20 Shocking Things Burglars Already Know About Your Home
Think you're safety-conscious? Burglars know more about your home than you realize.
According to the FBI's 2018 "Crime in the United States" report, approximately 1.2 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 case.
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 long it will take for the cops to show up
Do you know how long it takes for cops to show up when they're called to your neighborhood? Unfortunately, your local burglar does.
"They'll try to be in and out before the police get there so that they don't get caught if there is an alarm or you call the police," says John MacMahon, managing director with RE:SURE CCTV monitoring.
How clean you keep your home
Your habit of leaving towels on the floor may not seem like a big deal to you, but make no mistake—a burglar scoping out your house is making note of it.
"If your home is sloppy, they may assume that your security is less organized as well," says Jon Knight, chief security officer at Fortified Estate, who notes that a messy yard or clutter that's visible near windows can alert them to a place that's likely easy to rob.
Whether or not you have a dog
Your choice in pets could prove helpful when it comes to warding off burglars.
"Some burglars report being reticent of breaking into a house with a dog," says Knight. However, a "Beware of Dog" sign might not be enough to keep ne'er-do-wells at bay. Burglars can quickly determine whether or not that pet is real "by way of either the dog running to the door or seeing household items—chew toys, food bowl, etc.," says Knight.
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, according to the "Crime in the United States" report, approximately twice as many burglaries take place during the daytime, meaning many burglars are keeping abreast of their target's work hours.
"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.
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," urges Perry.
If you've recently moved in
That "for sale" sign in your yard makes it pretty obvious to burglars that a long list of people, like real estate agents, movers, and contractors will be coming and going from your property on a regular basis, making it easier for them to go unnoticed among the hubbub.
"People are worried about their internet package rather than their security when they move," says MacMahon. "This means that there is often a sweet spot between moving in and getting CCTV or a smart alarm system."
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 either.
"Get to know all of your neighbors. Introduce yourself and give them a card with your phone number," suggests Deputy Alex Coker with Mississippi's DeSoto County Sheriff's Department. "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."
Whether or not you have security cameras
Security cameras do more than provide you peace of mind: They can also be a major deterrent to burglars.
"Most burglars study the homes first—they drive by and check if the residents actually have cameras," says Maurizio Pejoves, director of P&O Global Technologies. His recommendation? Invest in cameras and keep them prominently displayed on the exterior of your property.
If you have motion detector lights
Burglars aren't eager to be discovered, meaning a set of motion detector lights outside your home will be among the first things they notice if they're casing your place.
"A homeowner should install a motion sensor light that turns on when an individual gets to the proximity, because it shows that you are prepared or aware," says Pejoves.
If you actually have a security system
Sure, you might have a sign announcing that sirens that will go off if someone opens a door or smashes a window to gain entry to your home. However, if you don't have an actual security system, make no mistake—a burglar will know.
"Often real alarms boxes will flash in an obvious way to make sure the burglar notices them in hopes that this alone will be a deterrent," says MacMahon. "If there aren't features like this, it's an obvious fake."
Whether or not you let delivery people inside
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 and private investigator Bill Stanton, author of Prepared Not Scared.
Whether or not you check ID
Burglars will 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," he explains. "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." His advice is to make sure you're checking ID to ensure they're who they say they are, and to be careful around anyone who shows up without an appointment.
Whether or not you're checking your mail
Your mail can provide a wealth of information about you, from where you bank to when you're planning on traveling. If you're heading out of town for any period of time, "have a relative or close friend collect your newspapers and mail when out of town because the bad guys are checking this," suggests Coker. This is particularly important during the summer, when more burglars tend 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.
"Most burglaries happen because of open or unlocked doors and windows," says Leonard A. Sipes, Jr., former director of information services for the National Crime Prevention Council, who now operates CrimeInAmerica.net. In fact, according to the 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics' "Victimization During Household Burglary" report, entering through an unlocked or open door or window was the method of choice in half of reported burglaries.
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 an oft-cited 1991 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.
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 report, households with children are about half as likely to be burglarized as those without.
When you've received pricey jewelry
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, risk management consultant and author of Surviving a Cyberstalker: How to Prevent and Survive Cyberabuse and Stalking.
Instead, they're likely to be using social media to scope out "pictures of presents, [like] that beautiful diamond bracelet or new watch you got from your spouse for your birthday that you are boasting about online." Similarly, tossing those jewelry boxes in the trash can let a burglar casing the place know there's something worth stealing inside.
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 see your bank statements to get an idea of how much money you've got.
"If you have a nice car in the driveway, it is like an open invitation for them," says MacMahon. "A nice car acts as an attention grabber and they are likely to walk up your driveway and have a peek through the windows."
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. In fact, according to a 2012 study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, one in eight burglars reported obtaining a key to the homes they burglarized before entering.
If you have a weapon
While you may think your NRA bumper sticker would be a deterrent for burglars, it may actually make you a target. According to a 2017 survey of burglars conducted by news channel KTVB7, burglars often look at armed homes as great places to get loot to sell. "NRA sticker on car bumper [equals] lots of guns to steal," explained one former burglar.