often neighbors will report suspicious activity and burglaries you won't hear about on the news.
6. Be observant of surveyors. Don't open your door to anyone you don't know. Several of the burglars explained that they would knock first to see if anyone was home. If someone was, they would pretend to be lost or looking for a lost dog. Worse, some posed as people with surveys or petitions to sign and would then take a look inside the house. One of my researchers has this last problem around her home in Baltimore. Her neighbors told her to call whatever company the surveyors claim to represent. If the company didn't send anyone to survey the neighborhood, call the police and report it.
7. Use a deterrent. The best deterrents included leaving the television and radio on. Leaving the lights on depends on the home and neighborhood, as some burglars saw lights on with the shades all drawn in a wealthy neighborhood as a clear sign no one was home. And almost every burglar said a loud, large dog was enough to make them back off. Small dogs did not have that effect. A few of my team members have large dogs known for scaring off mail carriers and delivery folks with their intimidating barks.
Home alarms also helped, particularly if they couldn't be easily disarmed. Although most burglars would be in and out before the police arrive, at least some burglars reported they wouldn't bother with a house that had an alarm. One of my researchers has an alarm that sends her alerts by phone when the power goes out, either because of a storm or from anyone tampering with it. Also, if you have an alarm, let your insurance company know about it. They might even offer you a discount on your home insurance.
8. Think of a non-traditional deterrent. After interviewing more than 300 burglars in prison, Jack MacLean revealed in his book, Secrets of a Superthief, that the number one deterrent is a blast from an extremely loud air horn. Search online or go to your local marine supply store. You can buy an air horn for a little more than $20. Buy the $20 model... $10 horns are not loud enough. Falcon makes ideal marine horns. Simple, safe techniques like this are the preferred approach to stopping a threat. The threat disappears, and no one gets hurt.
Keep your home and valuables secure this holiday season and year-round. Following these eight steps will make it more difficult to break into your house and reduce your risk.
What We're Reading...
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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 8, 2018