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Advice & More July 2013

Dollar Sense

Ex-Burglar Reveals What Makes Your Home a Good Target

By Teresa Ambord

An air conditioner in a window is thief bait. Not because he wants the AC, but because he knows it can easily be pushed inside or pulled outside, leaving him an open window and access to get inside.

On a recent episode of 20/20, reporters interviewed a reformed home burglar, to find out what makes a home a good target. They took him on a ride through a neighborhood and asked him to spot the security mistakes homeowners make and what he saw them doing right. How does your house match up?

Here are some of the key points he made.

    • Security systems. A sign on a lawn or home stating the home has a security system really does help, said 20/20. After all the thief values his freedom and wants to be reasonably sure he can get in and out.

      However he added a warning: many homeowners who have paid for security systems fail to turn them on when they leave the home. They forget. They think they’ll only be gone a short while, so where’s the harm? But the average home burglary takes ten minutes. A determined thief can get in and out while you run to the corner for milk.
    • “Beware of dog” signs. These are surprisingly effective. Of course if you really don’t have a dog, a thief who suspects that may be the case may spend time watching the home to find out. This wasn’t mentioned on the show, but there is also anecdotal evidence that if a thief sees a large dog dish or a heavy dog toy, or a large pair of men’s boots on the porch or in the yard, he might think twice and decide your house isn’t worth the risk.
    • Cover. Privacy for you = cover for thieves. Many houses provide natural attractions for burglars because bushes, hedges and some trees create an obstructed view which gives a thief cover where he can get in and out of your home unseen. If necessary he can also sit unnoticed while he picks your locks.
    • Window air conditioners. An air conditioner in a window is thief bait. Not because he wants the AC, but because he knows it can easily be pushed inside or pulled outside, leaving him an open window and access to get inside.
    • Home repair equipment. You may have an ongoing project in your backyard which requires the use of a ladder. By leaving the ladder accessible you’re giving thieves a way to gain entry to second floor windows, which are less likely to be locked.
    • Electronics. A home burglar will look for electronic devices which have chargers with them. If the charger is not there, he may opt not to take a device, even if it is expensive. It’s just not worth the hassle and cost to replace the charger and the value of the item without the charger is substantially lower, according to 20/20. So store your chargers elsewhere. Remember this when you travel and leave your electronics in your hotel room.
    • Front door access. Believe it or not, the most common entry point for burglars is the front door. Don’t rely on your neighbors to notice. Not to suggest your neighbors aren’t reliable, but they are busy living their own lives. It’s very common for a burglar to just walk up and knock on a door to see if anyone is home. As long as he doesn’t act suspicious, he may be able to let himself into your backyard without drawing suspicion.
    • Hiding place for valuables. Rarely used valuables should be in a safe deposit box. But for those items you keep at home, thieves go right to the typical hiding places for cash and jewelry, such as the dresser drawer in the master bedroom. Instead, put your valuables in an unlikely container in an unlikely place, for example, a shoe box stored in your child’s closet.


Don’t Make it Easy for Burglars to Target Your Home

Besides the front door, common entry points for home burglaries are first floor windows, the back door, and the garage. One way to help secure entries that include glass is by installing glass-break sensors. With wireless technology, sensors detect the sound and feel of window glass breaking and set off an alarm which could send burglars running.

If you don’t have deadbolts already, they are an essential part of home security. Plus, having deadbolts at entry points may qualify you for a discount on your homeowner insurance.

Don’t forget outdoor lighting, like motion-sensing floodlights, and solar-powered pathway lights. Both of these are fairly inexpensive and may not require special installation. Some motion sensing lights can simply be plugged into a wall socket.

Forget hiding a key outside. You may think your hiding place is clever, but remember, for some thieves this is a full-time occupation, so if any place you can think to hide a key, they can think to find it. Better to leave a key with a trusted neighbor.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa