Coming home to find your house has been broken into is a nightmare no one wants to experience. The fear is in the back of our minds, but it’s still not something we like to think about. Some people approach their fear by not doing anything and hoping for the best. Others take extreme precautions to keep their homes safe.
One person did us all the favor of actually speaking to people who have burgled homes in the past to find out what are the best ways to keep ne'er-do-wells out of our homes. Surprisingly, the burglars were pretty forthcoming. The answers reveal what makes a home an easier target for burglaries. If you’re doing any of these things, try to make some safety improvements as soon as you can!
1. Your house is empty during the day.
Most of us probably assume that robberies take place at night. In the movies, robberies always seem to happen when everyone is sound asleep in their beds. But burglars say that isn’t so. Robbing a house while someone is in it only increasing a robber’s chance of getting caught; they prefer robbing a home during the day when no one is home.
An article from the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at the University of Albany says that burglars are more likely to target homes that are “routinely vacant during the day.” A serious thief may watch your home for a few days to confirm that you are gone for work before breaking in. Other burglars may just casually knock on the front door to confirm no one is home. Fortunately, there are other simple things you can do to keep your house safe instead of quitting your job to protect your home all day.
2. You leave your windows and doors unlocked.
Locking your doors might seem like the most obvious thing to do to keep yourself safe, but thieves know first-hand that many people skip this simple precaution. One robber said you wouldn't believe the amount of people that don't lock their doors. This individual says that he walked right into fellow college students’ dorm rooms and stole game systems, laptops, textbooks, and bikes.
But it’s not just college students that can be careless with their locks. Many people forget to lock their back doors, and their fences can provide extra coverage for a sneaky thief. Another person admits to taking advantage of this. He said, “I often went in through an unlocked back door.”
While a locked door doesn’t guarantee your safety, it will help deter any thieves that are looking for an easy target. Keeping your windows locked it also important, especially if your windows are easy to reach from the ground. It's also recommended that you keep a dead bolt on your exterior doors since dead bolts make it slightly more difficult to break in to your home.
Thieves can still kick a door in, but a thief looking for an easy target won’t want to attract attention by doing this. Installing a steel door is the ultimate way to keep your front entrance safe.
3. You let your mail pile up while you’re on vacation.
When preparing to go on vacation, some people forget to ask someone to take care of their mail while they’re gone. Seeing an overflowing mailbox and a pile of newspapers in front of a house is a signal to thieves that they’ve found an easy target; they’ve just figured out that the house is empty.
Luckily, there are easy remedies for this problem. You should definitely pause your mail while on vacation and have a friend pick up your newspapers. But be careful that you don’t overdo it when leaving on vacation.
One burglar shared that he noticed a few other signs that a house was empty: “I often picked houses by the stupid tricks people use when they go out of town. …Tons of lights on, and an obnoxiously loud TV on in the living room at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night in an upper middle class neighborhood?”
You may have thought you were protecting your home, but someone casing your house will be smart enough to see through a trick like this. When you go out of town, leave a few lights on and have someone take care of your mail and newspapers.
4. You have an easily accessible backyard.
Thieves will choose the most convenient way to enter your home. Many like to enter through back windows because there is less of a chance that someone will see them breaking into your house. If you don’t have a fenced-in backyard, it will be easier for a thief to gain access to the back of your home.
Another self-confessed burglar suggests that you "make it a royal pain […] to get into your backyard. No one likes breaking in through the front door or front windows. No one likes scaling 10 ft fences either.” The more you can do to slow down a thief, the less chance they will succeed at getting into your home.
5. You have a window air conditioning unit.
Apartments and homes without central air usually have window air conditioning units. While they keep your house cool, these units also make it easier for thieves to break into your home. One individual advises, “Don't use window air conditioners. This was by far the most common way to gain access by my friends. Kick in the A/C and climb on in. If nothing of value was found, the A/C could be taken in for scrap metal.”
If you’re serious about keeping your home safe, you might have to decide if you’d rather be cool or safe. It might be time to invest in central air.
6. You have a thief in your midst.
It may surprise you to know that most homes are not burglarized by strangers. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that 66 percent of burglaries are committed by someone who knows the victim.
One person described this phenomenon: “Sketchy son-in-law. Jealous neighbor. Drug addict daughter. These are the people most likely to burglarize your house. It may be tough to cut these people out of your life. Cameras and alarm systems often deter these people. Try to hide information about your whereabouts from them. Don't post your upcoming trip to Belize on Facebook where they can see it.” It might be hard to put these protections in place, but it’s better than having to confront a person you know who stole from you.
7. You make it obvious that you have valuables.
The same article from the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing said that thieves are looking for the greatest potential rewards. They are likely to target homes that show obvious signs of wealth. This means that you should limit the visibility of your valuables and make it hard for them to be seen from outside.
Like one thief says, “Keep expensive stuff out of sight. Your 70" flat screen TV should not be visible from the street. Your MacBook Pro shouldn't be kept right in front of your first floor office window.” It also helps to keep less obvious valuables in a safe place. Thieves admit to checking the master bedroom first for jewelry, cash, and other valuables. Consider putting your prized items in safer locations.
Remember, burglars do not like being in a home long. These simple precautionary steps can slow thieves down and potentially prevent more things from being taken.
8. Your home is in a convenient location.
The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at the University of Albany also said that burglars are looking for the highest reward with the lowest risk. Burglars pick homes that are convenient hits. They might look for a home with an easy getaway to a major thoroughfare, but they also like homes on the outskirts of neighborhoods where they have less chance of being seen by neighbors.
Thieves may also prioritize a home that has an entrance within easy access of an alley or street. Lack of visibility is another key factor burglars look for. Thieves are going to pick houses that have obscured entrances.
Corner houses with neighbors on only one side and houses that are concealed or covered by trees or architectural designs are more likely to be robbed. Houses that are hidden from the neighbors are easy targets—nobody's there to catch them. Having poor lighting on and around your home can also make you less safe.
So, if you’re not ready to move or to chop down your trees, at least make sure your home is well lit. It also doesn’t hurt to make friends with your neighbors and agree to keep an eye out for each other.
9. You forget to close (and lock) your garage door.
This falls into the same category as forgetting to lock your front and back doors. People may forget to close their garage door after they go inside or while they’re in the backyard mowing the lawn. Another individual noted that “thieves like to drive around nice neighborhoods, looking for people who left their garage open. They love a situation where someone might be mowing their backyard. Quickly hop out of the car, run into the garage, grab as many tools as they can, and run.”
Being more cautious about keeping your garage door closed at all times will help keep many thieves at bay.
But some burglars are a little more ambitious. Thieves know that most people don’t lock the door from the garage into their home. A security system worker explained, “I have sold more security systems by demonstrating the ease of getting into a garage. Go to your garage door, and press firmly towards the top, does it open enough to see up into it? Then they can break in. With a coat hanger they can grab the red string and up goes the door. So cut your garage string/rope. You have a remote and don't need it.” Locking the door from your garage to your home sounds like a better idea now doesn’t it?
10. You don’t have an alarm system.
Alarm systems may be expensive, but they are a great way to keep thieves at bay. Alarm signals are a huge deterrent. No thief wants to attract that kind of attention. While some have debated the effectiveness of just seeing an alarm sign outside the home, most burglars agree that hearing an actual alarm would be enough for them to leave a home immediately.
11. You don’t have a dog.
Many people who have burglarized homes are mixed on whether a person should have a dog. Some serious thieves said if they had already cased a house, they wouldn’t let a dog keep them from breaking in. These are the types of thieves that lure dogs away with treats—or something more nefarious. Thieves that were just looking for a quick, easy hit, on the other hand, said that dogs would definitely keep them from breaking in.
One burglar said, “People think a large dog would be a good deterrent, but I generally avoided those annoying small yapping dogs that never shut up. Get a dog that doesn't like strangers. I don't care if it's big or small or threatening or friendly. As soon as one dog barks, the whole neighborhood starts barking and announcing a burglar's presence.”
If you’ve been on the fence about getting a furry friend, this may be the push you need to go for it!
12. You make it too easy.
If you follow the tips on this list, you will be well on your way to having a safer home. Lock your doors and windows, install deadbolts, remove air conditioning units, keep your home well lit, and consider installing an alarm system. You can also protect the possessions in your home by making your smaller valuables less visible. Having a safe or lockbox will discourage a thief from taking your things when they are short on time.
It’s also not a good idea to keep your car keys right by your front door. If someone does break in, they will have a very easy time taking your things and driving away in your car. And finally, get rid of that key you have hidden under your welcome mat!