Are you inviting burglars into your home?

by | Jul 30, 2012

Break-ins spike during the summer months. Keep your home safe by following advice from those in-the-know—in this case, former burglars.


By: Ashley Weber

Summer steals don’t just happen in stores—they also happen in homes. Research bears testament to this sobering reality, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reporting that home burglaries peak in July and August.

“Burglars are a lot like the rest of us—they want to stay away from the cold weather,” explains Dr. Paul Cromwell, author of Breaking and Entering: Burglars on Burglary, a book full of candid interviews with former burglars, and a professor of urban and public affairs at University of South Florida Polytechnic. Cromwell notes that the average age of an arrested thief in the U.S. is just 17, so many of the summer criminals are kids on break. (Good news for anyone looking to outsmart a burglar, indeed.)

To outwit a thief, try thinking like one. Not sure how? Then check out these tips Cromwell collected from reformed burglars:

  • Don’t be a show-off.  “If you have a lot of signs pointing to the good stuff you own, like the box for your new HDTV, a burglar might be willing to take a greater chance in breaking in,” says Cromwell.  So don’t advertise your new goods—instead, break up boxes of expensive new items and place theminside garbage bags.
  • Keep your status updates to yourself. When you go on vacation, avoid announcing your plans or “checking in” to a faraway locale via social networking sites. Posting on Facebook or Foursquare that you’re not home makes any potential burglars who come across your page take note. (This especially holds true if your privacy settings are lax.)

That said, avoid sharing this information even if you restrict visibility to friends and family—sadly, many burglars know their victims.

  • Remove your yard’s barriers. The privacy that fences and tall hedges afford also shield a potential burglar. Allow your house to be seen by neighbors by trimming bushes and trees and scaling down tall hedges.
  • Get to know your neighbors. “A nosy neighbor is one of the most important things you can have,” says Cromwell. In fact, one of the reformed burglars in his book actually formed a neighborhood watch group and appointed himself the president after a string of burglaries hit his neighborhood.
  • Lock up. We know it sounds abundantly obvious, but the FBI reports that approximately 30 percent of all burglaries are committed without force courtesy of an unlocked door or window. It is particularly important to lock your house during the day, as 65 to 75 percent of household robberies occur when you’re on the job or out and about.
  • Invest in an alarm system (or just pretend like you did). If you do have an alarm, make sure the control pad is away from a window where a burglar can easily see whether or not it’s set. (Added bonus: An alarm will qualify you for a Burglary Alarm System Credit—to learn more, contact VanVleet Insurance Agency.  Haven’t invested in one? Then place a security system sticker in your window anyway as an extra deterrent.
  • Get a…Chihuahua? “The single most effective thing that you can do is have a dog,” says Cromwell. Bigger isn’t always better since saucer-sized dogs tend to have the loudest barks.
  • Close the biggest entry of all. If you leave your car in the driveway, keep the garage door opener out of sight—after all, an opener hooked to your car’s sun visor is an easy entry point into your house. Also take extra precaution when you’re on vacation by unplugging the automatic garage door or placing a padlock on the manual door.

Finally, because open doors function as dangling carrot sticks to burglars passing by, make sure to keep them closed at all times. “Think of your personal property as money,” advises ERIE AgentDennis Bort of Bort Insurance Services in Erie, Pa. “If you had a $100 bill, would you leave it sitting outside?”

  • Safeguard high-ticket items. “I encourage people to have a bolted down safe in their home for their valuables,” says Bort. “It’s also good practice to review your policy whenever you purchase new, expensive items.”

Looking for a way to protect a big-ticket item? Then consider aPersonal Inland Marine Policy from ERIE. (Check out the information below to learn more.)

  • Been burglarized? Then make changes now. Criminals can—and often do— return to the scene of the crime. In his interviews, Cromwell spoke with several thieves who went back to homes they previously robbed. The reason they most often cited? The likelihood of there being brand-new belongings to pilfer.

In this case, lightning can strike twice—so put new precautions into effect ASAP after the initial break-and-enter.


Got valuables? Then read this.

Most homeowners and renters insurance policies include coverage for expensive personal belongings like jewelry. (For ERIE Customers, any belonging with a value of up to $3,000 that is lost, misplaced or stolen is covered under a standard policy.)

But maybe you have items like furs, guns, art and fine jewelry that exceed that limit. If so, give some serious thought to taking out a Personal Inland Marine Policy. This endorsement will protect you in the event a burglar takes off with something extra valuable—or if you lose or misplace the item. To learn more, contact VanVleet Insurance Agency and do the following.

  • Have your expensive items appraised. A proper level of insurance depends on knowing items’ true worth, and only an expert can let you know that.
  • Make a point to have your valuables reappraised every five to 10 years. If there are any changes, schedule a time to update your coverage.
  • Do a thorough home inventory. The best option is filming all of your belongings—but logging information on paper or in a secure online systemalso works. When filming, pan over your entire home, stating when and where you purchased pricier items. Then stash the video in a secure, off-site location.

A former burglar tells all

Eriesense recently had the opportunity to hear from a reformed burglar* now serving time for her crimes. Here are her answers about why she led a life of crime, what made her target certain houses and what homeowners can do to protect themselves.

Why did you start burglarizing homes? 
My goal was to sell the items for drug money; sometimes, drug dealers would just exchange goods for drugs.

What made certain homes an easy target?
A house with no garage—I could easily tell if a car was there. Also, a working-class neighborhood since the chances of people not being home was better being that many work during the day. A closed-in porch with easy access to a door and windows that weren’t too high off the ground made getting in easier.

What made you avoid certain homes?
Houses that had an alarm system sign in their yard.  Also, houses close to other houses because you are more likely to be seen. Large dogs scared me away as well.

How did you break into homes?
Most of the homes had unlocked doors or open windows. If either were locked, I kicked down the door.

What things did you look to steal?
Checkbooks, bank cards, jewelry, laptops, flatscreen TVs, game systems, games and DVDs. Basically, anything valuable.

How did you make sure homeowners weren’t home?
I didn’t—I just planned an escape route in case they were there.

What mistakes do many homeowners make?
Leaving doors unlocked and windows wide open when they aren’t home. Also, glass doors make it easy to see if there are valuables inside—oftentimes, people just leave their prized possessions out in the open.  People have alarm systems, but they don’t use them. Or they have the sticker on their doors to scare you, but nothing is activated.

What advice do you have for homeowners to protect themselves against burglaries?
Lock your doors and windows.  Avoid glass doors and don’t leave valuables out in the open where they can be seen. Get an alarm system and use it.
*Name not used to protect privacy.

An Erie, Pa., native, Ashley Weber earned a fellowship with the International Radio and Television Society that took her to New York City. Life on the red carpet was very exciting, but she missed her family and her two black Labrador retrievers. So in 2008, she returned to her hometown to be a Spanish teacher and freelance writer.