7 mistakes that make homeowners targets for burglars

I received an advertisement in the mail yesterday for a publication called Bottom Line Personal. The ad included several money tips. My favorite was the list of “Top Mistakes That Make Homeowners Prime Targets for Burglars”.

To get the real scoop on how to protect your home, we asked the best of all sources — a reformed burglar. This former burglar stole over $70 million worth of jewelry during his career, and spent 11 years in prison for doing so. Here's what he has to say about the mistakes people make most often:

  1. Leaving the burglar alarm off when you're running out for a few minutes. Nearly all the houses we robbed had expensive alarm systems — and more than half the time, the alarms weren't turned on! Sophisticated burglars watch neighborhoods and learn when residents go to work or run errands, and how long they are likely to be away. They're ready to move the minute you leave.
  2. Posting detailed alarm signs. When you post a sign that identifies the alarm company, you've just give the burglar the information he needs to disable the alarm. It's better to buy a generic sign from a home-supply store.
  3. Hiding valuables in the bedroom. It's the first place burglars look. We used to spend 15 minutes or less in each house that we robbed. More than half that time was spent in the bedroom, checking the usual hiding places. Hide valuables where burglars won't think to look. Don't hide all your valuables in one place.
  4. Getting a big dog. A 100-pound Rottweiler or German shepherd might look scary, but burglars know better. What you want are “yappers”, small dogs that make a lot of noise.
  5. Hiding windows with landscaping. Tall bushes and shrubs allow burglars to jimmy windows without being seen. Also, don't count on thorny plants to prevent entry. Professional thieves wear heavy clothes and carry tools to remove obstacles.
  6. Leaving the lights on. A light that stays on all the time is no more of a deterrent than a dark house. In fact, it helps burglars see better once they're inside. Use timers.
  7. Having newspaper and mail delivery stopped when you go away. You may trust your mailman and newspaper carrier, but the fact is that you never know who else is getting that information. We used to get tips all the time about homeowners going on vacation. Keep your plans quiet.

The Burglary Prevention Council offers a home protection guide. Some of the BPC's tips include:

  • Keep doors and windows securely locked.
  • Brace sliding glass doors.
  • Lock the door to an attached garage.
  • User timers to create the illusion that you are home.
  • Keep the exterior of your home well-lit.
  • Never leave clues that you are away.
  • Never leave a message on your voicemail saying that you are away.
  • Keep shrubbery trimmed away from entrances and walkways.

One tip I'd add is: Organize a neighborhood watch. One of the best burglary prevention tools is a friendly, active neighborhood. People are more inclined to watch out for you and your interests if you have a relationship with them. At our old house, we barely knew our neighbors. Our new neighborhood is friendly and supportive — we help each other in many ways, one of which is to keep a watchful eye.

Also, it's a good idea to keep a home inventory (with photos and videos, if possible). And keep your homeowners or renters insurance up-to-date!

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nanette
nanette
13 years ago

We get Bottom Line Personal at our library, and it’s very popular. It’s a fairly short magazine (around 15-20 pages), and it comes out twice a month. I usually flip through it when it comes it because it often has at least one article of interest to me.

There was a huge outcry when we canceled our subscription about six months ago, so we reinstated it right away!

Ben
Ben
13 years ago

My parents get Bottom Line, and pass the issues on to me when they finish. There are usually some very good articles that can apply to many different areas of life. The format is great, too: short, and right to the point.

Aaron
Aaron
13 years ago

Good relations with your neighbors are extremely effective in creating an environment that is a deterrent to burglars. Also, might I add that living a frugal lifestyle detracts burglars because you don’t possess the luxury goods that burglars want to steal. The big fancy house with the fancy cars imply that there is good stuff inside.

raising4boys.com
raising4boys.com
13 years ago

Yep, we read it. I really like it, although I’ve heard they can be tough to break free of (keep sending bills after cancellation, etc.).

S/100/30
S/100/30
13 years ago

While I can believe that occasionally postal and newspaper employees betray customers, I can’t believe it happens so often as to make stop-delivery requests more of a mistake than letting a week’s worth of mail pile up. If you know a neighbor willing to pick up your mail every day that’s clearly optimal, but otherwise putting on a stop to delivery seems like the clear winner to me.

BxCapricorn
BxCapricorn
13 years ago

Grew up with it in my house. Great resource. Those frugal readers that don’t wanna spend money on this can go to their website, free, and see a different set of tips each week.

http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com/

Erik
Erik
13 years ago

I disagree with the dog one. I have a big dog who scares the holy crap out of anyone who doesn’t know her and some that do. She is also a big barker. Yap dogs (or, as I like to call them, punt dogs) may be noisy but they do not inspire even a mote of fear.

rjnagle
rjnagle
13 years ago
Stephanie
Stephanie
13 years ago

My house was robbed a few years back. We think it was an inside job – someone we invited over as a guest. He did a very good job of it – we didn’t even notice anything was missing for a week! Creepy part – he went through my dirty underwear.

We always thought we were safe, because we live in the middle of nowhere, but no one’s really safe. (And that sounds really paranoid!)

Nikchick
Nikchick
13 years ago

I’d disagree with the advice that one should hide their valuables in various locations all over the house. What if you’re in an accident, will your family know that the passports are hidden in the flour jar, or that can that looks like thirty-year-old sauerkraut is really a secret bank that has a thousand dollars in cash and grandma’s wedding rings in it? Why risk it? This is an example of being penny smart and pound foolish as the saying goes. Invest in a good water-resistant, fireproof safe that can be bolted to the floor of your closet or some… Read more »

Lauren
Lauren
13 years ago

Another easy tip is to Lock Your Car. Much of our neighborhood was burglarized last night by people who just walked through looking for unlocked cars. Unfortunately that included us, and we lost a GPS.

badger10
badger10
13 years ago

Beware of the yapper dogs. You might stop the one burglary attempt, but you will get a headache almost every day because of the smallest of sounds such as neighbors coming home and shutting their car doors.

Penelope Trunk
Penelope Trunk
13 years ago

My parents’ house was robbed and the thieves took all the jewelry that was hidden in top drawers around the house. The police said that thieves know that people use top drawers for hiding.

Soli
Soli
13 years ago

We get Bottom Line in my house and inevitably I find at least one good item in each issue.

inside informer
inside informer
13 years ago

This whole thing stinks “the 7 things”homeowners/burglar>the company that has placed this ad,need to tell all their customers [new and old]that if the burglar cuts their phone lines running from the telephone pole to their house,that is >no alarm.I think it is down-right criminal,that this and other alarm service company’s get away with taking money from businesses[especially businesses,because offen burglaries happan after-hours.Or when no one is home home>not to say when someone is home,like a senior person etc.What should do,if you now realize you may-be a burglary just waiting to happen ?Hit me:[email protected]

Chris
Chris
13 years ago

I like dogs, but I think they make lousy security (big or yappy). A good guard dog would be dangerous to strangers and not a good pet.

Martin
Martin
13 years ago

Neat little article. I especially like the one about the signs saying which company protects your home. I never thought it would just be easier for the burglars. If you don’t mind, I might post this on my site.

George
George
13 years ago

A lot of these tips aren’t that good, IMHO. I’ve done a lot of research into burglary (I have a degree in criminology, so I know of what I speak), and tips from “professional burglars” don’t necessarily help protect you against the 99.9% of burglars that aren’t “professionals”. Most burglars are not skilled thieves seeking out jewelry that they can sell to a fence – they’re usually young men looking for quick cash, often to feed a drug habit. These burglars don’t care what alarm company you are using, nor will they bother trying to disable the alarm. They’ll either… Read more »

BxCapricorn
BxCapricorn
13 years ago

I liked George’s post. Sometimes we overestimate our opponents and think we have to “outsmart” someone who isn’t smart at all. The TV shows paint every criminal as a “mastermind”, with the detectives going toe-to-toe with them, in a battle of wits. Most criminals are dumb, which is why they risk imprisonment for so little financial gain. They should stop breaking into homes and read (and heed) this blog.

George
George
12 years ago

Get a dog as a companion and pet, not an alarm system. All to easy to toss a steak or meaty bone into the laundry room and then shut the door. Happened to my neighbors.

AVERAGE MOM
AVERAGE MOM
12 years ago

The house across the street from me was vacant and I learned from the Police that someone broke in. People will steal anything, including copper pipes, to sell. I have an alarm system/signs and check my doors before I leave, to make sure they’re locked. We’ve got a camara on the house in the back, large lights that come on if anything moves outside and lights on timers. But nobody is secure because people find a way if they really want to get in. Short of putting bars on the house – we do what we can to put people… Read more »

bob
bob
12 years ago

Cut phone lines making alarm useless? The one for my home, as well as the one at the offic have cellular backups. The audible alarm the goes off during intrusion (regardless of whether the lines are intact or not), wakes the neighbors four blocks away.

Dana
Dana
9 years ago

Someone I knew (not well, thankfully) about 10 years ago was a convicted felon, long history of burglary. He worked for home security companies before, during AND AFTER his prison time. He’d install a system, case the place, and then if it was worth robbing, hit it within weeks, knowing perfectly well how to disarm the system. It was disturbing how long it took the police to pick up on the pattern.

Marc
Marc
7 years ago

The number of home burglaries traditionally spike in the summer months. Light timers and Fake TV are excellent solutions to deter burglars. Also, playing anti-theft home occupancy sounds MP3 or a CD (sells on Amazon) in home while away is great way to trick burglar that someone is in.

Marc
Marc
7 years ago

I’ve found inexpensive burglar deterrent CD at http://www.webensource.com/burglar_deterrent_cd/

DelAirSecurity
DelAirSecurity
6 years ago

Very interesting perspective. Make sure that your home is protected in order to keep a burglar out of it in the first place. Of course, keep all your doors and windows locked. Install motion detector lights on both your front and back door. Consider installing a home security system in order to add an extra layer of protection.
Joe Strada
Owner Del-Air Security(www.delairsecurity.com)

Megan
Megan
5 years ago

Useful advice and tips you have included in this article. Thanks for sharing it.

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