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Burglary Prevention: Common Sense Advice to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Flickr.lock.WarzauWynnIf you think burglary is something that only happens in low-income neighborhoods, think again.

It is a crime that can happen even in the nicest neighborhoods with white picket fences. Sure, the criminals may not live in your neighborhood, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t driving by your house casing it for a future break in. In order to reduce the chances that a burglary will happen to you, it’s essential to understand how thieves target houses and what makes it easier for them to go unnoticed.

If you think that you could never be a victim of burglary, let me tell you a brief personal story. I have lived in San Diego for 25 years. I’ve lived in all different neighborhoods throughout San Diego: some good, some great, some a little sketchier (think right off of the college campus). Four months ago, my husband and I bought a house in one of the nicest parts of San Diego, with the best school district we could find for our son. Crime rates in this neighborhood are generally low and yet two months after we moved in we found our home to be a target of criminals.

As I was driving home from an appointment one afternoon, I pulled onto our cul-de-sac as a beat-up black car was speeding away from our street. It didn’t look like any of my neighbors’ cars. When I pulled in to the garage, my neighbor came running out to me and asked me if I knew the two men in the beat-up black car, which I did not. She then told me that not only were they parked in our driveway but they were standing at the door for approximately five minutes, walking around the side of the house and trying to get into the back yard. When she “went out to get her mail” they saw her, hopped in the car and sped off. Luckily she was peeping through the blinds the whole time, and she wrote down the license plate number. Although no break-in actually occurred, for safety reasons I did contact the police who were extremely helpful. The men in the black car have not returned and I hope they never do, but if they do we’ve now taken precautionary measures.

Think Like a Criminal

Not all criminals think alike. A sophisticated criminal has done his homework and isn’t looking to steal your TV set. Instead, he’s looking to steal your credit card information and maybe even your identity. This is why it’s essential to shred important documents that could reveal information about your identity (especially social security number) prior to throwing them away. And though it can be a hassle, it’s important to have your computer or laptop protected with a strong password. If someone breaks into the house and steals your laptop, you don’t want them to easily be able to gain access to your bank accounts as well.

An unsophisticated criminal is looking for a quick snatch and grab. He’s looking to steal expensive items like jewelry, electronics, guns or just cash. Trash is often a good tip off to these types of criminals as well, as they look for the discarded boxes for big ticket electronics, especially the ones you toss next to the curb without bothering to break them down and put into them in trash bins.

Frequent Travelers Beware

If you travel a lot, you may need to enlist the help of a family member or neighbor to pick up your newspapers while you’re gone. Piled up boxes and newspapers or grass that clearly hasn’t been cut in a long time signal to burglars that you probably aren’t home very often. Most burglars do not intend to be violent and don’t want an encounter with the homeowner; they just want to steal your stuff while you’re out.

Only tell your travel plans to those who absolutely must know. Family is okay and your immediate neighbors should probably know (assuming you are on good terms with them), but do NOT post your itinerary on your Facebook account or tell acquaintances at your work. Whether you’re on a vacation or even just at the movie theater, don’t use geo-tracking applications like Foursquare that let everyone online know where you are and where you aren’t (home!).

A close friend of mine had a break-in last year when she was out of town. She had told her housekeeper (whom she trusted after using her once a week for five years) where they would be and when they would be gone. The housekeeper and two other men broke into the house and stole thousands of dollars’ worth of valuables, but even worse yet, precious keepsakes that she had to remember her father who had recently passed away by, none of which she was able to get back.

Insurance Blues

If you’re a homeowner, you may think that if your items were to be stolen from your house, insurance would cover the cost of brand new similar items. Time to re-read your insurance policy, as this is probably not the case. According to Jay MacDonald of BankRate.com, “Your homeowners insurance will typically cover losses to theft and break-ins, as will your auto insurance. But if you’ve only insured your contents for actual cash (or depreciated) value rather than full replacement cost, you could still lose out…

If have an old TV, for example, which was expensive when you first bought it but outdated today, the depreciated cost may not be nearly enough to buy any TV on the market today, as technology has changed. In the case of my friend who had both sentimental and expensive items stolen, certain things were impossible to find a replacement for, so she had to give up the search. If you’ve had the same policy for years, you may want to pull out the paperwork and review it to make sure you don’t have a deductible higher than you would be able to afford to pay if you were a victim of burglary.

And what if you don’t own, but rent? Unfortunately, most renters don’t have insurance that covers their possessions in the event of a break-in or fire. But renter’s insurance is an easy and inexpensive way to get covered, just in case.

The Changes You Should be Making

Whether your home has been a target of crime in the past or not, there are simple and relatively inexpensive things you can do to your house to create a deterrent. Install motion sensor lights outside, especially near your doors and windows. Set up automatic timers so that indoor lights turn on at night or when you are on vacation. Putting up a “No Soliciting” sign or sticker at your front door is recommended because criminals often pose as solicitors. When you open your door and stand there trying to be as polite as possible to the guy trying to sell you magazines, his partner in crime may be going around the back of your house. Some burglars pose as solicitors just to find out what times of the day you are and aren’t home. Get in the habit of not opening the door for strangers.

Take photos or videos of all of the valuables you have in the house and either store them on your computer or in a safe, plus give a CD copy to a trusted family member. That way if expensive items are stolen you will be able to show to the insurance company what you had. Be sure to update the photos or video yearly. It’s easy to forget what new items you’ve purchased as the years roll by.

Finally, take time to know your neighbors and maybe even join a neighborhood watch. A next-door neighbor that writes down the license plate of the suspicious looking car in your driveway could be your saving grace!

Do you have any anti-burglary tips?

Published or updated on February 1, 2013

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website RealtorSD.com.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Drew says:

    Many people also forget to secure upper levels in their house. You should lock all your windows. Professional thieves know that people forget the upstairs entry points. So, they simply get a ladder and climb through a window in the back yard where no one can see them.

    The truth is that if someone really wants in, they will get in. The key to security is make your house a difficult target. Theives are looking for the easiest target so that they can get in and out quickly. So convince them to skip your house. Lock doors and windows. Turn lights on. Pick up newspapers and mail promptly. Get a security system and advertise it with a sign in the yard.

  2. Maria LaMagna says:

    This fall, when I was living in an off-campus house, I was up (very) late studying one night. My friend’s dog who was living with us started barking ferociously like I’d never heard before.

    We couldn’t figure out why, so one of my roommates went to let him out. He lunged into the bushes — where there was a person lurking in our backyard.

    We called campus police, and when they came, they told us not to leave our bikes out back. Maybe common sense, but we were extra careful after that!

    And I was glad the dog, Archie, had saved the day.

  3. I live in the nice part of town but you would be crazy to leave your car unlocked at night as there are regular car entry thefts. The thieves are more brazen now and if they see something of valuable they break the window.

    Another thing that has started in my area is daring daylight robberies when your garage is open and you are in the backyard. Everyone leaves the garage door open when they are doing yard work and the thieves listen for the sound of a lawnmower in a backyard to quickly enter a house through the door in the garage.

    Life has changed. My city has changed. There is high unemployment or Mcjobs for youth and no chance of living the life their parents had with big factory wages and pensions.

  4. Joel says:

    My girlfriend and I rent a house in a nicer suburban neighborhood outside of Minneapolis. We both work in the service industry so our hours are a bit hectic. I was on my way home one night, she had just arrived home and left the back door open for me. She heard it open and close, called out my name and didn’t receive an answer. She called out again, heard the door open and close and then called me on my cell.
    When we realized what had happened I told her to hang up and call the police, she did and long story short the police didn’t find anyone but we were a bit shaken up by this. We realized how lax we had been and changed some things immediately. Just basics. Locking all ground level doors and windows, always. Turning ON motion lights outside. Bolting our safe in to the floor. Paying attention to what we throw away. Keeping a watchful eye around our neighborhood when we are home. Just things we should have been doing all along but things that can make a difference and DO make us feel safer.

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