What Criminals Look For Before Breaking Into A Home

Here are 5 insider tips from convicted robbers.
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On average, 61.2 households in South Africa were robbed each day in 2016/17, according to crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS). A total of 22,343 incidents were recorded during that period, up from 2015/16.

School holidays, when families are often away on holiday, often provide a lucrative opportunity for criminals.

Burglars, in particular, look for certain signs when looking for properties to break into, school holidays or not.

Professor Rudolph Zinn, a senior lecturer in forensic and crime investigation at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and the author of "Home Invasion: Robbers Disclose What You Should Know", interviewed convicted burglars and robbers on what they look for when targeting a house, and what prevents them from entering a house.

In analysing the responses, Zinn found that of all the measures that would hinder a house robber, 68 percent of them mentioned a secure outer perimeter and 32 percent brought up internal security systems. This is because the more advantage the perpetrators have in terms of the element of surprise, the fewer defensive options it leaves the residents. But if the residents are alerted to a person jumping over their wall, they will have time to lock doors and raise the alarm.

While even the overly cautious aren't guaranteed complete safety from criminals, here are a few tips to help you be on watch — and hopefully remain safe these holidays and beyond.

1. High fences or bushes

Zinn found that all perpetrators spent some time prior to an attack doing surveillance on the targeted residence. In some cases, this could be as little as 30 minutes prior to the attack and in other cases up to two weeks. The purpose of the surveillance is to orientate the perpetrators to the layout and type of neighbourhood and household security measures, and the habits and patterns of the residents.

You may think that having high fences or bushes is an easy way to keep people away from your property. But to burglars, these are great hiding places. Once over your wall, they'll be out of view from any potential onlookers or neighbours, whereas houses with low walls or see-through fences are visible from the street.

2. Newspapers and mail

Newspapers left on your driveway or mail piling up in the postbox is a clear indicator that your home is empty. If you're going away, ask a trusted neighbour to keep a look-out for you and collect any paper deliveries or mail for you.

3. Social media announcements

Sharing your travel plans on social media could leave your home vulnerable to break-ins. Those beautiful geolocation tags and pictures of your getaway destination on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter broadcast to digital-savvy thieves that you are not at home.

Research by online security company McAfee showed that one in five of us tag our holiday location when posting on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, making it clear that we're away from home. If you are not a hardcore social media user, don't post about your holiday in real time. Rather share posts about your holiday later or when you get back.

If you simply can't wait to share your holiday in real time, learn how to disable geotags on your favourite social media platforms or switch off geolocation functions and apps on your phone and only share how long you'll be away for with trusted friends.

4. A table in the hallway

A table in the hallway may be the easiest place for you to throw your keys at the end of the day. But it's also the easiest place for a burglar to spot them and slide a hook through an open window or broken window pane. Rather keep your keys out of easy reach and away from prying eyes.

5. Glass door panels

Doors with glass panels, especially those that aren't double-glazed, are easy to break, giving burglars direct access to the lock or internal door handle. If you can't replace these doors with something sturdier, you should probably invest in additional security such as a camera or alarm system.


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