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Common Burglary Tactics (and How to Stop Them!)

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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.

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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.