It’s often said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Perhaps, on reflexion, we could add another one to that limited list, and that’s burglary. It’s an ever-present threat and has been around since human beings started to accumulate goods and property. Some people covet what others own but aren’t prepared to go out and work to get their own possessions. They’d rather steal from their neighbours and reap the rich rewards without breaking sweat or earning an honest crust.
Although we are all aware of the threat, and take some precautions to guard against it, the rise in the number of burglaries committed in every country continues to rise exponentially. Whether that increase can attributed to increasing poverty, the reduction in the number of police officers patrolling our streets, or the growth in the number of savvy professional thieves is open to debate. The one thing that is certain is that unless homeowners take every possible precaution and improve the efficacy of their home security, then that number will just continue to go on rising.
So, how do you protect your home and possessions and reduce the chances of being burgled? Well, the first thing you need to do is to get to know the burglars: you have to understand who they are, where they come from and what drives and motivates them. You then have to start thinking about what actions you can take to reduce the risk of burglary, whether that’s simple precautionary measures or more sophisticated data-driven technology to help you win the battle. Hopefully the following information might help you and help to keep your home and possessions safe and sound.
The psychological effects of burglary
Most people regard burglary as an ‘impersonal’ sort of crime. If you’ve been a victim, then you can probably testify to the fact that it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When you’re targeted by a burglar and lose some, or all, of your treasured possessions it feels deeply, deeply personal. You’re left feeling vulnerable and exposed, and you’ll probably never feel truly safe and secure in your home ever again.
After any sort of break-in, the questions most people will normally ask is why did the burglar pick on my property, rather than my neighbours? How did the burglar get into my property despite all the security precautions I may have paid for, and could I have done any more to prevent the burglary happening in the first place?
Well, the sad fact is there are no simple answers to any of those questions. Bad things often happen for no apparent reason. A thief may have targeted your property simply because it just happened to be there and because it was convenient. Maybe they sized up the property’s location and thought its location would make it easier to escape from undetected if they encountered difficulties. You may even have done something silly and advertised the fact that the house was unoccupied – trivial things like leaving unopened post in the letter box or leaving a note for a delivery driver explaining where to put deliveries because you’re not at home.
Could you really have done more to prevent the burglary happening? Well, the answer is probably no. Additional security measures may deter opportunistic thieves, but seasoned ‘professional’ burglars will always find a way to get into a property. If they are determined enough, no amount of expensive security precautions will stop them. The only small crumb of comfort that you might be able to salvage from the whole sorry saga is that you might have just made their lives a little bit harder and made them sweat for their ill-gotten gains.
Who is likely to commit burglaries, and where are they most likely to strike?
If you want to reduce the risk of being burgled, then it pays to know who is likely to want to break into your home. If you get to know their profile, you stand more of a chance of preventing them stealing your possessions.
- The first point to note is that there is no such thing as an ‘average’ burglar: burglaries are committed by all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. However, as a general rule it’s fair to say that most burglaries are committed by young males under the age of 25.
- Most thieves will also surprisingly commit their crimes as close as possible to their own homes, that is, within roughly a two-mile radius. That might seem counter-intuitive to most people, as generally you would expect burglars to commit their crime in areas where they are less likely to be recognised. However, statistics show that that isn’t the case. Perhaps it’s simply attributable to the fact that most burglars are inherently lazy.
- Most burglaries from business premises take place at night when offices and business premises are closed: however, most home burglaries take place in the daytime between 10am and 3pm. That fact may surprise you, as naturally you would expect thieves to be creatures of the night, plying their illicit trade under cover of darkness. However, when you think more carefully about it, it makes perfect sense. The daytime is when most homeowners are generally at work and their children are at school, leaving burglars more time to scout around vacant homes for items of worth. Burglars know that if they commit their crimes during the night, there is always a chance that will disturb the home owner and be challenged, and even seasoned burglars don’t like confrontation.
- Statistics also show that most burglaries occur during the summer months of July and August, when lots of people are on holiday and homes are empty.
- The weeks leading up to Christmas are also busy times for burglary. Why, you may wonder? Well, it’s simple really. Many people buy lots of presents in the run-up to the big day, and this accumulation of new packaged goods is too big a temptation for a burglar to resist. The goods are there for them on a plate: all they need to do is break in and steal them.
Simple precautions every householder should take to reduce the chances of burglary
Always lock doors and windows
The best way of deterring any intruder is to keep your doors and windows firmly locked. By leaving your property unlocked, you’re giving the green light to potential burglars and asking for trouble. If you don’t lock your doors and windows, not only do you risk losing some of things you treasure, but you’ll probably also invalidate the terms and conditions of your home insurance policy.
Install an alarm and sensors on doors and windows if you can afford it
An alarm doesn’t have to be expensive, but make sure you have sensors on any windows or doors that are not overlooked as these will be the ones a burglar may target.
Use larger and better screws on your door locks and hinges
Any door or window can be forced if enough pressure is applied. So, to improve security it’s worth changing the screws holding the locks and hinges in place. Many of the standard screws that come with locks and hinges are small and basic and won’t withstand force from a determined burglar. Longer screws will be more difficult to force.
Always leave an external light on
Burglars like the dark. They can’t be seen and can get up to all sorts of mischief: so, install an outside light near to the entrance/ exit of your home. If burglars think there’s a chance they may be seen, they’ll think twice about attempting to break in.
Keep your affairs private
The worst thing you can do is to openly brag about the expensive item you’ve just bought, or where you’ll be jetting off to on holiday soon. Somebody, somewhere, will pay attention to what you say, whether that’s verbally or online, and that could potentially make you vulnerable. Seasoned burglars monitor Facebook and Instagram, and they keep their ears open in local stores. They listen for information about when someone is going on holiday and like to find out when, and for how long they’ll be away. So, keep your business to yourself: careless talk could cost your possessions.
Dummy alarm boxes and security signs can be effective
Dummy alarm boxes might not fool a professional thief, but they will, act as a deterrent to casual, opportunistic thieves. The same thinking applies to security signage. If people are duped into thinking your property is protected by a security system, they’ll probably think twice and switch their attentions to a property that clearly isn’t alarmed.
Timed lighting and TV/radio noise are valuable deterrents
Two of the clearest signals to a burglar that a house is empty are darkness and silence. So, the obvious way to deter burglars is to make them think you’re at home. If you’ve got the money you can easily invest in smart technology to turn on lights and draw blinds automatically. If you haven’t got the budget, then make better use of timers. Programme your timers so that the lights come on when you’re not at home and do the same with the TV or radio. If you can afford it, invest in a 7-day timer, and vary the hours that both the lights and appliances are turned on. If the hours are the same every day, then anyone watching the house for a period will soon realise that the property is unoccupied.
Keep your garden tidy
If you’ve got neighbours living either side of you, then you’ll be safer and more secure if you can see their properties clearly, and they can see yours. So, don’t let the garden borders or hedges get out of control. Keep plants trimmed and pruned so that there are no hiding places and you, and your neighbours, still have a clear line of sight.
Put extra locks on doors and windows
Burglars look for the easiest targets and always take the path of least resistance. So, make their life more difficult. Re-enforce all entrance doors with additional locks. Fix window locks on all points of entry on all floors, and fix additional window stops, so that if they do manage to break the glass, (which they would prefer not to) the movement of the remaining window frame is severely restricted.
Join your local Neighbourhood Watch scheme and get to know your neighbours
Being neighbourly can be beneficial. Join a scheme if you can spare the time, or at least speak to your neighbours every now and then. If your neighbours warm to your approach, they’re far more likely to take an interest in you and what goes on at your property. Another pair of watchful eyes is always a benefit.
If you can’t get a dog, get a dog sign
If you see a ‘beware of the dog’ sign on a property, it’s only natural that you’ll be wary about trying to illegally enter someone else’s house. Nobody wants to risk being attacked or mauled. If burglars see a sign, they don’t won’t know it isn’t real. They’ve no idea whether you’ve got a Rottweiler or not, but maybe they’d think twice before taking the gamble.
Gate-off drives and pathways
Don’t let unverified people onto your property. Put gates on driveways and paths to prevent intrusion.
Keep a secure storage area within the home but out of sight
If you have to keep valuable possessions or documents on the premises, invest in a safe, or a safe store. You can keep your most valuable possessions here when you’re out of the home. However, make sure the safe store is well hidden.
Use free solar power for external lighting
Installing an external light is always advisable, but what happens if there’s a power outage? Well, the outside of your property will be in total darkness and that’s a burglar’s dream. So, invest in a couple of solar lights for the garden and near the entrance. They’ll work even if the power goes down, and they’re free.
Use spiky shrubs and plants around the perimeter of your property
No burglars relish the prospect of climbing through spiky and painful foliage to break into a property. So, plant berberis or cotoneaster or similar spiny plants to prevent entry.
Don’t leave expensive items on display, and don’t leave the discarded packaging from recently purchased goods on show
Don’t leave expensive items on display where they can be seen by passers-by or anyone ‘casing’ your home. If you purchase an expensive item, don’t leave the empty packaging on full display beside the bin. Burglars will notice and wonder what other treasures might be inside the house.
If you go away on holiday, have your post collected by a neighbour or pay for a mail redirection
Nothing signifies that a house is empty more than uncollected mail. Burglars will soon notice if mail hasn’t been picked up or opened. So, make alternative arrangements.
Data-driven home security technology: smart solutions for age-old problems
Computer security may have kept up with the evolving and ever-resent threat of cybercrime over the last couple of decades, but home security hasn’t really changed or evolved to anything like the same degree. There’s plenty smart security technology out there, but most of us still rely on the good old locks, keys, bolts and latches to protect our property from intruders. Naturally many households now also make use of security lights and alarms for protection, but for all their benefits, this type of ‘technology’ is still relatively unsophisticated in comparison to some of the smart technology we can now use to secure our homes.
It wasn’t that long ago when the options for securing your home in your absence, whether through work or holidays, where limited simply to a house alarm, grainy CCTV footage and asking a neighbour to keep an eye open whilst you were away. Thank goodness times have changed and technology has improved. A modern smart home can look after itself and keep your possessions safe, all whilst you’re soaking up the sun on the beach
Smart window blinds
If you ever away from your home for a prolonged period of time, there’s no greater giveaway than the blinds remaining in a fixed position for the duration of your absence. Anyone watching the house as a possible burglary target would soon realise you weren’t there, particularly if the lights also remained off. So how can you solve that particular problem? The answer is smart blinds.
There are a number of options available when it comes to installing automated window blinds – some very expensive, some less so. If you’re looking to install a complete system, then the Lutron system is one of the best, particularly if you’re interested in automation and remote control. Many automated window blind systems offer support for Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, SmartThings and IFTTT.
Using smart technology, it’s possible to create an Alexa routine which can open your blinds at a certain time each morning, then close them again in the evening. This will give the impression that someone is home and prevent burglars from peering in. If you’d prefer to make the blind operation look more natural and less obvious, you can also create an IFTTT applet to open and close the blinds at sunrise and sunset each day.
For those on a tighter budget, the Soma blind system may be a better bet. This uses a motor which pulls on the existing cord or chain to raise and lower the blinds whenever you ask. Alexa control means that routines can easily be created and, as the mechanism is solar powered, there’s also no chance that the process will be interrupted whilst you’re away from the home.
Smart lights are, by definition, smart. They turn on automatically when darkness falls and switch off when it gets light. You may wonder what the point of this is, as you can do that yourself easily with very little effort, and without the additional expense. The point is, smart lights have a number of other advantages. Apart from the convenience of turning on automatically, the use of smart lights can also help to lower your power consumption, and therefore reduce your energy bills. All smart lights are LEDs, which consume far less electricity than incandescent and even fluorescent bulbs. Smart lights can also be controlled through your smartphone, allowing you to set schedules for when the lights turn on and off.
Smart lights can be set to switch on and off each day, giving the impression that you or a member of your family is at home. Smart lighting systems by Philips Hue, Lifx and Sylvania all work with Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can easily set up daily schedules and routines.
Normally you would want the lights to come on in the morning then go off at night, but smart lighting solutions will let you do much more: you can separate each room into its own ‘group’ in the Alexa app, or ‘room’ in Google Home. By having separate lighting solutions for each room, you can have the bedroom lights switching on briefly in the morning and again at night, whilst the living room and kitchen lights can be programmed to function on an entirely different schedule. The same solutions could also be applied to external lighting, really making it look like you’re at home.
Cameras and signs
Although automated blinds and lights are useful deterrents and will help in some way to deter burglars, they will not stop a determined thief if they think the home is worth burgling. However, there are a wide range of wired and wireless security cameras, across all budgets, that can further bolster your home’s deterrent capabilities.
A security camera will enable you to keep an eye on your property, and monitor who’s coming and going, via your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Using this device, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your home even when you’re out or away on holiday. You can see what the kids are doing whilst you’re working and see what sort of mischief the cats and dogs are getting up to. Better-quality security cameras will also have night vision and can be linked with other smart home devices, so you could if you chose set the camera to start recording when you leave home and stop when you return.
Most standalone security cameras connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, so you can see what’s going on from your phone or tablet, and most have built-in sensors that detect motion and sound and will send push and email notifications when those sensors are triggered. You can usually tweak the camera’s motion sensitivity to prevent false alarms caused by pet activity or passing cars if the camera is near a window, and you can create a schedule that turns the sensors on and off during certain hours of the day.
Some of the more expensive cameras are also equipped with humidity and temperature sensors and will interact with other connected home devices such as thermostats and smart lighting systems. If you want to save some money, look for a camera with an SD card slot that allows you to record video only when motion or sound is detected, but remember to save your recordings regularly so you don’t unwittingly overwrite them. The alternative, of course, is to purchase a security camera which offers a cloud storage plan.
Video doorbells let you see who is at your door without having to open it or even get close to the door. Video doorbells connect to your Wi-Fi network and will send an alert and live feed to your smart phone when someone approaches your doorway. They’ll record video when the doorbell is pressed or when motion is detected, and usually offer two-way audio communication that will allow you to speak with the visitor from anywhere via your phone.
Most video doorbells use your existing doorbell wiring (two low-voltage wires) and are fairly easy to install, but there are battery-powered models available that can be self-installed in a matter of minutes. Some video doorbells work with other smart devices such as door locks and sirens and support IFTTT and Alexa voice commands. If you’re interested in buying one, then look for a model that offers a high resolution (1080p), a wide angle lens (140 to 180 degrees), a night vision range up to 25 feet, and affordable cloud storage for recorded video.
Devices like the August Doorbell Cam Pro, Ring Video Doorbell and Skybell HD will start recording when they see movement and notify you accordingly. Recorded video is stored online and can be viewed afterwards.
Window and door sensors
If the worst should happen and a window or door is opened while you are away from the property, a simple sensor will alert you immediately. Wink, Hive and other sensors hook up to your Z-Wave compatible smart home hub, notifying you when the window or door they are attached to has been opened.
Smart alarm systems like the Nest Secure take this a step further and use combined motion and opening sensors which alert you when they detect movement and when the door or window they are attached to is opened while you are away. Another cheaper off-the-shelf option is the Simplisafe, which connects to door, window and motion sensors, but can also alert you if it hears broken glass. Although this smart device may be cheaper, it is ‘smart’ enough to know and be able to recognise the difference between a smashed window and a dropped plate.
A smart lock is typically used as a part of a robust smart home security system, however, even if your home does not have full-blown smart technology, it’s still possible to use one. If you’re using a home automation hub to control things like lighting and thermostats, you can easily add a Z-Wave or ZigBee smart lock to the system. Alternately, if you don’t have a home automation hub, look for a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth lock that comes with its own mobile app.
Smart locks use standard pre-drilled holes and are fairly easy to install. Some models use your existing keyed cylinder and deadbolt hardware and attach to the inside of your door, while others will require you remove your existing interior and exterior escutcheons and replace the deadbolt and strike hardware.
A Smart lock can be opened and closed using a mobile app and will send a notification when someone locks or unlocks a door, and most allow you to create permanent and temporary access schedules for family members and friends based on specific hours of the day and days of the week. Features to look for include geofencing, which uses your phone’s location services to lock and unlock the door, voice activation using Siri (HomeKit), Google Home, or Amazon Alexa voice commands, support for IFTTT, and integration with other smart home devices such as video doorbells, outdoor cameras, thermostats, smoke alarms, and connected lighting. There are plenty of smart lock models to choose from, including keyless no-touch locks, touch-screen locks, and combination keyed and touchpad locks.
Smart home hubs
A smart home hub provides a uniform platform through which you can control a number of smart home devices that wouldn’t normally be able to communicate with each other. A smart hub also lets you automate a lot of processes. Using a smart hub, you can get your lights to turn on, change the temperature on the room thermostat, lower the window blinds when it gets dark, start playing music and unlock your front door on your return from work.
Smart plugs and lamps
You don’t need to spend large sums of money to keep the burglars at bay when you’re away on holiday. The simplest and cheapest deterrent is the smart plug. Smart plugs connect to the internet via your Wi-Fi network and can be controlled remotely from your smartphone or set to function on a timer. Simply plug one into a wall outlet, then plug your lamp into it. Use the functionality of the smartphone app and set the plug to switch on for a few hours each evening.
The most effective way of protecting your home from the risk of burglary is by adding layers of security. Burglars determine their targets through risk vs. reward scenarios, so, the more security measures you put in place to increase the risk and lessen the reward for would-be intruders, the less likely your home will be viewed as an easy target.