After interrupting a home burglary, a criminologist explains how to react and provides tips to cut risks: Internet Scambusters #400
Welcome to our 400th issue of Scambusters! To celebrate, we have a special issue for you today.
Every 15 seconds in the US, a home burglary takes place, but there are so many things we can do to dramatically reduce the chances of falling victim.
In this Scambusters special issue, criminologist Elicka S.L. Peterson-Sparks explains what she did when she encountered a burglar at a neighbor’s home.
Based on her research and experience, she also provides her best tips to prevent home burglary. And we’ve added a few of our own.
On to today’s main topic…
15 Steps You Can Take To Prevent Home Burglary
It’s a sobering and frightening thought that in the time it takes you to read this issue — say 10 minutes — 40 home burglary crimes will be committed in the US.
That’s one home burglary every 15 seconds.
Some of those home burglaries, as we have previously reported, will be by scam artists who previously checked the homes out by posing as legitimate visitors, talking their way in and maybe even opening a window in a bathroom for easy access when they return.
Some will be opportunists, who just happen to spot an easy target in a neighborhood — like an open door or window.
And yet others will be experienced crooks (we won’t use the word “professionals” — it’s too good for them) who know how to “case a joint” without being noticed, and know all the tricks of the trade for breaking and entering.
Whichever category they fit, we know that the average time it takes for a burglar to break into a home is less than a minute, and the amount of time they spend inside is little more than 10 minutes — though, posing as contractors or furniture removers, they’ve been known to take much longer and completely empty a home.
The reality of home burglaries hit home recently for the friend of a couple of Scambusters team members and prompted us to focus this issue on what you can do to prevent home burglary.
In this recent case, the friend — as it happens, a criminologist, Elicka S.L. Peterson-Sparks, Associate Professor of Justice Studies at Appalachian State University — was keeping an eye on a neighbor’s condo while the owner was away.
What to Do When Your Disturb a Home Burglar
Elicka was making her rounds to check the place and apparently surprised a burglar who escaped out the back.
Elicka had gone into the home, noticed a light on, and made a hasty retreat to her car, where she phoned the sheriff.
She naturally did the right thing. As Elicka explained later: “Burglaries rarely involve assault of any kind, but, when they do, it is almost always because the thief is cornered.
“If I’d have noticed anything from outside, I would never have gone in. It’s also quite common for injuries to occur because homeowners assume the burglary is over, and walk in to assess the situation, unwittingly trapping the thief.
“The moment you figure out something is amiss, leave. Get to a safe place and call the cops. It’s not worth getting hurt.”
Sound advice. And seeing as Elicka is an expert on the criminal mind, she took the opportunity to pass on to other neighbors her own thoughts on the key things we can all do to discourage home burglary.
15 Home Burglary Tips
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.
Our thanks to Elicka Peterson-Sparks for her advice. By following her tips , you can substantially cut the risk of becoming a home burglary victim.
Time to close — we’re off to take a walk. See you next week.