What Burglars Look For
Hello Lock Pickers
Being in this game for decades I am frequently asked how people can secure their homes. I know my lock picking, but I do not know about domestic security, so when I was given the opportunity to speak with someone who does know about these things I jumped at the chance.
The good news is reported domestic burglary is down, but the numbers are far too high and precautions still make sense.
Robert (we'll call him) was once a thief, a domestic burglar. He's not proud of his former life and has since turned things round and does what he can to give back to the community. However here is not the place for judgement, it's a place to use his knowledge and experience to better protect our homes.
What follows is an edited transcription of my conversation with Robert, in which he provided a lot of information regarding domestic burglary, which I hope you can use so you might prevent, or at least decrease your chances, of being burgled.
ME: How do you select a property?
ROBERT: I'm looking for money, and I'm looking for no one being in. There are people who will rob houses when there's people in, but not me. I want to select a house where the people are away...usually on holiday...and where there's signs of money.
ME: How do you know if people are away?
ROBERT: A build up of junk mail is a big clue. loads of it sticking out of the letterbox. You might notice all the wheelie bins are in the street and one house hasn't put them out - they're probably away. Curtain drawn during the day. I guess people draw them to stop people seeing in, but it tells me they don't want people looking in....why? Because they're away. If a house on a nice street has the curtains drawn for two days, they're on holiday.
Junk mail etc sticking out of your letter box is a tell-tale sign you're away. As are your bins not put out on bin day.
ME: What do you mean you're looking for money?
ROBERT: I don't want to risk my freedom entering a house that's got nothing worth taking. I want jewelry, I want cash, iPads, laptops, cameras...I want top end stuff that I can sell quickly and for a good price. Or I want credit cards, I can go and buy televisions, Playstations, sell them that day. So I'm looking for well kept houses. Nice gardens, nice doors, clean windows, all in a good state. You can have a nice house on a nice street, but be down on your luck....which is no good to me.
ME: What can people do to prevent their houses being burgled?
ROBERT: For me, like I said, don't have loads of post sticking out of your door. Free newspapers piling up in front of your door. Get a friend of neighbor to sort that sh*t out.
ME: What about alarm systems?
ROBERT: When I was robbing houses the alarms were easily taken care of, that information is out there. These days there's like internet alarms, which I for sure would not approach, I can cut wires, I can disarm an alarm, but if some alarm has alerted the homeowner on his laptop, and now he's looking at me on his screen! Fu*k that. They make sense to me. A motion detector that lights me up like a Christmas tree when I approach the front or back door...they're good...I'm gone. I don't want to be seen. I'll tell you what works the best? Neighbors caring about each other. Neighborhood watch it used to be called. And I don't mean a stupid sticker on a lamppost, I mean people keeping an eye out, I mean windows twitching and people coming out of their houses to look at someone walking around who they don't know. I'm telling you right now...streets should get together and allocate watches. That's the street I am going to avoid.
People looking out for each other works - my big take from this interview.
ME: That's surprised me, I thought those organisations were a bit of a joke.
ROBERT: Look, I don't want to be seen, I don't want to be identified, I don't want to be noticed. If you've got people walking their streets, walking their dogs and who know their community, I am going to stick out like a sore thumb. I've got no reason to be there. I've been approached by these people, they want to know what I am doing, and I just run, and I do not go back there.
ME: That's amazing. It's a shame neighborhood watch has such a negative reputation.
ROBERT: When I was a kid, we knew everyone on our street, everyone knew everyone else and I don't remember anyone being robbed. If there was a stranger in the street hanging around I promise four or five people would be standing up behind their net curtains in different houses watching their every move.
ME: What about dogs?
ROBERT: If a family is on holiday the dogs are with friends or gone with them....but...If they're out for the day or an evening and they have an aggressive dog, one that comes up to the door as soon as I approach, I am not going in that house. I've heard stories about people taking food and all that sh*t, but I'm not going to smash a back window and put my arm in a house that might have a bull-terrier there ready to take my fingers off.
Poodle no, one of these, yes.
ME: Talking about smashing a window, let me ask you, how do you actually get in?
ROBERT: Not lock pick, haha...I bought a set of the internet once, but I couldn't pick my nose with them. I'm going to put a pane of glass through and turn the handle. If I can see those locks with a turner on the inside (NOTE: Thumbturn Locks) they're stupid...they're not locked. I can pop a small glass pane and just open the door.
Thumbturn locks - if you can get your hand in, you can unlock the door.
If it's a UVPC I can use a spreader, it's like a small spade which splits the doors, kind of bends them and then they open. It's not hard to get into them. Windows, people go out or away and leave a little back window open. You'll be surprised how small a window I can get in, and I'm not small. So close windows and lock windows. I can use a center-punch and put a window through, it doesn't make much noise, then just open it. So lock your windows. But having said that I've kicked open back doors. I mean it's not ideal, but I can wait for a noisy car or motorbike to drive up the road and just one good kick the door opens.
UPVC and other plastic doors can be easily opened quietly with a spreader.
ME: How long are you in a house?
ROBERT: Five to ten minutes, I don't want to be there much longer, and if I've found something decent, something I can get some decent money for, I'll leave.
ME: You mentioned thumbturn locks and smashing small panes of glass. What kind of doors and locks would deter you?
ROBERT: Glass doors are just stupid, not only can I see through into your house, but I can get to your lock and open the door. And like I said, UPVC doors ca be spread, I can just bend the frame and open it. A decent wooden door, I can't bend with a spreader, I'll take the UPVC every time. If you must have glass in your door, hardened glass, obviously.
ME: Where should people hide valuables, I mean, if you're going away for a weekend and you have jewelry and other small valuables, where's the best place to put them?
ROBERT: Not in a decorative jewelry box in your main bedroom. And I say that because 99% of people do exactly that. It's stupid. I would say just out of the way. If you have a cupboard under the stairs with like vacuum cleaners, boxes of rubbish you've built up over the years. Chuck your jewelry in a plastic shopping bag, roll it into a ball and just throw it under a load of mess. I am not going through all of that. I'm going through the drawers in the main bedroom, if there's an office I am going through every draw and cupboard in there. Put your jewelry in the freezer, I have never looked in a freezer, haha.
Having your jewelry box spilling over with all your lovely items may be aesthetically pleasing, but you're really only putting it on display for a thief. If you go away, hide it.
ME: So - theoretically - I want you to protect my home, can you summarize what you'd do to make sure I don't get robbed while I am away.
ROBERT: Have a neighborhood watch, get that organised. I'm serious - that's going to keep you all safe. People like me don't want to be seen, identified, watched. If I am noticed loitering, what chance have I got to slip up an alley? Your street will never get robbed again, I promise. Then have signs on your front and back door clearly stating you have internet cameras active, and have them active. Like I say, they didn't exist when I was working, but I know from friends still in the game, that those houses are safe, thieves won't go near them knowing their whereabouts and maybe even face is now on a police computer or the homeowners laptop.
Make it clear you have Wi-Fi alarm systems on both front and rear doors.
Hide the jewelry you're not wearing somewhere.....unusual. I get it, you want it all on display, but for who? The only person you're displaying it to is people like me....stupid. iPads, laptops etc - stick them in the kitchen, in the oven or something. But like I said, with a decent neighborhood watch, alarms, and lights that come on when you approach, you won't need to do any of that. Say you have a street with 40 houses, about 3 people to each house. That's 120 people who I'm sure - if they knew the facts - would be willing to put a couple of hours in per week to ensure the safety of everyone one the street.
Me Thank's for talking to me Robert.
ROBERT: A pleasure.
Well there you go - I certainly learned something, I hope you did too. Look after yourselves and those you love - but maybe look to the local community, there's strength in numbers.