Burglaries

Burglary is fortunately less common than people think (statistically speaking we will be burgled only once every 50 years) but nevertheless it can be a particularly traumatic experience. One in six crimes is a burglary and there are around a million committed each year in the UK. The good news is that this figure has fallen by 59% since 1995 and by 3% between 2006 and 2007. In fact, our chances of being burgled are the lowest for 20 years.

Why me?

Burglary is by and large an opportunistic crime and there is a lot that you can do to make the burglar look elsewhere for easy pickings. Burglars are looking for a home that gives them the easiest way of committing their crime undetected, with the fewest obstacles to negotiate. Two out of ten burglars do not need to use any force to gain entry and three out of ten get in through a back window.

Making their job a hard one

You can avoid making the burglar’s entry an easy one by:

  • growing prickly shrubs underneath windows
  • erecting a high gate across any side passage ways on your property
  • keeping side gates padlocked
  • ensuring that all ground floor windows are closed when you are out or asleep
  • keeping ladders out of sight and padlocked to make sure that you are not providing a helping hand up to an otherwise inaccessible window
  • locking away garden tools or other implements which can be used to break a window
  • keeping your hedges at a reasonable height so that burglars can be seen from the road
  • being careful, if you live in a block of flats with an entry phone system, that you are not letting strangers follow you in unchallenged
  • not being tempted to leave a spare key under the flower pot – the burglar knows all the favourite hiding places
  • not having any indication on your keys as to your address, in case you lose them
  • not storing keys near the front door in case a burglar manages to reach them through the letter box
  • investing in good locks for doors including patio doors (which are a favourite with burglars). For information see the Metropolitan Police website
  • lighting your property adequately. Security lights are a good idea and may deter a burglar but they are only useful at night and if someone sees the light and acts on it

Making your home looked lived-in

Even if you are away from home try to make your home look occupied:

  • Don’t let the post pile up – ask a trusted friend or neighbour to clear it regularly
  • Remember to cancel the milk and newspapers
  • Leave your lights on a timer switch and ask someone to close the curtains at night and open them in the morning
  • Leave a radio on a timer switch to make the house sound occupied
  • Ask a neighbour to watch out for parcels left on the doorstep
  • Ask a neighbour to park on your drive
  • Disconnect your answering machine

More advice

Finally, make sure you use a burglar alarm (if you have one) every time you leave the house. There is no point in having one if you do not use it all the time. If you do not want to incur the expense of having a system fitted, think about buying a dummy box which may well act as a good deterrent.

Do not put temptation in the way of the burglar. Make sure that there are no valuables on show and do not leave empty boxes by the bin, advertising the fact that you have just invested in an expensive piece of equipment

Burglars’ favourites

There are certain groups who are far more likely to be burgled than others:

  • Students
  • Older people
  • Those moving house

Students

Sadly, although leaving home to go to college or university is an exciting time of life, the experience can be marred by crime. The 16 to 24 age group is three times more likely to be burgled than any other age group – a traumatic occurrence for a young person living away from their family for the first time.

Burglars are after easy pickings and, with students owning more expensive gadgets than any other sector of the population, they are a popular target.

Here a few tips to avoid becoming the 1 in 3 of students who are victims of burglary each year:

  • If you are living in a student house or flat take the same precautions mentioned above as regards keys, windows and doors
  • If you are in a hall of residence, be aware of who you let in or who is following you into the building
  • Even if you are just popping across the corridor to the kitchen or a friend’s room, lock your own door – it takes a burglar a matter of minutes to clear your room of laptop, iPod, money and any other goodies left on display
  • Keep your bank cards separately from your cheque book
  • Mark your valuables in ultra violet ink with your university and student ID. This makes it more likely that if found, your property will be returned to you
  • Make sure you have adequate contents insurance and keep a note of the make, model and serial number of all your equipment
  • When moving into or out of your accommodation do not leave your belongings unattended or in an open car
  • During the holidays use secure storage provided by the university if possible

Older people

Older people should follow the same advice given above on making the burglar’s entry difficult, making their home look occupied and not putting temptation in the way of the burglar. Sadly, however, even if they do all this they are not immune, since they are often the group most vulnerable to bogus callers or distraction burglaries.

Burglars can use many ruses to gain entry into your home in order to distract you and steal either cash or valuables. Some of the most common include:

  • the smartly dressed caller (male or female) purporting to be from the council, social services, gas and electricity companies, water company etc
  • the passer-by searching for a lost pet, needing a drink of water or needing to use the phone urgently as their car has broken down – even children have been known to be used as distractions
  • builders who were passing and just happened to notice work that needs to be done, especially at the rear of your property
  • window cleaners or gardeners who have customers in your road and can give you a good rate

They will usually be smartly dressed and very convincing with many having fake ID cards or uniform with their “company” logo on it.

There are various ways in which you can minimise the risk of being taken in by a bogus caller and the Home Office advice is to Lock, Stop, Chain and Check:

  • Keep all doors locked even when you are at home
  • Stop and think – don’t rush into answering the door – have a look through a window or spy hole to see who it is
  • If you do open the door keep the chain on whilst you are talking to the person. Don’t worry about causing offence – a genuine caller will understand why you are doing this
  • Check that the person is who they say they are. Look carefully at ID cards and if the caller seems unwilling to let you do this or irritated by it, refuse them entry until you can check with the appropriate company by phoning the number on a recent bill (the number on the ID card may not be genuine) or getting the number from the phone book or Directory Enquiries

Further advice includes:

  • Never employ a builder who has just turned up at your door. Don’t take their word that work needs to be done and if you do need to find someone to carry out repairs, ask around for recommendations or check with your local trading standards’ office
  • Even if you are expecting a caller make sure that it is them. Many companies such as the gas and electricity ones use a pre-arranged password system to protect vulnerable people from bogus callers.
  • If you would prefer to have someone with you, tell unexpected callers that they should call back later when you have made arrangements for a friend or family member to be with you
  • If, having let someone into your home, you feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts, make your excuses and leave. Go to a neighbour for help or use your community alarm if you have one
  • Be aware that bogus callers often act in pairs or groups – one distracts you whilst the others search for valuables or cash
  • If you think you have had a bogus caller, notify the police by dialling 999 and inform your Neighbourhood Watch representative in case they are doing the rounds of the street

Moving home

  • Make sure that your estate agent is discreet about what details they give out, regarding when you are out during the day etc
  • If someone turns up on your doorstep wanting to view without an appointment feel free to refuse and make sure they go through the proper channels
  • If you have to leave a key with the estate agent make sure that you remember to get it back and ask them not to label it with your name and address
  • Ensure that you have insurance cover for your possessions during the removal
  • Use professional people for the move and never trust anyone who only has a mobile number
  • If your new home has ever been burgled fit new locks
  • If you have an alarm in your new home don’t forget to change the access code
  • If you have small valuables such as jewellery consider leaving them in the bank on the day of the removal
  • Don’t leave empty boxes outside your new home advertising the fact that you have bought expensive new equipment which will be a temptation to thieves

When your worst nightmare becomes reality

If the worst comes to the worst and you have been burgled, here are some tips on what to do both immediately and shortly afterwards

  • If you arrive home and suspect that a burglary is under way, police advice is not to enter the property but to dial 999 from a neighbour’s house and wait there until the police arrive.
  • If you arrive home to find that you have been burgled do not use your home phone to call the police as the burglars may well have used your phone and left finger prints on it. Do not touch or move anything until the police have investigated.
  • Repair any damage caused by the forced entry and make doors and windows secure
  • Increase your security. It is a sad fact that, having been burgled once, you are more likely to be a victim again. Burglars often return to help themselves to newly replaced goods
  • Notify banks and other official institutions if your passport, birth and marriage certificates, bank cards, cheque books etc have been stolen
  • If you have not done so before, mark all your property with your postcode using an ultra violet marker pen so that if stolen goods are recovered they can be restored to their rightful owner
  • If you have jewellery that you do not wish to mark, take photos of it beside a ruler to indicate its size and keep the photos somewhere safe or on a disk if you have a digital camera

The aftermath

It is extremely common to feel traumatised after a burglary and Victim Support can help whether it is by providing a trained person to listen, giving advice on preventing the crime happening again (sadly not uncommon) or helping you deal with officialdom.

Insurance

If you are burgled then there are bound to be items of sentimental value which can never be replaced. You may well never feel the same about your home again or your personal security. However, the effects can be minimised if you have adequate home contents insurance which will cover the monetary loss of your possessions.