Make the wrong security choices and your home could be at risk. Hannah Walsh of Which? speaks to a reformed burglar to find the best deterrents to ensure your home and valuables stay safe. Extract April 2019 https://www.which.co.uk/
You’ve arrived home from the shops to find your house in chaos. The front door is wide open, your dining chairs are tipped over and the contents of your kitchen cupboards are scattered around on the floor. Upstairs, clothes have been pulled from drawers and even your mattress has been upended. To add insult to injury, your own ladder is leaning against the side of the house, leading up to the small bathroom window that’s always left slightly open. Anyone who’s been burgled and had their valuables stolen knows the impact a burglary can have, not only because of the damage to your property or the loss of valuables but also through the emotional stress it causes. To help you protect your home, we’ve spoken to ex-burglar turned security consultant, Michael Fraser. He’s given us an inside view into how burglars choose a house to target, and what they’re looking for when they’re in your home. He also told us how to make a home as secure as possible. While there’s little that will discourage a particularly determined burglar, these tips will help give you the best chance of putting off any would-be thieves.
PROFILE Michael Fraser is a security consultant and burglary expert, best known for co-presenting the BBC’s Beat the Burglar and Channel 4’s Going Straight. As a teenager he was involved in two burglaries, and as a reformed ex-offender he now uses his experience to give practical advice to homeowners on how to prevent break-ins or theft at their properties.
How does a burglar scope a house? ‘What a burglar looks for is the weakness in your security,’ says Michael. This typically begins at the front of your house. A potential burglar will look for signs that you aren’t security conscious: doors with a single cylinder or Yale lock, or a lack of window locks. They also look out for telltale mistakes, such as keys left in a back door or window locks with the keys still inside. Michael says that ‘if an owner isn’t taking security seriously at the front, you can guarantee the back of the house isn’t secure either’, and it will give a burglar the confidence to investigate. A burglar will look for tools, such as ladders, at the side or the back of your house, that have been left lying around. They will also check if sheds or outbuildings are properly secured. An unexpected tip that Michael shares is to move your calendar out of view of any windows. If it can be seen from the outside, then a burglar will be able to see if you’re out for the day or on holiday, meaning your home is likely to be empty. How to secure your house Michael says that a good place to start is to stand and look at your house from the outside while considering how you would get in if you lost your keys. ‘If you can see a way in, then a burglar definitely can.’ He says that putting a burglar off before they even approach your house is often the best way of preventing a burglary.
Adding a deadlock as your second lock improves security, and installing visible window locks is a good move too. If there’s a Neighbourhood Watch scheme in your area then you should join it, and display a sign letting people know. When we surveyed reformed burglars in 2016, we found that the presence of a burglar alarm would put 71% off a property. You can find out more about choosing a burglar alarm. Michael told us that modern smart security technology can be a great addition too, particularly smart security cameras, which are ‘even better than having an alarm on your house’. Keep reading to find out more about what these are, and what other smart tech you could install. Burglars told us in our survey that having a dog in the house would put them off, but Michael doesn’t think this is always true. If a burglar knows there’s a pet roaming freely around the house, then it reassures them that they can too. The presence of dogs usually means there are no alarms or floor sensors in a property, making it an easier target for burglars. That said, some alarms can be set to recognise the difference between animals and people. Try to keep evidence of pets away from windows if possible. See our illustration to the right for our step-by-step guide to making your home more secure. What burglars are looking for Jewellery and cash, or small electricals such as laptops or mobiles, are the most attractive items to thieves. They might also pick up personal paperwork. If they find large bags or suitcases lying around, then they can use these to get away with as much as they can carry.
A burglar may also look for spare keys that are lying around, either for a back door, outbuildings or for neighbours’ homes. If you do have all your keys in one handy place, make sure they’re not labelled with things such as ‘John next door’ or ‘shed’, as this gives the burglar easy access for his next theft. When we surveyed Which? members in January 2019, they presumed that car keys would also be popular to burglars. But Michael said that while some burglars may go for these, most are just looking to get in and out of a house within a couple of minutes without being noticed. How to keep your valuables safe According to Michael, the most effective way to keep small valuables safe is to install a fixed floor safe. Make sure that it’s fixed to the floor securely, as if it’s not then it can be picked up and dropped so that the tumblers will disengage. If you don’t have a safe, then the next best place to store your valuables is the loft. This puts them out of the way, and a burglar is unlikely to go up into your loft to search. Michael explains how careful you have to be about where you keep your valuables. ‘Don’t leave them where a burglar would look or search,’ he says. Hiding things in strange places isn’t necessarily a good idea. He knows of thieves uncovering valuables hidden below bottom drawers, under beds, inside mattresses and even in empty baked bean tins. ‘A burglar is looking for anything that looks unusual or different,’ he says, and will turn items such as chairs or mattresses over, or pull out drawers, while searching. This has the added benefit of confusing the owner too, so that they don’t immediately realise what’s missing. Identifying your items After a burglary, your house is often in chaos. Michael recommends photographing each room in your house on a normal day so that if you are burgled you’ll be able to spot what’s missing or been moved. Another good idea is to mark your valuables using a police-approved forensic marking solution that’s only visible under ultraviolet (UV) light. Mark them with your postcode, and the first three letters of your street name. This will help police to identify stolen goods, making it harder for thieves to sell them. Michael says that displaying a sign letting people know you’ve marked your goods will make your house less attractive to thieves, too. Think like a burglar When we surveyed reformed burglars, they rated monitored alarms as the most off-putting. Make sure you service your alarm, as burglars can tell if an alarm hasn’t been touched in a while, making it a less effective deterrent. A service will check the battery, fuses and circuits, as well as looking for weather damage.
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