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Common Burglary Tactics (and How to Stop Them!)

Anti-Valentine writes about a variety of topics, including affiliate marketing, online trading, music, the auto industry, and home security.

How to outsmart burglars and prevent them from coming into your home.

How to outsmart burglars and prevent them from coming into your home.

Burglary Strategies and How to Outsmart Them

Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV about dumb criminals. There are some highly trained criminals (they may have a background in military or law enforcement!) who specialize in home invasions.

They often wear ski masks or balaclavas to stop people from identifying them and wear gloves so they don’t leave fingerprints. They carry knives and firearms and have the proper tools with them for breaking and entering. They are calm and collected. They get what they want and are not afraid to use force if necessary. Trying to fight them could be dangerous: don’t take them lightly.

It's a common misconception that most burglaries take place at night. It's much more difficult for a thief to break in when people are home, especially when there are men in the house. The news pieces I read seem to indicate that burglars will often arrive at a house and invade it in the late morning or afternoon, often targeting households occupied by senior citizens and perhaps women. Men are more likely to be at work, and the children at school.

With the occupants’ cooperation, they have virtually unlimited access to safes, IDs, credit cards, and valuables, which they would normally waste time searching for and trying to access themselves.

Think About Your Pets


Dogs will deter burglars. But most people think it is a good idea to leave dogs outside. This is wrong for a few reasons. One is that invaders will often feed dogs, usually with meat, like sausage or viennas, where rat poison or some sort of drug can be slipped inside and concealed. This will then kill the dogs or at least make them very ill.

The only way you could avoid this is by having a trained guard dog who won’t take food from strangers and also won’t bark at every single thing – which is good in Cape Town at least, seeing as owners of dogs who bark all day face fines and even the confiscation of their dogs.

It’s a better idea to keep dogs inside the house. That way, they can better protect the family from intruders and are less likely to fall for attempts to distract or poison them.

Cats can present a massive security risk for homeowners.

Cats can present a massive security risk for homeowners.


It might be purely coincidence, but it's plausible that burglars may target houses where cats are present. People often leave open windows and doors and even disable alarms because of the creatures. They present a potentially massive security risk.

This may even prevent your insurance company from paying out in the event of a burglary because you had your alarm turned off. And that may seem a little suspicious to some. It could even end up with a fraud investigation. People often stage burglaries to claim from insurance.

It could happen.

Be aware of litter outside your house. It may serve a purpose other than pollution.

Be aware of litter outside your house. It may serve a purpose other than pollution.

Things to Watch Out for

Litter Outside Your House

Criminals will leave things outside your house like cans, litter, bags, and so on – these mean something. Whatever you do, do not ignore them. This is why you should always pick up litter outside your house because they may well be signs put there by scouts for criminals targeting a house or neighborhood.

They can denote how many people are in a house, how many of them are male or female (houses with female occupants only are more likely to be targeted). They may also indicate if there are any dogs – the list goes on. Always take a photo first if it looks to be constructed in some fashion, and then bag it and put it in the bin. Wear gloves when you do, because you never know if they may have put substances on it. More on this later.

Business Cards and Flyers

Don’t ever take flyers or business cards from random people. Only take business cards from people you have business with. Criminals sometimes lace them with chloroform or another substance. Then you touch your face and the drug takes effect. Then you pass out and they can rob you, steal your car, or get into your house with little effort. The same goes for flyers and the like in the post.

That’s why it’s probably best to bring in the mail with gloves on. Then you can take your gloves off when the gate and door are closed and go through the mail. Because someone may have slipped one of these business cards or flyers in the mail. Sounds paranoid, but you just never know. It could happen.

The people living here seem to be at home.

The people living here seem to be at home.

The Mailbox

Speaking of mail, when you are away for an extended period of time, robbers will notice because your bills and letters will start piling up and overflowing. That's why it might be a good idea to have someone you know and trust collect the mail for you. Or you could have the mail temporarily sent to another address while you're away, such as a trusted person's home. But that may be too much of a hassle for such a short time.

The post office may even hold your mail for you while you are away, but personally, in SA, I wouldn't trust SAPO to manage that. It all depends on how efficient and trustworthy your post office is, and as for SAPO, I would say not very.

Be careful of anonymous calls.

Be careful of anonymous calls.


Having messages posted on your door saying that you are away is a stupid thing to do. Having messages on your phone's answering machine saying that you on vacation is also a silly idea. You may notify neighbours, family and friends that you are away by sending them an email or telling them in person. Or call them, perhaps.

Criminals may phone your house number to probe and see if anyone is home, or they may email your email address if they know it. You'd be surprised – people will have an email automatically sent back informing you that they are away and not able to reply presently. That's why you should elect to only have automated responses sent to your contacts if they try to get a hold of you – not just anybody.

You know those calls you sometimes get when you answer, and nobody speaks, or they hang up when you do? It could be a probe, someone checking to see if anyone is home. That's why as painful as it may be, you should always pick up the phone to see who it is, even if you aren't expecting a call. Don't let it go to the answering machine.

Power Outages

It's a real possibility that burglars could plan to attack an area when there is a power outage, especially if there has been notice given to residents beforehand. Sometimes like when the power company comes to cut down trees that might be growing in to power lines, they do give you notice that the power will be switched off during the hours specified. Then any security measures you have that rely on electricity will be effectively useless unless there is some sort of backup power or you have an installation that is battery powered or powered by some other means.

Sophisticated burglars might even try to force a power outage. They may cut phone lines which render a landline useless too. That's why you should have a fully charged cellphone on standby at all times.

Harvesting Information From Social Networking Sites

Don't post anything about your upcoming vacation online either, like on Facebook, your blog or website. You are more than welcome to post photos and news once you come back, but don't make the news public before you leave and while you are away. Also don't give out exact dates, times, or places.

If you must, then check your privacy settings and only make sure that your friends and people you know and trust are able to see the post on your Facebook profile. In fact, be careful about everything you post online, whether it be on Facebook or anywhere else; text, photos, or videos.

Sometimes what is posted online is out of your control. That's why Google got into so much hot water over their Street View product which is incorporated into Google Maps. Because someone can easily use the product for nefarious purposes, such as planning a burglary.

You should burn sensitive information.

You should burn sensitive information.

Did You Know?

After the mass shooting incident in Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was a lot of debate in the USA over gun laws. In response to the mass shooting, a suburban New York newspaper published a list of gun permit holders, and this outraged a lot of people, as they claimed burglars looking to target an area could see which houses are owned by people who own guns and will therefore be more likely go for those houses belonging to people who don't own guns.

Dumpster Diving

Don't just throw out paper like bills, documents and so on. Shred it first and then bag it. Or you could burn the things instead. Someone can come along and rifle through your rubbish and find out your name, address, phone number, and more. All of a sudden they know a lot about you and could use this information to even gain access to your home.

I've seen this on The Real Hustle, where someone goes dumpster diving, then calls a locksmith, assumes your identity and the locksmith lets them into your house. Those vagrants who go through your bin looking for bottles and tins and so on to recycle in order to get money – who says that's what they're really after?

Roadside Assistance

Don’t stop to assist people on the side of the road. If they needed help so desperately they would call friends or family, or maybe even roadside assistance. You’ll get out to go and help them, and they’ll mug you and possibly kill you, and drive off in your vehicle too. They could take it a step further and easily find out where you live by looking through your wallet, your ID, your papers in the glove compartment to get your address, and go there.

Likewise, if somebody tries to make you stop and help you with a broken taillight, keep driving if you don’t know them personally. It is the duty of traffic cops or metro police to point out such faults to people, so if a metro policeman orders you to stop, then you should. People should really do an inspection of their vehicles before they leave home in any case. That way they’ll know there's nothing wrong with their vehicle and that the other person is just trying to con them.

If a car persists in trying to make you stop, tries to run you off the road, block you from passing, or follows you for an extended period of time, don’t drive home – go to the nearest police station, fire station or a public place where there are security personnel who may be able to help you out.


There are some cases where you can't even trust some authority figures. Burglars will pose as policemen, municipal servants, delivery men and the like to gain access to your home. Why? Because you think you can trust them and willingly let them inside.

You should ask to see some identification, such as a badge, a name tag, or something. Then phone your local police station or municipality, or the company the person claims to work for, and actually check that they are on record as being employed there. The Consumer Protection Act of South Africa claims that you have the right to do this as far as delivery people are concerned.

Be careful around the Christmas period as these scams will happen more and more. You'll get people who will come and pose as a municipal servant, and ask for a Christmas box. Municipal servants, in South Africa at least, are not allowed to do this. But residents often give them Christmas boxes out of fear, because if they don't then the municipal servant will potentially use intimidation tactics against them (such as damaging property, etc.). In these cases, you must report this activity to the municipality and possibly the police as well.


Criminals will use people as scouts or accomplices. The scouts aren’t always the people who commit the burglary. They could be your maids; municipal workers who come to work on the sewers outside your home when they are blocked; TV repair people; the garden servicemen. They’ll take a look around your property, looking for weaknesses; chinks in the armour. They ask to use your bathroom and get a good look at everything inside your house.

That's why you should also be very careful about who you hire to babysit or house-sit. Make sure they have references. Don't take just anyone.

A green belt makes it easier for burglars to access residential areas and then slip away.

A green belt makes it easier for burglars to access residential areas and then slip away.


No, this doesn't mean they are experienced in the martial arts. Burglars are more likely, at least in third-world countries like South Africa, to use green belts to travel to and from more built-up areas to commit theft. Why this is, is because these areas – think farmlands, forests, or undeveloped, more rural land – are difficult to monitor and can't be patrolled easily.

It's much easier for police to patrol streets and urban areas. If your house or the area you live in borders on these areas, then you are at more risk of being burgled. People who live on farms are just as at much risk, if not more so, than people living in urban areas when it comes to burglary. The response time, i.e. the time it takes for the police to arrive at the scene, would likely take longer for one.

Guest houses can be targeted by burglars, because the proprietors are more likely to let them in than the average person.

Guest houses can be targeted by burglars, because the proprietors are more likely to let them in than the average person.

Home Businesses

Home-based businesses are probably more likely to be hit than regular houses. This can be anything – a hairdresser, a masseuse, an interior decorator; the list goes on. Reason being that these small business owners will often take cash, and they may not even have a safe to put it in either.

I've visited businesses run from home where money was just lying out in the open in a basket or a tin of sorts, which makes it much easier to get at. Burglars might even be smart and pose as customers – because there's more chance they'll be let in the door. There was one incident where three people rocked up at a guest house and pretended to be paying customers looking for a place to stay for the night, but once they were inside, they ended up robbing the owners.

For this reason, you should make it necessary that customers make an appointment. They must phone ahead, and you should take their name and contact details. If someone rocks up who isn't scheduled to be there, then you should just inform them that it's by appointment only.

Estate agents should allow people into show houses by appointment only and should screen potential buyers.

Estate agents should allow people into show houses by appointment only and should screen potential buyers.

Show Houses

A fairly new target of criminals is show houses, according to estate agents. Customers who are in the market for a house will arrange to meet with an estate agent, and then once inside a show house, will proceed to scope the place out and even steal items while there. It might not be one person. One criminal masquerading as a potential buyer might be accompanied by other criminals who will distract the estate agent while the one is busy casing the joint.

For this reason, estate agents should take down the details of buyers and possibly also take photographs of them, with their permission. If they refuse, then they will not be allowed to view the house. The owners of the house who are not present while the estate agent is showing them around should take their valuables or at least lock them away securely. This is just common sense.

Another way around is to have a virtual show house, where the estate agent can lead people on a tour via video. The video would only be viewable to potential clients. If it were done on YouTube, it could be made private, and only serious buyers who had been screened beforehand would be given access by way of a link to the private video.

Tactics You Can Use to Deter Burglars

Note that it is illegal to have booby traps to try to injure, maim or kill burglars. Forget what you saw in Home Alone. You’ll likely face jail time for it; had up for manslaughter. You can only have alarms, deterrents and the like to make them think twice about breaking in. Or if they do break in, you are able to defend yourself with whatever you have available. If you own firearms, make sure you are licensed to operate them.



Anywhere you go in my neighbourhood, you are positively guaranteed to see signs belonging to various security companies like ADT, Chubb, Duckitt, etc. You can also have neighbourhood watch signs up. You can have some other signs like “trespassers will be prosecuted”. Have some sort of sign up that may deter some people – that is, given that they can actually read or at least understand the language the sign is printed in.

I’m not sure if it’s strictly legal, but you can put up signs belonging to security companies even if you aren’t a subscriber, in an attempt to scare off burglars. The only thing is that said company may realise that you are not a subscriber and may ask you to take down the sign.

More on Dogs

Dogs are expensive to keep and a hassle for some, what with the demands for food and exercise. You may not even legally be allowed to have a pet on the premises if you live in a flat. You can go to some lengths to make it look like you have a dog though. You can have a dog house in the yard. You can have a water bowl, leads, chains and so on, and a sign saying “beware of the dog” on your gate. This may convince some random intruder that it may be best to pass on your house. But those who watch your house and monitor your movements won’t be fooled.


It’s not economical to leave the lights on all night every night, whether they be inside or outside – people may do this to make thieves think someone is at home. Rather set it with a timer switch so that lights come on every other hour, or better yet, with a motion sensor, which will make them come on when movement is detected, which is actually more realistic – more akin to human behaviour. When someone hears a noise they may reach for the light switch. And it saves electricity.

Dummy Security

Security installations are expensive but are recommended in any case. But if you really are either not rolling in cash or want to fool burglars you could try and set up a few dummy security cameras. You can make them or buy them, and set them up.

They are inexpensive compared to the real thing and have working lights – which is crucial in making thieves think they are the real thing. At least from a distance, they could possibly fool a potential burglar. And if said burglar destroyed the camera, at least it wouldn’t be that costly to replace.

And perhaps you might have a real security camera on the property that captures them destroying the fake camera. Then even if the burglar doesn't manage to get in the house, if caught he can be charged with illegally trespassing on private property as well as the destruction of property.

Some people leave their TVs on when not at home.

Some people leave their TVs on when not at home.


People will often leave TVs, radios, lights and other things on when out to fool burglars. This will waste electricity or batteries. At least the latter doesn’t add to your electricity bill.

You can even have recordings of yourself or other people talking to make it sound more realistic – making people think that people are in the house. Make sure to have a lot of laughing, giggling, noises like coughing and so on. Don’t rely on speech, as playing a clip on a loop, anybody listening in will figure out sooner or later that it’s a recording. Speech shouldn’t be clear because it's more recognisable. It can be a mumble, even.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Anti-Valentine


Thank you on June 14, 2019:

Thank you for the article. It's just gross what some people do. It would be nice to read some information about suggestions to do to make apartment living safer.

Lessie on September 06, 2018:

while I agree with some of your article and appreciate that you're trying to help people I have been a housekeeper for 30 years and have never stolen anything from anyone I think it's a very dangerous thing to lump a group of people into one category I don't know what made you hate housekeepers but you can't blame a whole group of people for an experience you had with one person it's wrong. Flat out what about the people that read this article and take it as gospel and fire their housekeeper now you were taking food off the table and out of the mouths of a whole family

Apache on August 18, 2018:

Yes do you have

Peggy on March 26, 2018:

I have ALL necessary items to prevent my home from being robbed, but none of it worked!!!! First, the locks we all have now are obsolete, and even our burglar alarms are now being hacked, deadbolt locks, Hah!! what a joke with the bump key!! they tried hacking into a vault with magnets!!! They took real valuables and sentimental items as well,,,,,,just devastated!!!! I don't understand why insurance companies are NOT warning people of high crimes, and neither are law enforcement telling the public what to do about a simple matter of the out of date deadbolt locks NO LONGER can KEEP ROBBERS OUT!!!

Angel on February 24, 2018:

I must say, everything, "your site" has revealed even about fake policemen is CORRECT, corrupt cable employee, corrupt alarm company employee, etc. They form a clan that I've not been able to get this city to have a clue this is SO!!! and now I'm marked as "the so-called trouble maker!!!! Isn't that refreshing!!! I was robbed over $40,000.00 of my valuables, and it was done in increments..BAD Neighbors, who used rat poison on my precious dogs, would watch my coming and goings, and helped the main guy do "his thing"...I won't go into details, but I would also advocate putting a lock on your mailbox, also VERY IMPORTANT, bump-pick-rack locks, on your doors.. WAS NOT AWARE OF "BUMPING YOUR DEADBOLTS", also use door enforcers....thanks for YOUR SIGHT..hoped this helped as well, for all!!

Officer Dan on December 17, 2017:

This is so full of misinformation it's nuts, did the author just make things up or pull things from novels?

The one part that is right, 90% of all break in's happen during the day while you are at work. They almost NEVER do night robberies. the ones that happen at night? targeted at known empty homes.

Your not getting it on June 21, 2017:

You ask for a vote at the end of article, why shouldn't I think you are fishing for info so you can rob me

Aryn on February 05, 2017:

I was a police officer/detective for thirty years and many of these listed security risks don't make sense and wouldn't work. I have never investigated a burglary/home invasion where mail/business cards were laced with chloroform or other interactive substance was used. In fact the is absolutely no way to lace paper with chloroform that would result in you passing out after touching it. Further more unless you have an extensive collection of valuables the class/sophistication of the burglar is most definitely not going to waste such time as to target you. In thirty years I investigated one burglary where a dog was inside. The animal inside is most definitely a deterrent to burglars. Even a small dog will dissuade a criminal advance because of the noise they make. I believe in being aware and securing yourself and belongings but not to the extent that you never leave the house and are afraid to get your mail. What you really need to be aware of is the people around you who have access to your home. Your children friends (particularly teens) and even some relatives. Most burglaries are committed by someone who knows what they are going in to steal. Don't display your valuable and never weapons to any acquaintances you are not absolutely sure of. Once someone knows what you have that is when you are at risk. CrisSp, you are definitely correct regarding sensitive information, location et cetera on any social account or email. That is a preferred method used by criminal element to identify potential victims. Be aware of photo's you post. You would be amazed how many times your location can be disclosed. As well as friends you make. Most accept anyone simply because they think it is great to show how many friends you have. If you use it for anything beside a professional/animal aid/humanitarian site then you are at risk by soliciting friends.

CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on June 02, 2015:

That's why I don't go crazy on Facebook or any other social media specially letting them know my whereabouts. I don't understand why people need to check in on Facebook everywhere they go.

Good tips. Good read.

Zoe from London, England on June 01, 2015:

Fascinating but also rather scary! Definitely guilty of a few of the no-no's detailed above!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 01, 2015:

very useful tips you had listed out.

walibooks on May 31, 2015:

unique knowledge ,Thanks

Amanda M from Unknown on May 29, 2015:

Interesting article... I didn't know that those things can prevent burglars from getting in your house. Good tips.

mikeydcarroll67 on May 29, 2015:

Some good tips about protecting oneself. I never really realized how many things could or could not tip off a potential burglar!

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on May 29, 2015:


I enjoyed reading this and it has really made me think about being more aware of what is happening around me and how I handle my security.

I will look for litter around my yard; thanks I never thought of this one. Living in country does not made one safe, but I feel safer here than in the city.

Have a great weekend.

Bobbi Purvis

I will share this with my friends and followers.

Audrey DS from MNL | PH on May 29, 2015:

This is very informative. Great hub! Thanks for sharing this one.

SpaceShanty from United Kingdom on May 29, 2015:

"You’ll get out to go and help them, and they’ll mug you and possibly kill you, and drive off in your vehicle too"

Jesus, from this American sounds like a third world country and makes Mogadishu look like an ideal place to take a family vacation.

James Vicmudo on May 29, 2015:

very informative, it certainly reflects a sad reality but better ready and prepared than not.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 29, 2015:

Great tips and informations. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful. Congrats on the HOTD!

Candle Reviews on May 29, 2015:

It is so sad that we have to even think about such things. I agree that not all criminals are stupid, as some are very clever and can get away with robbing others. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 29, 2015:

It is a sad state of affairs when we citizens have to take such measures to avoid B&E's. Not long ago people never even locked their house doors!! My neighbor just installed a fake security camera, and hopes that works. I've never had a B&E and hope I never do.

Congrats on HOTD.

RTalloni on May 29, 2015:

Back to say congrats on your timely Hub of the Day award for important information in a straightforward read!

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on May 29, 2015:

Thanks. It was such a surprise to see that I'd managed it!

Nira Perkins on May 29, 2015:

These are really great tips. They're super helpful and can really keep people and their things safe. Congrats on Hub of the Day!!

moonlake from America on May 12, 2014:

The Post Office will hold your mail for you even if it's just for one day, that is if you trust the people in the Post Office. Good information. Voted up.

Kalaichelvi Panchalingam from PETALING JAYA on May 12, 2014:

Crime is often in proportion to unemployment. When times are bad, crime is on the increase.

Deb on March 19, 2014:

Thank you..

Yvonne on January 01, 2014:

We have found markers (8 in total), on the trees alongside our yard and do not exactly know what it means but are trying to find out. Sometimes the time, number of people, pets, time and date for burglary are indicated by signs such as this. It can also be leaves, cloth, paper, branches on the ground pointing in a certain direction, etc that thieves use to pave the way for others to know how, where and when to get entrance to a home. Does someone maybe have more info on this?

Carla J Swick from NW PA on November 06, 2013:

Great tips - we were broken into over a year ago. It is very disheartening. We used a simple alarm installed on basement windows and doors after that, rather inexpensive , these alarms blow are shrill alarm when the door or window is opened... at any rate, it helped us feel safer.

Alex Munkachy from Honolulu, Hawaii on May 02, 2013:

nice tactics

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on April 16, 2013:

Yeah, they may or may not work. I've seen my share of fake security devices or other measures out there.

Lisa Brown from Michigan on April 11, 2013:


I like the tip about using fake video cameras. I would have never thought of that.


Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on January 22, 2013:

I'm glad you two found it interesting. :)

RTalloni on January 22, 2013:

Interesting tips to keep in mind for staying safe and protecting property.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on January 22, 2013:

Wow, it's really detailed. It's really best to have a trusted neighbor to look after your property when you're away. Some stupid people are giving too much information on social media sites that intruders are picking up from them. I also agree on throwing away some old bills, etc.; just destroy them completely. Very helpful tips.

Up, useful, shared and a following. :)

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on January 17, 2013:

You're welcome. Stay safe!

shedplansplus on January 16, 2013:

Great tips - especially the litter one, I would never have thought could be a signal, and being alert when there is a power outage is food for thought. - thank you.