Tricks to keep your home safe from burglary

Money

In front of me is a terrace of five houses next to a wooded park.

The only sounds I can hear are of birds tweeting and a plane taking off in the distance. But my heart is racing – it is my job to choose one of the five properties to burgle.

Fortunately, this street isn’t real and I am in fact sitting in front of a computer next to forensic psychologist Dr Claire Nee of Portsmouth University.

Burglars prefer to target end-of-terrace properties because there is better access. So if you’re going out, especially at night, consider ways to make it look as if someone is home

Burglars prefer to target end-of-terrace properties because there is better access. So if you’re going out, especially at night, consider ways to make it look as if someone is home

Burglars prefer to target end-of-terrace properties because there is better access. So if you’re going out, especially at night, consider ways to make it look as if someone is home

Dr Nee has created a simulation programme to find out how burglars act. She has taken it into prisons to observe convicted criminals carrying out virtual break-ins. 

The idea is to understand their patterns of behaviour so we can protect our homes.

More than one in ten house insurance claims are for theft or burglary, making it the fourth most common category after accidental damage, escape of water and weather damage, according to insurer Churchill.

To show me how the criminal mind works, Dr Nee lets me play a virtual burglar on a laptop – then screens footage of a former burglar doing the same while explaining his thinking.

I use the keypad to navigate my way around the streets. I move swiftly past the house on the end of the row because a car is parked outside and a bicycle is chained up there.

A quick glance through the windows of the third house along suggests it is empty and I take the plunge. This was my first mistake, Dr Nee says. Burglars prefer to target end-of-terrace properties because there is better access.

Sure enough, when we watch the video of the ‘real’ burglar he chooses the end house, as the car and bike don’t necessarily mean anyone is home.

Setting your lights and radio on a timer can give the illusion you are in. Pictured, stock image

Setting your lights and radio on a timer can give the illusion you are in. Pictured, stock image

Setting your lights and radio on a timer can give the illusion you are in. Pictured, stock image

There are no other signs of life such as voices, a radio or lights, he says, so it is worth the risk. He’d also double-check before breaking in by knocking on the door to see if anyone answered.

So if you’re going out, especially at night, consider ways to make it look as if someone is home.

Setting your lights and radio on a timer to come on for a few hours at night, for example, can give the illusion you are in. You can buy a timer from most hardware stores — or ask a neighbour or relative to pop in while you’re away.

Unaware of my mistake I click on the front door of my chosen property to make it open.

Again, I prove myself a terrible thief. When it’s the convicted burglar’s turn he gets into the property via the back garden. Unlike me, he shuts the gate and door behind him to avoid alerting neighbours.

Burglars look for open windows and doors. They also prefer windows without strong locks.

Once in, I head straight to the bedrooms looking for mobile phones or jewellery. The professional thief says he does the same to make sure no one is home. Criminals also know that this is where we keep most of our valuables, Dr Nee says.

The average burglary insurance claim has risen by 8 per cent in the past year to £3,307

The average burglary insurance claim has risen by 8 per cent in the past year to £3,307

The average burglary insurance claim has risen by 8 per cent in the past year to £3,307

Inside the first room is an exercise bike. Assuming it’s a home gym I move on. The real burglar, though, realises the room is also a study and finds a box in the filing cabinet containing passports and jewellery.

Documents, such as driving licences and passports, are worth a lot to burglars as they can sell them to fraudsters. They will also go through post looking for new credit cards or bank statements to glean information. In the bedroom I find an iPod in the dresser and purse in a handbag left on the bed.

The real burglar is far more methodical, opening every drawer and cupboard. 

‘People are so predictable,’ he says, as he finds an iPhone in a bedside table drawer and an iPad in a rucksack behind the door.

He is not worried about the tracking technology on phones and laptops. ‘I have a buyer on standby so it’s not in my possession for long,’ he says.

Through the next door is a child’s nursery. I move on, assuming there is nothing valuable in there. When it’s the real thief’s turn he too shuts the door, claiming he would never go in a baby’s nursery on moral grounds.

Dr Nee says this is typical of nearly all the burglars she interviewed. But they would enter an older child’s room to search for iPhones and iPads. 

Downstairs, I spend too long in the kitchen looking for jars of coins. When it’s the burglar’s turn, other than a wallet he takes from a jacket on the back of a chair — which I’d missed — he ignores this room altogether.

Few people keep valuables in the kitchen, he says, and this one has a street-facing window, which makes him nervous.

In the lounge he grabs a DVD player for quick, easy sale but not the big, expensive television, declaring it too heavy. He also leaves the costly Apple desktop computer as it would take too long to unplug the wires.

He does take an iPhone charger because he’ll get more for the other Apple products if he sells them with accessories. Churchill says the average burglary claim has risen by 8 per cent in the past year to £3,307 — mostly due to expensive gadgets.

More than 1 in 10 house insurance claims are for theft or burglary, says insurers

More than 1 in 10 house insurance claims are for theft or burglary, says insurers

More than 1 in 10 house insurance claims are for theft or burglary, says insurers

I pick up some keys in the hall in case they belong to a car parked outside. But the burglar says he has already clocked that the car isn’t worth stealing.

He is also getting antsy now. After six minutes in the house he wants to be getting out as someone could return at any moment.

Dr Nee says burglar alarms often fail to deter thieves because neighbours rarely pay attention to them, and it can take 20 minutes before anyone shows up — when the thief is long gone.

At the end of the experiment the real burglar slips silently out the back door to his car, which he’s left in a concealed spot. I, on the other hand, stumble out the front door carrying a huge television and wait for the virtual sirens to start screeching.  

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