23 Secrets Burglars Already Know About Your Home
Keep your belongings safe—and your peace of mind safer.
According to FBI figures, approximately 1.4 million burglaries take place in the United States each year. However, while many assume burglary to be merely a crime of opportunity—and one committed by masked strangers under the cover of darkness—that's rarely the truth. In many cases, it's what burglars have already gleaned about you and your property that influences their decision to strike.
So, what might make a burglar set their sights on your house? With the help of leading security experts, we've rounded up the secrets burglars already know about your home that might make you a target in the future.
How trusting you are of strangers
Many burglars put in some serious legwork before breaking into a home, including casing the place from the inside first. So, how do they do it?
"We've all been guilty of it, including myself—whether it's dry cleaning, pizza, or a package being delivered—we've all let complete strangers into our home. They are getting an up close and personal view of who's in your house," says retired NYPD police officer, private investigator, and high-profile safety and security expert Bill Stanton, who has a long list of wealthy and celebrity clients. (See here to pre-order a copy of Stanton's fascinating and in-depth new book, Prepared, Not Scared.)
Burglars will also sometimes pose as salespeople or pretend to be lost, according to Perry: "Burglars may also case your property by ringing the doorbell and posing as someone else, such as a salesperson or utilities engineer. This allows them to get a look inside your property and see what valuables you have, as well as finding out more information about you. Be wary of opening the door to people you don't know or aren't expecting, and if you do, don't give them any information about yourself or your household until you have verified that they are legitimate."
When you're at work
Burglars don't typically pick homes to rob at random, and they typically don't strike in the middle of the night. In fact, approximately twice as many burglaries take place during the daytime, when people are at work, and, as such, burglars tend to keep an eye on the comings and goings of their targets.
"Burglars often take their time scoping out their potential victims so that they can carry out a burglary without getting caught. This means they may well know your schedule and when the house is left empty," says Chris Perry, director of security company NVC Security. Some surefire signs you've headed to the office? A lack of cars in the driveway, lights off inside the house, and packages on the porch.
Whether or not you have expensive taste
Burglars prefer to target homes that seem likely to contain valuable items they can resell. However, they don't have to peer in your windows to get an idea of how much money you've got in the bank. If you've got a luxury car in your driveway, burglars can fairly assume you're doing pretty well for yourself and that your house will likely yield some decent rewards.
If you have a gun
Those NRA bumper stickers on your car? That, "There's nothing in here worth dying for" sign in your yard? While you might assume that those would tell a burglar you're not someone to be messed with, in many cases, they have the opposite effect. Announcing you're a proud supporter of your Second Amendment rights likely means you keep guns—which burglars can easily sell for some significant cash—in your home.
If you actually have a security system
Sure, you might have a sign announcing that you've got tons of sirens that will go off if someone opens a door or smashes a window to gain entry to your home. That said, if your security panel is located your front door—especially if you have a glass panel in the door a burglar can peer through—a burglar can quickly tell if you actually have that alarm system or not.
Another surprising way burglars can tell if your home is protected or not? By looking in the reflection of that front hall mirror—if they can't see a security panel in it, they know those signs are fake.
How much you spend on a weekly basis
A burglar may not know your monthly budget, but they can still get a pretty clear picture of how much cash you're spending on a regular basis. When you put out your trash on garbage day, burglars will take note of boxes for high-end items, like laptops, TVs, and phones, that indicate you've got not only ample disposable income, but some items that can be resold for a significant amount of cash.
If you've been burglarized before
Unfortunately, if you've been the victim of a burglary once, you're more likely to have it happen to you again. According to a study published in the British Journal of Criminology, burglars are likely to strike again within the first few weeks after a burglary, though the risk of being re-victimized goes down to the same level of homes that haven't been previously burglarized after six months.
So, how do burglars know that your home is an easy target? Since burglars don't always work alone, someone who's picked over your house once may give information about your home's security failings to an associate—or come back again themselves once they assume you've replaced the valuables they pilfered the first time.
Your vacation schedule
If you think a burglar is fooled by you leaving the TV on in your living room when you're out of town on vacation, think again. "If you go on holiday, try not to post about it on social media before and during, especially if your profiles are public," suggests Perry.
Burglars who have been casing your home are smart enough to know that if you have all your lights on in the middle of the night for days at a time, you're likely trying to make it seem like you're home when you're not. Similarly, if your cars aren't in the driveway and your mail's piling up, your home looks like an easy target.
"Have a relative or close friend collect your newspapers and mail when out of town because the bad guys are checking this," suggests Deputy Alex Coker with Mississippi's DeSoto County Sheriff's Department. This is particularly important during the summer, when more burglars tend to strike.
Whether or not you're hiding a key outside the house
Burglars aren't eager to draw attention to themselves, so they're likely to look around for a spare key before kicking in your door. And make no mistake, those spare key storage containers—that fake-looking rock in your garden, say, or that magnetic box affixed to the underside of your mailbox—aren't fooling anyone.
If you have motion sensor lights
Since burglars frequently scope out homes before breaking in, they're likely to know if those exterior lights on your house are motion-activated or not. And if you don't have motion sensor lights, you might want to consider investing in some.
"Bad guys hate lit houses," says Coker. "When you drive into your neighborhood tonight, think to yourself, 'Which house would I hit if I was a burglar, and which ones would I not hit?' You would stay away from the lit houses and hit the ones that are dark."
Whether or not that "beware of dog" sign is real
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 29.5% of the victims of non-violent burglaries knew the burglar, that number jumping to 65.1% in violent burglaries—meaning people who know you and your pets are pretty likely to be the ones committing these crimes . With that in mind, it's likely that a burglar is well-aware of that "beware of dog" sign being just for show—especially if they've been inside or cased your house before without hearing any barking. And if you're on the fence about getting a pet, check out these 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting a Pet.
Whether or not you have kids
Those toys in the yard or car seats in the car make it pretty obvious to burglars that you've got kids at home. And while this might mean that you have expensive gaming equipment in your house or be less likely to confront a burglar, it also means they're less likely to target you: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' "Victimization During Household Burglary" report, households with children are about half as likely to be burglarized as those without.
If you're out for the evening
Stanton says that it's not necessarily someone you know personally who will use information about you to gain access to your home, but a friend of a friend. You telling your beloved hairdresser that you're going on your first date night in months might mean your whereabouts are mentioned in passing to a friend of theirs—one who has less than honorable intentions. Similarly, posting photos of your whereabouts on social media makes it obvious to potential ne'er-do-wells that your home will be unoccupied and easy to hit.
If you're moving soon
That "for sale" sign in your yard makes it pretty obvious to burglars that a long list of people, like real estate agents, potential buyers, stagers, and movers will be coming and going from your property on a regular basis, making it easier for them to go unnoticed among the hubbub. It also means that the home is likely to be frequently unoccupied if you're in the process of moving out, giving them an easy opportunity to strike.
If you keep your back door unlocked
Think leaving your back door unlocked or that ground-floor window cracked open is going unnoticed? Think again.
"The overwhelming number of burglars have no specific skill; they are looking for the easiest targets," says Leonard A. Sipes, Jr., former senior specialist for crime prevention for the Department of Justice's clearinghouse and the former director of information services for the National Crime Prevention Council, who now operates CrimeInAmerica.net.
"Most burglaries happen because of open or unlocked doors and windows." In many cases, when scoping out your house, burglars will take note of any unlocked doors or windows—or, if they've been inside your house making a delivery or performing a service call, may leave an entry point unlocked so they can let themselves back in when you're not home. According to BJS data, entering through an unlocked or open door or window was the method of choice in half of reported burglaries.
Whether or not you've noticed them yet
Burglars want to go unnoticed—and some will go as far as to test potential victims to see how attentive they are before breaking in. A burglar might, for instance, leave a flyer outside your home to see if it gets picked up before striking—if it's still there days later, that's a good sign you're not home. Similarly, if they have access to your house, they may unscrew bulbs in a motion detector light or leave a door or window unlocked, hoping you won't notice.
What you got for the holidays
Those pricey presents you got for the holidays or your birthday aren't as private as you think. "The days of a perp driving up and down one's street are over," says attorney Alexis Moore, a cyberstalking expert and risk management consultant and author of Surviving a Cyberstalker: How to Prevent and Survive Cyberabuse and Stalking. "Most also use some sort of tech to stalk and scope out their next target as well. They use social media to check out your vacation posts, pictures of presents, [like] that beautiful diamond bracelet or new watch got from your spouse for your birthday that you are boasting about online."
If there are good hiding spots outside
A burglar looking to break into your home is hoping to do so without attracting attention. As such, they'll typically look for a home where they can easily hide—like one without neighbors nearby, a garage that's frequently left open, or overgrown plants near entry points.
Whether or not you're an easy target for identity theft
It's not always cash and jewelry burglars are looking for when they target a house. If you're not shredding important documents that might have your social security number on them, like tax returns, you could be setting yourself up for identity theft if a burglar happens to dig through your trash.
If you've got pills they could sell
Burglars aren't above robbing you of your most previous possessions—and they're not above rifling through your trash and recycling either. In some cases, going through the latter can yield information about what medications you take, letting them know there's likely to be money to be made if they rob your home. If you want to lower this risk, make sure you remove the label from your prescription bottle and rip it up before tossing the bottle in the recycling bin.
Whether or not you're close with your neighbors
A good neighbor can be an excellent weapon when it comes to fending off bad guys. However, if a burglar's been snooping around your home on multiple occasions or has even stopped to take photos of your house without anyone in your neighborhood questioning them, it's likely they can make their way into your home without anyone alerting the police, as well.
"Get to know all of your neighbors. Introduce yourself and give them a card with your phone number," suggests Coker. "Your neighbors—especially senior citizens—are part of your security system and will look out for your house and cars. They see all of your comings and goings and know when something doesn't look right."
If it's not your primary home
If you only show up on weekends, bring suitcases with you, and head back out again on Sunday night, it's pretty clear to any burglar worth their salt that your home isn't occupied year-round. If you want to dissuade burglars, make sure to stagger your arrival and departure times, and have neighbors periodically park their car in your driveway or check on the house to make sure it appears occupied. Another simple solution to the problem? "Keep lamps on timers that are near windows when you're away from home," suggests Coker.
Where you keep your money
Burglars know that the stacks of cash you keep inside your house are likely to pale in comparison to the ones you have in the bank. And while cash is among a burglar's most-desired finds when they break into a house, they likely know where you do your banking—and could easily steal your identity—if you're not careful about shredding your bank statements. And to be smarter with your finances across the board, learn these 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.
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