Know Thy Enemy – Inside the Mind of a Burglar
Before thinking about securing your new house, it’s helpful to consider your adversary. The following have been aggregated from multiple sources including surveys of convicted burglars and statistics kept by the FBI:
- Timing – Most burglaries happen during the day when people are at work and aren’t at home to protect their possessions. 68% happen when no one is home
- Profile – Thieves are generally in their 20s and substance abusers looking for items that can be easily converted to cash.
- Gender – Most burglars are male, and they tend to plan their crimes more than women, who tend to act impulsively (careful discussing this with your wife!).
- Priorities – Once inside, burglars first visit the master bedroom looking for valuables and cash. swing by bathroom for prescription pills. and pick up portable electronics on the way out.
Is your home asking to be broken into?
First, you need to assess what your risk and risk tolerance are when it comes to burglaries. It’s not a good use of money to fix problems that you don’t have, after all.
- Calculate Your Burglary Risk – We used crime data and research papers to build a calculator that assesses your probability of being burglarized. It gives you an idea of what your risk is over time and lets you see how changes you make can impact that risk.
It’s pretty obvious from the research, certain risk factors make you and your home much more likely to be burglarized!
- Practically all robberies are attempted when burglars believe the home is empty. They may determine this by watching your routine, looking for cars in the driveway, or a knock on the door during the day posing as a salesman.
- Nice homes with secluded areas caused by fencing or landscaping that will shield thieves from nosy neighbors are preferred.
- Easy entry from the back of the house on the ground floor is ideal, though walking through the front door can be quicker than you would think.
- Most convicted burglars (90%) said they want to avoid homes with alarm systems and said if they did encounter an alarm, they would abandon the attack on the home.
- At least one estimate is that 3/4 of uncompleted intrusions can be credited to an audible alarm.
- More than 30% of burglars entered residences through an unlocked door, window and other opening without force.
Tools Used by Theives
Thieves that are any good at what they do will get into your house within a couple of minutes. Lock bumping is a quick way to defeat a deadbolt. You can see just how quickly in this video featuring a guy that looks like Ron Burgundy and a “security professional” AKA reformed criminal.
Weak external doors that haven’t been reinforced can be kicked in in a matter of seconds and many sliding doors can simply be lifted out of their tracks to coax the lock open or simply remove it. Think your doors are secure? Go take a look at the window latches on one of your ground floor windows. I’ll wait . . . think that will stand up to a crowbar lifting the window up? I don’t either. That’s why I suggest you make a criminal think twice before deciding to break into your house.
Effectiveness of Deterrents
Alright, back to the survey of criminals so that we can get an idea whether or not deterrents are really effective.
- 83% of the offenders said they looked for alarms before attempting a burglary
- After finding an alarm at a house during an unplanned burglary, 50% would abandon the break-in and another third said they may abandon it
- 60% of the burglars said they weighted the presence of a security camera system at a home and more than 40% said that they would choose a softer target
If you think about it, these numbers make sense. Just because they break the law, criminals aren’t stupid and many are just downright resourceful. The stories of guys getting stuck in the pet door and getting caught by the cops may make the news but don’t be fooled into thinking that is a typical case. True, you may get a criminal who is strung out on drugs and has a singular focus, but those types get caught pretty quickly. Professional thieves are going to plan ahead to minimize their risk of being arrested and the return they can expect on their effort. So, your job is to adjust their calculation so that your house doesn’t become their target.
Once you’ve decided that you want to take steps to prevent or reduce that risk, then you want to make sure you get the most value out of each dollar you spend.
- Use Burglary Statistics to Assess Your Burglary Risk and Prioritize Improvements – This is a great place to start to understand your likelihood of being burglarized, when burglaries happen, and what tools and entrances are used to break into homes.
- Implement the Best Burglary Deterrents First – This article highlights some very interesting survey results of convicted criminals and FBI crime statistics to show you which deterrents are most effective. That way, you can use the ones that you can control to protect your home.
DIY Home Security Tips
Before we get started, you should know that many of the links in the home security tips below are affiliate links to Amazon. Why? For one, I order a ton of stuff on Amazon and find the prices to be competitive and the service to be quick and effective. Two, running a website takes money and time, and I try not to work for free. If you don’t want to use these links, feel free to use your favorite search engine to find these products wherever you like. I’m just trying to do some of the legwork to save you time and show you affordable home security devices.
Low Hanging Fruit and High Priority Areas
- This is definitely a cheap DIY home security solution at $0. LOCK your doors and windows! Did you see the figure above that 30% of break-ins don’t even require forced entry?
- This is related to #1 but don’t leave your garage door open either. What if my spouse is a space cadet and can barely remember to open the garage door before he/she backs out, much less to close it when driving away? Well, they make something for you, too. This device will close it for you, if you forget. Or, you could use our guide for how to make a smart garage door opener so that you can check the status and close it from anywhere.
- If you have a flimsy side door to your garage or the back of your house, consider replacing it with a solid door. You want to make sure a criminal has to put a few kicks into the door to get in, at least. It means more time for you to hear them and react if you’re home or for your neighbors to see and hear them if you aren’t.
- Pin Locks for Windows – A pin lock consists of a rod that goes through both parts of a sliding door or window when it is closed to secure it. They can be as easy as drilling a hole through both and using a nail for the pin, or you can buy them online for less than 5 bucks.
- Sliding doors can be defeated several ways. First, make sure that your door can’t be lifted up out of its tracks from outside. If there is too much play, making it more secure may be as easy as adding a couple of screws above the door. If you aren’t sure where, we wrote a guide to secure your sliding door. Next, consider adding a secondary lock or a bar to your screen door. This can be as easy as cutting an old broom stick to length but make sure that a coat hanger can’t be worked under the door to lift the bar out of the track. This will depend on your door. The most robust solution will be something like this security bar.
When it comes to defending your family, you want to give yourself the best chance that you can. That means multiple opportunities to deter, discourage, and defeat the criminal that threatens you and your possessions. The way you achieve that is with layered security from the street to the inside of your home. Some people refer to this as the “security onion” where the layers of the onion are synonymous with the layers of security around your home.
Look Secure from the Street
6. If you are going to be away for vacation or a weekend, use timers to turn lights and the TV on and off. This may not be a bad idea during the day too if the house is normally empty. They can run anywhere from $8-20 depending on the features you want. For me, spending an extra couple of bucks on a digital interface is worth it. You can also use these to turn your Christmas lights on and off, so they can serve a couple of purposes. For $30, the units at http://faketv.com/ will simulate a TV and use a lot less energy. They have light sensors to come on at dusk and they turn off at a preselected time.
7. Another good option that will discourage prowlers from casing your house at night is external lighting. If you aren’t crazy about leaving lights burning all night, invest in some flood lights with motion detectors. Since they only come on when they sense movement, they do a better job of attracting your attention and alarming any would-be burglars. You can get a decent flood light with multiple settings for duration and sensitivity for under $20, so there’s really no excuse for not having this minimal level of security. Or, you can go for a nicer unit LED bulbs that will save you a money on electricity costs over the life of the unit. One thing to consider is how high/hard the light is to get to. If it’s a pain to get to, you may want to buy LED flood lights so that they last longer. At a minimum, you can buy CFL flood lights that will last longer than typical incandescent bulbs and will also save energy. Here’s another quote from the thief on reddit:
Honestly most locks can be picked. To make your house less of a target, install a motion activated floodlight and put lamps on timers to come on and off during the evening. A radio/tv on a timer is a good idea too.professionalthief
8. If you don’t want to get a working alarm system, you can always just pick up some signs and decals that may be enough to discourage a burglar from even peeking in your windows to verify that the system is legitimate. Here is a kit with a sign and window decals from GE Security.
9. Get a dog. Don’t let this give you a false sense of security, since a lot of dogs will become any stranger’s best friend if given treats in sufficient quantities. We wrote a whole article about how effective guard dogs are for home security. Regardless of the dog, however, it does add one more obstacle for the criminal to consider and may be a factor that causes him to look somewhere else.
10. Or don’t. You can always just get a dog bowl and put up some beware of dog signs and look like you have a dog. They even make alarms that are supposed to detect movement on the other side of a door and play recorded dog sounds, but they get mixed reviews related mostly to the lack of sufficient sensitivity.
11. If you’re too cheap to go for real security cameras, you can pick up a fake one for about $10. Many are solar powered and have lights that give the illusion of being actively monitored. If the unit that you choose doesn’t come with one, make sure you run a cable to the camera to make it look legitimate. Although video is often transmitted via WiFi nowadays, we still haven’t figured out wireless power to the camera. (But if you do like to monitor your home without the need to buy a new camera, you can turn your old phones and webcams into security cameras. Just make sure you have the smartphone security camera app installed to make it work!)
12. Close your blinds and curtains. This does a couple of things. First, it makes it hard to determine if there is anything worth stealing inside. Second, it makes it hard to determine if the home is unoccupied. You don’t have to do this for all windows all of the time, just make sure that you don’t always close the windows when you leave the house. Then, it just becomes a good indicator that you aren’t home.
13. Park in the garage instead of using it to store your junk that you don’t need. That way, a burglar can’t easily pattern when you are away from your home and plan when to break in.
14. Don’t share too much. Depending on your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, etc. you may be sharing that you’re on vacation to some people who may want to take advantage of that.
At the Door, DIY Home Security Tips to Secure Points of Entry
- Door Security Tips and Fixes – The door is the most common route of entry during burglaries according to FBI crime statistics. See what you can do to prevent your doors from being kicked in, picked, bumped, or otherwise bypassed and give you some time to respond if they are.
- Door Security Devices to Secure Your Entries – Covers common exploits of various door types and affordable devices and steps for how you can mitigate the risks associated with each type.
- Garage Security Tips – This article is focused on securing the largest door in your home against attack. Make sure your garage door is protected from the most common exploits, including using the security release to get inside and using remote scanners for electronic spoofing.
15. Potential intruders may case the house to see what security measures or valuables they can see inside the home. Even if you don’t have a complete alarm system, you can buy a few inexpensive sensors that either appear to be part of a larger system or buy individual door/window sensors that have high decibel alarms if the seal is separated. These could go on any door or window, but you may want to prioritize the most likely entrances to be targeted, such as sliding doors and ground level windows. Don’t bother trying to hide them, after all, you want the crook to decide to walk away before forcing his way in.
16. Get glass break sensors. Since patio doors are made of safety glass, burglars can go right through the glass without getting hurt. But, they will think twice about that technique if they see one of these on your door. Glass break sensors come in versions that detect flexing of the glass and vibrations or versions that use acoustic detection. The down side to detecting the glass itself, is that you need a sensor on each pane of glass. For sliding doors, that means two sensors, same for most modern windows. The really old windows may have 12 panes, talk about over doing it with sensors! The acoustic ones can generally cover a whole room, so that cuts down on your cost. As long as you get them on the doors and windows most likely to be target, the burglar will still see the sensor before trying to break in.
17. Install security film on your glass windows and doors. A laminate can also be used on your glass windows and doors to make it harder for a criminal to get into your house. Really, this just adds noise and time to the break-in, making the burglar think twice about continuing the attempt and giving you time to defend your home. Security film can be installed yourself, or you can hire a professional to do the installation.
18. Here’s another great home security tip that you can take with you when you travel, as well. For doors without glass in them so that criminals can see the sensors, consider using a combination door stop/alarm. These serve a couple of purposes, 1) give you and the intruder an alert when a door is opened 2) provide an additional stop that has to be defeated in case the primary locks are bypassed by lock picking or lock bumping. This particular unit is pretty compact and is easy to take on you when you travel to secure the hotel room door also. This is a must-have device. But, hotel doors have multiple locks, right? Skip to 0:55 in this video,
Disturbed yet? Me too.
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19. Also, you can reinforce your door. If you’re familiar with lock picking or lock bumping, you may not bother with this. But, it will make a brute force attack on your door much more difficult if you get a door reinforcer. They cost about $20 and add extra strength around the door knob and dead bolt area. That will make the door more difficult to break. Just don’t neglect to make sure you have 3″ or longer screws anchoring your strike plate to the door frame.
You may also want to add a beefier strike plate that reduces the chance that the door frame and plate will fail when struck. You’ll find more details on that in the article we wrote exclusively about door security.
Inside, How to Minimize Your Risk
It’s not something we want to envision, but you have to consider what happens if a thief does make it inside. Here is a list of DIY home security tips for inside your home that you can use to perform a security checkup:
Secure your valuables when you aren’t home
The best way to secure your possessions are to keep them in a safe deposit box at a bank. Short of that, a safe that is immobile and costs more that $100 should do it for the most part. Also, have a deadbolt that can’t be accessed from the outside. Use your alarm if you have one.professionalthief via reddit
20. Did you catch that? The best option is storing things in a place that is more secure than your home. The next best thing is to use a good safe.
Of course, the quality of the safe or whatever you use to store your valuables will depend a lot on how much time the burglars will have in your home. Given adequate skill, tools, and time, just about any safe that you can afford will be defeated. So you have to consider how long it will be before the police arrive:
- For an alarmed home in an urban area, the response for a verified crime in progress is typically 5-10 minutes.
- For an alarmed home in an remote area, the response may be as high as 20-30 minutes if the closest available deputy is on the other side of the county.
- For an unalarmed home, you’d better buy a really nice safe or hide it really well.
For skilled and well-prepared burglars, your $50 fire box from Walmart is going to last less than 20 minutes.
21. Consider using a cheap safe as a decoy and having another safe somewhere more secure. Throw some cheap jewelry and papers in it so that the thief thinks he has something, and he’ll likely stop looking for your other valuables.
22. The bedroom is the first place that thieves will check for money. Consider a more obscure location (young kid’s rooms often get passed over completely, just make sure it is out of reach).
- Under a mattress
- Toilet tank
- Bedroom drawers
- A jewelry box
- The pocket of a particular suit or pair of pants (more effective the larger your wardrobe is)
- An empty container in the pantry
- A hollowed out smoke detector
- A lock box hidden in a basement or attic
- Stuck in an envelope in a box of envelopes
- A canister buried in a potted plant, again, more effective if you have more than 1
- A safe! Preferably, it will be too big to easily move and tough to pry open.
- A bank, face it, they are designed for security and crooks won’t have time to loot every safety deposit box
- Make a false bottom in a drawer that IS NOT in your master bedroom or office
- Cut some pages out of a book in your library and store some money or jewelry there
This is also a clever idea if the size of your trim allows it.
23. Also, don’t forget that your identity is valuable too. If you have social security cards, bank and credit card account information, or other sensitive documents easily accessible in a filing cabinet at home, you are making a thief’s day that much easier. My advice is to invest in a quality document scanner that makes the job go quickly and digitize anything that you want to secure. Then, make sure you encrypt your computer’s hard drive or at least the folder that you store your documents in just in case they grab your PC.
24. After your information is safely stored away, shred everything that you don’t have to have hard copies of to reduce your vulnerability to identity theft. After all, it is much easier to dig credit card information out of your trash can on trash day than it is to break into your house. This $30 is a no-brainer. Make sure you get a cross-cut shredder that can do at least 5 sheets at a time so that envelopes with account statements can go right in without a lot of fuss to unfold them and feed them in slowly.
25. In addition, create an accurate inventory of your valuables, complete with model and serial numbers. If you can take pictures or video, that’s even better. Not only does this make the insurance claim much easier, but it will help the police identify your possessions if they do catch the criminal.
26. Etch your drivers license number on your valuable equipment and then take pictures. By doing that, you make the valuables hard to turn into cash for the thief, and you may keep him from taking them in the first place. And, you don’t put yourself at risk of identity theft by giving away other personally identifiable information like your social security number, birth date, etc. Chances are good that the thief doesn’t have access to the DMV database.
27. Finally, have a list of credit card and bank account numbers and their respective phone numbers so that you can get in touch with them in the case of a burglary.
Protect your family when you’re home
- 28. Keep a phone near your bed when you’re sleeping
- 29. Have a phone on the same floor that you’re on
- 30. Keep a home defense weapon secured nearby
Your first order of business is to get some professional help on the way in the even of a home invasion. You may even be able to scare a criminal away by telling them exactly that. He may even take off when he realizes that you are home and not asleep. But, don’t be under any illusions about how quickly an officer will be able to get to your home. Depending on your location, it could be anywhere from 5-20 minutes which is an eternity with a criminal in your house threatening you and your family.
Home Defense Weapons
31. Get some sort of home defense weapon. Because of the previous line about the response time of law enforcement officers, I am an advocate of guns for home defense. If you are afraid of guns or object to them on other grounds, then pepper spray or stun guns are effective as well. There are good reasons that cops use these tools. They are effective at incapacitating people and are non-lethal. Whether you choose a home defense shotgun, a handgun, mace, pepper spray, or a stun gun, these provide a last defense in case a burglar ignores your warnings about the police and continues to advance and jeopardize you and your family.
Department of Justice statistics confirm that no weapon is present during 60% of burglaries and another 10% have a knife or other sharp object. So, by having a gun, you can provide a powerful, unmatched deterrent to most burglars.
See our article about choosing the best home defense gun for more information.
DIY Home Security Tips Apply When You’re Away from Home Too
32. Think twice about leaving your garage door opener in your car hanging from the visor. Not only can a thief steal any valuables from your car, but they can get your address off of your car registration and go to your house to clean out your valuables there, too. Remember, you aren’t going anywhere for a while because you’re busy talking to the cops about your car being broken into. It’s not a bad idea to take this a step further by buying a remote that hangs on your keychain so that it can’t be stolen from your car.
33. If you have some gnarly food in the trash that just has to be taken out before you leave, either take it to the dump yourself or have your neighbor roll the garbage can back in. That way, it isn’t obvious that you’re gone when it sits at the curb for days.
34. Go online and have the post office hold your mail until you get back. You can tell them when to start and when to stop.
Next Level: DIY Security Systems
If you read the deterrents article, you’ll know that alarm systems are one of the most effective deterrents that you can have in your home. And, they reduce your risk of fire damage as well. (That’s why insurance companies give discounts if you install one!)
Here are some articles that introduce you to a new class of alarm systems that are empowering home owners with a DIY ambition.
- Introduction to DIY Security Systems – Gives you an idea of what a DIY security system is, who it might be appropriate for, and let’s you know what kind of installation support you can expect when putting a system in once the box arrives.
- DIY Security System Sensor Selection and Installation Tips – If you don’t know where to start, this article is a good run down of which sensors are most appropriate for applications and also provides advice on potential installation locations that work the best.
- Compare Home Security Systems – We’ve spent a lot of time building and updating this comparison tool to help you quickly find what you’re looking for. You can use the drop down menus to filter on systems that offer DIY installations as well as do it yourself monitoring via your smart phone.
- Calculate the Lifetime Costs of a Home Security System – Sure, it’s simple math. But, we take the guesswork out of adding up installation, equipment, and monthly monitoring fees so that you can easily compare the cost of systems.
- Compare Security System Sensors and Home Automation Features – Further narrow down your choice of affordable home security systems by seeing which ones offer the sensors and functionality you need.
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For those of you who don’t like reading . . .
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Hi, I’m Jody. I graduated with honors with a Masters of Science in Computer Engineering and have over 15 years of experience working as an engineer with electronics products. I’m a lifelong learner and tinkerer and enjoy automating things around the house so I can solve bigger problems than getting out of bed to check if the garage door is closed . . . like too little sleep!