Thieves in the News
Daily, we see and read news reports of burglaries, sometimes too close to home. What to do? We don’t want to be targets, ourselves, so we must take measures to avoid having our house look like the next place for thieves to try a break-in.
Fortunately, many things can be done that are either very inexpensive, or even free. Of course, part of it starts with where you live. We all know that some parts of town, no matter what town, are best avoided. Sadly, that is not possible for many folks, and it is in those areas, where crime tends to be high, that people also have the least to spend on security equipment.
While the area in which I live is not a bad neighborhood, we are nevertheless on a fixed, low income, and have nothing to spare to buy equipment, so this advice applies not only to those in so-called ‘bad areas,’ but also to many who are retired and living on limited means.
1. Don’t Be Predictable
This is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest deterrent there is. If you are addicted to strict schedules, and leave for work (or wherever else you go) at precisely the same time every day, and return at the same time, any burglar casing your property knows they can set their watch by your routine, and they know exactly when, and for how long, they have the opportunity to break in.
Instead, vary your routine. Leave at slightly earlier or later times, and if you live near enough to where you work (or volunteer), then sometimes, come home for lunch, or return earlier. Many companies allow flex-schedules for full-time employees, and even trading off days with partners, so this is an option to check with your boss.
Most of the rest of these tips also fall under not being predictable, even though they are more specific than that.
2. Leave Lights on When You Are Away
But don’t always leave the same lights on all the time when you are away, especially for an extended period such as a weekend getaway or vacation.
For a pretty small investment, you can get automatic timers that will turn lights on and off throughout the house, and at different times. The newer ones can be programmed with variable on/off times, so it gives a more realistic effect of someone being home. These can even be used when you are at home, to maintain that illusion of being active at different times.
If there is someone you know and trust who is willing to either come by a few times a day, and make the house look lived-in, or even stay at your place, that is an even better option.
In fact, leave some lights on all the time overnight even when you are at home. This, again, makes you unpredictable, and a regularly-on light will not be a clue that you are not home. In the daytime, this will not be noticeable, but if it's on all night, every night, then that's the single predictable thing you want to do, contrary to the rest of these tips.
As an added bonus, a bathroom or kitchen light left on all night is a safety boon for yourself, or any elderly in the home. If you need to get up in the middle of the night, you, or they, are less likely to fall because of trying to get somewhere in the dark.
3. Don’t Be Too Tidy
One major clue burglars look for is an accumulation of newspapers in the driveway or on the front porch. Even if you subscribe to a newspaper, and bring it in every day to read, most of us still get the “throwaway” freebie papers tossed at our doors.
Don’t be in such a hurry to pick them up every time they arrive. Leave them sit, and accumulate for a while. I’m not talking about leaving them until you have enough for pests to make a nest, but just let the weeklies sit there for a couple of weeks, or three, and then pick them up.
Vary this, as well. Pick them up right away sometimes, and other times, leave them lay. If a burglar checking out the area sees that the papers are often left to lie, even when folks are at home, they will not regard that as a reliable indicator of your absence.
Be unpredictable! Never do anything twice at the same time of day or night.
4. Block Your Windows
Of course, when you are not home, it is best to leave your blinds, curtains, drapes, or whatever other window coverings you use, closed. But, also keep them closed sometimes when you are at home.
While it is obvious that your front windows are most at risk for those who wish to get an uninvited peek inside, don’t overlook the rear windows. These are equally important, if not more so, for if a would-be thief gains access to your backyard, he is out of sight of the street, and has plenty of time to snoop around.
Second-story and higher windows are not much of a security risk as entry points. However, be sure never to leave any ladders outside, or you will lose this advantage!
If you have windows in your garage, it is best to use frosted glass, or block them with some kind of opaque material, so no one can see inside there, either. Due to the kinds of activity that happen in garages, curtains are not the best idea, being either a fire or entanglement hazard.
Sheer Curtains Allow Light, and Seeing Out, But Provide Privacy
5. Block Easy Access Points
If you have any kind of side-yard entry to your backyard, block it off with a gate, making sure it is not an easily climbed style. Decorative metal gates might as well be ladders, for all the footholds they offer within the design elements for thieves, or even children, to climb.
A plain wooden gate, with no visible hardware on the street-facing side is a good choice, or if you like metal gates, then a plain, tall, wrought iron gate with only vertical bars and no footholds in the middle is a better idea, as is the addition of spiked tops on the bars.
Cyclone fences are easily climbed, and should be avoided. (I’m sure you don’t want your home looking like a prison yard, anyway, with cyclone fence topped with barbed wire!)
Never leave ladders laying around outside in your yard!
This Style Fence Is Not Easily Climbed
6. Create Some Ambient Noise
Another trick to use is to leave a radio or TV playing while you are away. It should not be loud, but just so anyone trying to listen only hears a murmur of voices, like normal conversation going on.
A TV produces a characteristic flickering that will show through thin drapes, or any gaps in the drapes, so if you go this route, it's best to plug into one of those on/off timer gadgets, to make it more realistic, unless you commonly leave your TV on all day long and into the evening until bedtime. I know some who do, but very few people leave a TV on all night long as well.
A Radio Set to a Talk or Sports Station Allows Voices to be Heard
7. Porch Pirates
A more recent thievery phenomenon is that of "porch pirates," who scour neighborhoods for packages delivered and left on front porches. Sometimes these miscreants even follow delivery trucks around. What scum!
At any rate, unless you or someone else is at home all day, so the delivery can be immediately picked up, it may be best to figure out an alternate delivery method to avoid this fate. Here are some ideas:
- Have the package delivered to a willing friend who is home all day, and can receive for you
- If your boss will allow, have the package delivered to your place of employment—delivery services actually bring packages inside places of business, and don't leave them outdoors
- Post a sign requesting delivery personnel to actually ring the doorbell, so you are aware something has arrived, instead of their traditional "drop and run" technique
- Sometimes, if you have a regular mail carrier, or familiar parcel service driver, they can be "trained" to deliver to the back door, and passing theives won't see any packages in front. (Don't leave a sign instructing this, however, as the theives will also see it...and know just where to look instead!)
How Do We Manage Our Own Home?
We use a wide combination of all these things. First of all, I am “deathly allergic” to schedules, and rarely do anything twice at the same time or in the same sequence. About the only thing ‘on schedule’ in our home are the cats’ meals and my medications. Everything else happens whenever it happens. I realize this kind of lifestyle may be a challenge for those still working and not retired, as I am, but even so, it is possible to make variations.
- Lights on or off? Sometimes certain lights are on in the kitchen for hours on end; sometimes, we have no need of that. Every now and then, we get involved in some TV show or movie, and the light from the TV is the only light on in the house--making it look dark from outside. (Of course, this can be a problem when we need to get up and use the facilities, find it’s dark in the hall, and stumble over a cat. Total darkness is never a good idea.)
- Outside lights? Yes. The outside ‘coach lights’ on our shop, as well as front and back door porch lights are left on all night long. We turn them off when we get up in the morning. Sometimes. If we don’t forget.
- We're retired, so those lights are on at least 12 and sometimes 24 hours. At other times, a light burns out and is not on in one or another location. Sometimes, we don’t realize this for a few days or a week. It doesn’t mean we aren’t home.
- Inside lights? The light over the kitchen sink stays on all night long, as a safety feature for ourselves, in case we have to get up in the middle of the night. Yes, we turn it on when we are going to be away, and returning after dark. But it is not noticeable in the daytime, and it's always on after dark, anyway. Since it is an open-plan house, this light shows through to the living room as a dull glow from outside, and if the drapes are shut, you can't really tell. But in any case, it is no indicator as to our presence or absence.
- Drapes? Open or closed? The bedroom drapes are usually pulled and tied into a bundle during the day; mainly for the benefit of the cats. (They are a pain in the rear to open conventionally.) But, I sometimes forget. So you can’t tell by that. The living room drapes are usually at least partially open when we are home. But often enough, they are closed, especially if it is hot, and we want to maintain cooling in the house. Or if it is cold, and we want to keep out the gloomy gray of the sky.
- The dining room drapes are half-open if we are not home, for the benefit of the cats, as the cat trees are right in front of that window. But they are often also only half-open or or all the way open when we are at home. And sometimes, because of annoying reflections at certain times of the day they remain closed in the daytime when we are home.
- To Clean or Not to Clean: I do leave freebie newspapers sit in the driveway unattended for some time; perhaps a couple of weeks. Well, I used to. They don't seem to arrive anymore. What with newspapers going online, the freebies are no longer being delivered.
- Close the Gate? When we leave, we always close the gate to the backyard. That is, if we are going for more than a few moments. Unless it was an emergency. Unless we forget. Unless we are gone longer than we planned on being gone. You see what I mean?
- We always close the gate before retiring for the night. Unless we forget to check. And sometimes we are home all day, for several days, and the gate never gets opened at all. You cannot tell by that alone.
- Pick up the Mail. The mail gets picked up when it gets picked up. Sometimes it’s right after the mailman drops it off; sometimes it gets forgotten until late in the evening. Again, no clue by that as to whether or not we are at home.
- And some days, we don't get any mail at all, so that comes into play, as well.
- Sign I do have a sign requesting delivery personnel to ring the doorbell—though some of them can't seem to understand the difference between ringing the bell and knocking on the screen door (which isn't a very loud sound)...
And That's All There Is to It!
There you have it: seven ways to protect your home without spending a dime, or at least not very many dimes. Of course, if you have the dollars to invest in a full-blown security system, be my guest.
Maybe You're a Tinkerer? If you are technically and mechanically inclined, feel free to rig up gadgets such as a doorbell that triggers the sound of a large dog barking, and getting closer to the door…or whatever else flips your switch.
© 2015 Liz Elias
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 25, 2015:
Yes, I suppose that is a bit like the proverbial barn-door closing. I agree it's a good thing none of you ran into that punk--it probably would not have turned out well.
On the flip side, however, it is a myth that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. It is actually more likely to do so, having 'cleared a path' through the air.
In this case, the lightning is the burglar, and if they have friends and any kind of network for sharing easy marks--then you could get hit repeatedly.
Changing your habits to locking up is a good idea. And did you know that here, in California, it is actually illegal to leave your car unlocked? If you do, and it gets stolen with no signs of forced entry, your insurance may not pay up.
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience. I'm glad you liked the article.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 25, 2015:
I used to leave the house, used to go to sleep with all the windows open. People said that I was asking to be robbed. Well, the robbers responded. We were asleep when some creep opened an unlocked side window and made off with cash. They didn't even take the credit cards but left my purse laying on the lawn next door. Now, I close and lock the windows every night. Sometimes I think that's like closing the barn door after the horses have gone. Sometimes I think, oh hell, I'm just going to leave them all open like before. Why should I let some creep should change the way I am. (Of course this sounds stupid.) Just glad none of us ran into the punk!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 26, 2015:
Thanks very much, Lee! I'm glad you found this information useful. Thanks for the vote as well.
Lee Cloak on May 26, 2015:
Great universal tips and advice, very well done, a really important hub, thanks, voted up, Lee
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 23, 2015:
Many thanks; I'm delighted that my article was helpful for you, and I hope your next trip can take place with increased peace of mind.
Donna Herron from USA on May 23, 2015:
Thanks for this helpful hub! These plans and details are the things I worry about every time we take a trip. So great to have a complete list of things to do all in one place. Thank you for sharing!!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 23, 2015:
Hi there, rajan jolly,
Thank you very much for the visit. I'm glad you found something new of use to take away.
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 22, 2015:
Very useful tips. We follow a few of them but I guess the one thing we need to do is be unpredictable. This is one thing that is almost foolproof.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 22, 2015:
Thanks for sharing the tip about watchful neighbors. That's another good one; the only people you should tell prior to your trip that you won't be around, and also let them know what car your caretaker drives, if you have someone coming in to feed pets, so the cops don't get called on that person! LOL
I totally agree about social media. People who post, "So excited for vacation; counting down the days till xx date..." are asking for it. Ditto people who post en-route photos "Arrived at so-and-so historic site; heading to motel, and tomorrow back on the road," etc... NOT smart!
Thanks very much for the votes, share and pin! Glad you liked the article!
Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on May 22, 2015:
If you can get handy neighbours such as stay at home mothers or older people who don't work, this comes in very handy too. I used to leave a hall light on which made it look like someone was home when I went on holidays. One of my best tips on this would be to not tell anyone you're going on a trip...post the photos afterwards on social media if that's your thang!
I like your tip about leaving mail/newspapers occasionally, I've often thought that it's a good thing to do to show that you're pretty sporadic and may/may not be home when people expect.
Voted up, useful, pinned and shared!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 23, 2015:
LOL! Hurrah for neighbor's dogs! ;-) I hope no one shimmies up your balcony..maybe if they tried, they'd get splinters where they were not wanted, and teach them a lesson. Haha!
Thanks much; I'm glad you liked the tips!
Nell Rose from England on April 23, 2015:
Great advice lizzy, I live upstairs in flat so they have to get in downstairs first! lol! mind you I have a balcony that someone could shimmy up so have to be particularly careful to lock the door at night, the good thing is that we have a neighbor right next door, about two foot away from my front door, so hopefully their dog will grab em! lol!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 09, 2015:
Hi there, suzanne!
Thanks very much; glad you enjoyed the tips.
justmesuzanne from Texas on April 09, 2015:
Great common sense advice! Voted up and useful! :)
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 03, 2015:
LOL Great dog story! When my kids were young, we had a dog who would probably have led the burglar right to the family silver, if we'd owned any such thing!
Glad you liked my tips--many thanks for your comment and sharing your (unfortunate) experience.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 03, 2015:
Thanks for these meaningful tips, m'dear. Owning a watch dog when possible is also good advice. I once owned a home that was robbed and my watch dog did what he was supposed to do. He sat and watched!
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 02, 2015:
Hi there, FlourishAnyway,
LOL Yes, clutter can be a deterrent, if they think they are going to fall and get hurt, or if they think it will make their task too noisy, and make them get caught!
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 02, 2015:
I really hope they try to come through my garage because a terrible mess is waiting and they'll just give up and realize it's just not worth it.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 02, 2015:
Hello again, MizBejabbers!
Well, still, I do think it bears protest. There is far too much of this backwards thinking going on these days, and it needs to be reversed.
When I was growing up, there was no sympathy for a dumb kid getting hurt if they were messing about where they did not belong. Your parents told you it served you right, and you probably got some kind of other punishment on top of the injury!
I don't know what in blazes has happened with the next generation, for I certainly brought up my kids the way I was raised. You don't sue someone for something that was your own fault, that you weren't supposed to be doing in the first place.
The dog bit you? What were you doing on my property? You fell down my stairs while trying to rob me? GOOD! Serves you right.
I'm on what may be a one-person campaign to get the current nonsense reversed!
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 02, 2015:
Lizzy, my agent didn't refuse the insurance, but he made it plain that he didn't like my getting a dog. He said they pay more out for dog bites than they do in theft claims. Easy for him to say because he wasn't the one who got his heirlooms stolen. Loved your court scene, but idiot judges have actually awarded to the plaintiff in burglary cases. That's a fine howdy-doo.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 02, 2015:
@ MsDora - LOL Yes--I was in no way trying to imply you should create a weedy mess of unkempt everything; you don't want the place to look abandoned, either. ;) Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you found the tips useful.
@ catgypsy - Thanks so very much!
@ annart - We don't have any bars/grills on our windows, but I know many areas do, and for good reason. It's good that the neighbors look out for each other, as well. Community is important. I'm pleased you liked my tips.
Ann Carr from SW England on April 02, 2015:
Great tips here. We try to do some of that. We have grills on the back windows and they are usually closed unless we have some visitors. The front has blinds and they're half-closed during the day as it's easy to look in and through our living area. We also live in a court, so there are neighbours all around looking out for each other; the back is less overlooked so that's where the grills are, as well as pointy metal tops on the garden wall. A canal tow path is next to us so we need extra security.
I think much of it is common sense; as you say, varying a routine should put any 'watchers' off the scent.
Lots of sensible points here, to make us think and prepare.
catgypsy from the South on April 01, 2015:
Some great tips Lizzy! We can't be too careful nowadays!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 01, 2015:
MsLizzy, you give great suggestions. At first, my eyes widened at at your number 3; but you explained it and it makes good sense. Thank you.
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 01, 2015:
Hi there, Sunshine!
You are so correct about the hedges! Thanks for adding in that bit.
We don't have hedges out front, but a low picket fence. I do have a pair of bushes that are right in front of my bedroom windows, and they do block the windows.
However, they are planted right up against the foundation of the house, and they are in contact with the house and the window.
Any burglar trying to enter by those windows would make a lot of noise and attract a lot of attention as he tried to get through the bush to get at the window...and all of this activity would be highly visible from the street.
Those tall bushes serve a dual purpose; they are also, in effect, my privacy curtains, as the windows are an oddball size, and I've not been able to find proper curtains that fit. I have old bath towels tacked up. I know: how tacky!
Glad you liked the article..thanks much for your well-thought-out comment.
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on April 01, 2015:
Excellent tips to help keep the cat burglars away! I always keep my front hedges trimmed to below window level...the higher the hedge, the easier it is for a burglar to sneak into your house without the neighbors nabbing him when the home is unoccupied. Just one more tip I thought I would add. Also regarding the clutter, I often walk past neighbors homes and they have a few papers still out front (our neighborhood usually enters their homes via the garage in the back of the house)...anyway I will no longer consider picking up those papers and placing them on their porches out of sight...they could be trying to avoid burglars! :)
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 01, 2015:
@ bravewarrior - LOL! Hopefully not--and even if they do, they will hopefully realize the futility of trying to case certain properties, and move elsewhere; hopefully to a more honest lifestyle. (Well, I can dream, can't I? ;-) )
@billybuc - Thanks much! You are correct--dogs will defend to their last strand of hair what they perceive as their own! Best wishes.
@ MizBejabbers - LOL Interesting; I've never heard of insurance refusing on dogs...
Well, I'm not a hoarder; you can easily walk through the shop and the house. That said, I do have a LOT of family heirlooms, and other kinds of memorabilia, but a good deal of it is packed away in storage boxes, crammed into the closets. It would simply take a burglar far too long to try to go through all those boxes trying to find something worth stealing. And really, most of the items are not worth much more than sentimental value.
As to the other issue you raise, I"m absolutely disgusted at the turn our laws have taken. You're correct; it's as if the laws are meant to protect the crooks and not their victims. I would SO like to see that challenged in a court of law:
Pros. Atty: My client broke his arm in the defendant's home, and believes he is entitled to damages.
Def. Atty: Your honor, the plaintiff does not live at the address in question, nor was he invited, for he does not know the people who live there.
Pros. Atty: If it please the court, I would like to point out that there was a booby-trap in place, in the form of several cats, over whom my client tripped, causing his injury.
Def. Atty: That may be the case, however, it was an incidental issue, and not an actual, booby trap set with malicious intent. Furthermore, since we have already established that the plaintiff does not live at the address, had no reason to be there for any business dealings, but was, in fact, there after breaking in illegally with the intent to commit theft, he was therefore trespassing on private property where he had no business to be. I submit that his injury is his punishment, and move for dismissal of this case.
Judge: As it appears the attorney for the defense has raised a very valid point, my decision is in favor of the defendant. Case dismissed. Plaintiff, you got what you deserved for breaking and entering someone's private home. You are sentenced to 6 months in county jail and a year's parole.
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 01, 2015:
Lizzy, I love your number 3. I've often joked that Mr. B is such a compulsive hoarder that anyone would kill themselves trying to get into our house, especially if they came through the garage. We use the automatic on-off night sentry lights. In fact we introduced them to our neighborhood and six months later every house had them.
The heck of it is, some of the best protective measures such as large dogs are nixed by the insurance companies. After two burglaries at our home in our former neighborhood, we got a chow, and the insurance company went tilt. We finally moved. If a thief trips over a cat in a dark hall and breaks an arm, he can sue. It's almost as if the laws are made to protect the burglar, not the homeowner.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 01, 2015:
All great suggestions, Lizzy. We never go anywhere, and if we did, we have two dogs who consider our home their castle. :)
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 01, 2015:
These are good tips, Lizzy. Hopefully, burglars won't read this article!