From the mouths of burglars

What makes your home a target (or not)

Every day across the country more than 4,800 home burglaries occur, mostly in daylight hours, and in one out of three of those break-ins, a family member is home. The U.S. Justice Department says in about 7 percent of cases, violent crime is involved, and in less than 14 percent of burglaries, arrests are made (according 2014 statistics). And even when an arrest is made, chances are, the victims don’t get their stolen property back.

What can you do? Two separate groups of researchers asked inmates serving time for home burglaries how they choose targets and what would make them skip your home and move on down the road. The tips below are from a news team at, and also from a study done at University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Here’s what they found.

For a burglar, getting inside your home is the easy part. But once they’re in, they have only minutes to grab whatever they can – jewelry, cash, credit cards guns, electronics, anything that sells — and go. So they don’t want to waste time on a bad choice. That’s why:

• They look for clues that a home has things they want, such as guns, which are easy to sell. One burglar said he scours driveways looking for cars with NRA stickers, or other evidence of high value, easy to carry away items.

• Mail or newspapers piled up give the impression that the homeowners are gone and nobody is paying attention.

• A door or ground floor window obscured by bushes or trees or any structure is an invitation.

What will stop a burglar?

If a home security alarm sounds, burglars will generally leave immediately. No surprise there, right? Burglars say if your security company provided you with stickers or lawn signs that say you have a security system, be sure to use them and make sure they are visible from the curb. May as well send the thief away before he even gets close.

Open curtains are a big deterrent since it increases the chances of being spotted by a neighbor. Make your home visible, they say, which includes cutting back bushes or trees that provide cover for thieves Evidence that there’s someone at home may stop a burglar, though not always. Many people leave a TV or radio or lights on, but a thief may not take that chance.

A man-eating dog will likely cause a burglar to bypass you. And any barking dog is not good in the burglar’s eyes, although many say dogs tend to welcome them in. Some admit to taking food out of the homeowner’s refrigerator to distract the dog, buying enough time for the thieves to do their work and be gone.

Also, if a burglar is sizing up your house and sees reason to believe a dog lives there (like pet food dishes and toys), but the dog isn’t visible outside, that’s a good indication the dog is loose indoors. And that probably means there is no motion-activated security system to worry about.

When and how do they enter?

Most home break-ins do not occur under the cloak of darkness. Burglars hope to find an unoccupied home, when people are at work and school, so they generally hit between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. About one in three burglars say they enter a home through the front door. It might be left unlocked, or they might simply wait for a clear moment and kick the door in. Many front doors are fairly thin wood, with a hollow core. A hollow exterior door should be replaced with a solid wood door with a high-quality deadbolt lockset. Or, add a steel security screen door with a deadbolt. These resist a tremendous amount of pressure.

Thieves also say they love ground floor windows, which often get left unlocked. Even better is such a window covered by overgrown vegetation.

Where do burglars look inside your home?

They start in the bedroom because that’s where safes, jewelry and guns are usually kept. After that they will look everywhere, including the stove and freezer, the fish tank and even the toilet tank. Better to have a home safe that is bolted to the floor and, of course, locked.

More about targeting

Burglars tend to hit homes within two miles of their own home, so they can watch and learn the schedule of the family members. They note your comings and goings, your days off, the presence of dogs, and whether when you leave, anybody else is likely to be home. When you pack up your car with suitcases, realize that passersby may be taking notes.

If possible vary your routine to make you a little less predictable to anyone watching. If you always leave home at a certain time, see if you can change that up now and then. Leave and return sooner than usual once in a while. If you’re leaving town, get someone to trim your lawn if necessary, bring your trash cans in from the curb, and collect your mail and newspapers. Ask them to take a moment to have an overall look at your house from the curb to see if anything suggests you are gone.

The Christmas season

We love to park our big beautiful Christmas trees in front of the bay window and open the curtains. That’s great. But displaying gifts in the window is different. Some thieves will break in even for small gifts, but putting large gift boxes in sight is like painting a bulls-eye on your house.

A thief may drive through your area on trash day to see who has loot worth stealing. Better to find a more discreet way to dispose of your boxes, like cutting them up and putting them inside trash cans.

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