Home Security: Easy and Cheap Upgrades

This is a good one.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of Lifehacker. I think their approach towards everything is brilliant and they’re often my go-to website if I’m not sure of anything technological (and often other stuff too). If you’re not keeping up to date with their posts, then you’re missing out and I heartily recommend you do something about it!

The other day, Melanie Pincola wrote this article on the site, which outlines some really effective strategies based on burglary statistics. Here is a brief summary of the main points.

Know Your Enemy! The Anatomy of a Burglary:

These statistics are from 2005 and are US-centric, but this graphic from the Washington Post still shows you some important and useful information to bear in mind when evaluating your home security measures:

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Most Burglaries Occur Between 10:00 and 15:00. Whether this is true of the UK or not, it ultimately means very little. Beware the false sense of security that can arise from these kinds of statistics! While it is good to remember which peak times prevail in your local area for burglaries (get in touch with your local police force for information; they can steer you towards some up-to-date statistics), you should not feel that at other times there’s any cause for relaxation of your security measures! Thinking ‘Ahh, I’ll leave it – it’s after three…’ is not a good mindset! Just because most burglaries happen within certain times, it doesn’t mean the next one will!

Burglars look for homes that appear unoccupied, and residential homes, as you know, tend to be empty during those hours because people are at work. If you’re out of the house during those hours and are concerned about burglaries in your neighborhood, consider setting a random timer to turn the TV or radio on during those hours.

If you have a second car, keep it out in the driveway while you’re at work. Or, perhaps you can rent your driveway during the daytime (besides making your home less attractive to thieves, you can make a few extra bucks. Win!); previously mentioned Park Circa is one place you can find people looking for a parking spot in your neighborhood.

Do you use gardening services or other home maintenance services like window cleaning? Schedule those services (which don’t require you to be at home) during those prime theft hours.

Good advice here, well worth following. Just make sure that you can trust whoever you’re sending around to your empty house to do work though! How do you know they’re not an opportunistic thief, or recently become laden with debt and are desperate to pay it off? That’s it – you don’t!

The typical house burglar is a male teen in your neighborhood—not a professional thief and 60 seconds is the most burglars want to spend breaking into your home. This suggests you only need enough security to thwart the regular person. Simple things like the
"my scary dog can run faster than you" sign may be one of the most effective theft deterrents, other than—or in addition to—actually owning a scary dog. (Even a small dog prone to barking helps, though.) Regular "beware of dog" signs work too, especially if you add some additional supporting evidence of dog ownership, like leaving a dog bowl outside by your side door.

The Washington Post suggests deadbolt locks, bars on windows, and pins in sash windows may be effective theft deterrents. It goes without saying to make sure all the entry points are locked (but, still, 6% of burglaries happen that way).

Again, while this is excellent advice that we all should take into consideration, don’t think that older or younger, or female, local people can’t be burglars based on this! What we should take from this is that the more difficult we make our homes to break into, then the more warning we’ll get if someone’s breaking in, and the more time we’ll have for either the police to arrive after you call them or for you to escape, or whatever other plans you have in place.

In order of percent of burglaries, thieves come in through: the front door, first-floor windows, and back door primarily, followed by the garage, unlocked entrances, and the basement. Look at reinforcing all of these entry points, of course, but if you want to know where the best places are to put your security cameras, the front and back door and first floor windows are your best bets. (We’ve featured quite a few DIY ones using old webcams or your PC.) Fake security cameras placed at those points might also be effective.

With your outside lighting, make sure those points of entry are well lit (motion-detector lights are inexpensive and don’t use a lot of energy) and clear of thief-hiding shrubbery.

When placing lights and cameras, think about how much they can see – treat them as if you’re placing sentries, because essentially that’s what you’re doing! Corners are great, especially if they can oscillate and see all around from there. You can’t sneak past a camera through a wall! Make sure the ends of the camera’s oscillation ‘touch’ the walls though, or you’ve just made them a handy little invisibility path! If you’re placing dummy cameras, make sure they’re very visible and preferably have blinking LEDs on them (an easy thing to make if yours haven’t). Something that can be seen from the road is best, and from any other likely access points. Always think about where a thief can hide around your house, and what you can do about it. Try breaking into your house yourself (simulated of course, unless you really want to test out your windows’ anti-shatter strength!) to see where your security holes are.

An average of 8 to 12 minutes is all burglars spend in your home. If a thief does get into your house, you can prevent loss of your valuable objects by making them harder to find than within those 12 minutes. The dresser drawer, bedroom closet, and freezer are some of the first places thieves look, so forget about those hiding places. Instead, consider hiding things in plain sight.

Perhaps set up a red herring for possible thieves: Leave out an old laptop the thief can quickly grab and go. Even better: install Prey to track the stolen laptop.

Once again, I would take this information in, but I wouldn’t swear by it. The mindset of ‘He’s probably gone, it’s been 15 minutes, so we can come out from hiding now…’ isn’t what I would recommend! That’s only if you’re in though of course. Making things hard to find is a great third defence, after making the house look unappealing to burglars, then making it difficult for them to get in. The longer they’ve got to mess around, the more likely the police will arrive or they’ll give up, panic, and leave empty’-handed. The links are worth following in this quote. Prey is invaluable, and I may do an article on it myself. I have it installed on both of my computers and my phone.

We’ve previously noted several ways to protect your home while traveling, including using push lights in your windows and asking your neighbors for a vacation check. Lifehacker reader fiji.siv reminded us of a small detail like not having your garbage cans put out as a sign that you’re away; make sure any help you get from friends or neighbors include the little stuff like that (putting out garbage cans, getting the mail, maybe even cutting the grass).

Don’t forget the daily stuff like stopping newspaper and mail delivery, if you don’t have someone picking those up for you.

And, of course, the tried-and-true method of looking like you’re home: use a random timer on your indoor lights or TV.

This is all, once again, well worth paying attention to – basically just make it look like you’re in when you’re not! There are loads of ways you can do this, as the link in this quote shows you.

There’s a lot of other information in the comments on Lifehacker, so that’s also worth a look. What measures do you take? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or if you’re especially awesome, join the discussion on the CSPS forum.

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Recent Local Crime Updates: Distraction Tactics and Burglary

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‘CONSTANT VIGILANCE!’ as Professor Moody always says…

Today there’s been a couple of updates from Staffordshire Police following some recent criminal activity. It seems there’s a bit of a pattern going around of distraction tactics, whereby a criminal uses a false identity, usually a salesman or a member of the Water, Gas or Electric Board. Remember – these don’t exist! Nobody from the Water Board, Gas Board or Electric Board are telling the truth, as these companies do not exist!

Officers are looking for witnesses of burglaries in Wolseley Road, Rugeley, that took place on Tuesday the 27th of September.

The following is some more advice from Staffordshire Police:

Residents are reminded to take simple crime prevention measures to protect their homes and keep burglars at bay:

  • secure passageways and side entrances, make sure sheds and garages are fitted with proper security locks, and put away tools so they can’t be used to break in to your home
  • if you have to leave ladders outside, make sure they’re on their side and securely fixed to a wall or permanent fixture
  • keep wheelie bins secure and away from your property to stop thieves using them to get through first floor windows, or setting fire to them
  • mark items with your postcode and house number using an ‘invisible’ pen available from DIY stores. This makes stolen property easier to identify
  • ensure valuable items are not left in plain view and keep them away from windows and doors
  • fit mortise locks to all front and back doors and locks to windows that are in easy reach
  • keep house and car keys safe and away from doors, windows and letterboxes
  • keep garages and sheds secure
  • fit low cost security lighting as a deterrent.

According to their reports, families of the elderly and vulnerable are being encouraged to warn their relatives against opening the door to callers like these. On Friday the 30th of September, a distraction thief struck in the High Street, Alton. At around 14:40 an 87-year-old man opened the door to a white male, aged around 35, with brown hair, who was approximately 6ft tall and said he was from the Nottingham area. It is believed he had an ID card of some sort, but no details were noted. He sold a cleaning utensil to the resident from a holdall he was carrying, and then asked for a drink. The victim obliged, and returned to pay the criminal, who had used the opportunity to steal some money from the house. The following is some advice for this kind of situation:

Residents are asked to remain vigilant at all times and to follow this advice:

  • Never trust anyone calling at the door without a prior appointment. Should you receive such a call leave the door locked. The caller will hear  you through the door when you ask them who they are. If they state they are from a utilities company ask for your account number, they should have this, if not, do not let them in and tell them to leave, and that you are calling the Police.
  • Always ask for ID, and check it.
  • Do not allow anyone to carry work out on your home, or sell you anything when they cold call at the door. If you do require work to be done, INSTIGATE IT YOURSELF, by phoning three companies asking for like for like quotes. Then decide.
  • Do not keep large amounts of cash in your home, you may think that you have the perfect hiding place, but these criminals will find it.
  • Please remember there is no such company as the Water Board, Gas Board or Electric Board. These words are only used by offenders.
  • Always report any suspicious behaviour to the police, if you think it is suspicious, it probably is.
  • Keep your doors locked even when you are home.

Residents should also follow the stop, chain and check rule when people call at the door:

  • STOP – If you are not expecting anybody and they don’t have an appointment – don’t let them in
  • CHAIN – Use your door chain or bar before opening the door
  • CHECK – Ask to see ID and double check this.

People can also use the Nominate a Neighbour (NAN) scheme which diverts cold callers to a neighbour who will check caller’s identity. NAN packs are available from local police stations.

If you’re elderly or disabled, then that means you are a more viable victim for these kinds of crimes – you will be slower to go upstairs and flush the toilet to check the water, or go and get the nice man at the door that drink. As such, you should keep this in mind with your personal security – do not feel rude by making people wait outside, and closing the door on them while you get the money, drink, or whatever else. Never feel as though you should allow someone inside your house. It is your private home, and they have no right to enter it without invitation!

Also remember that similar distraction tactics are used ‘on the street’ – it’s not just the people knocking on the door you have to worry about.

Contact details can be found on the original articles for witnesses or for questions, and a wealth of information and advice from a friendly, informed user base can be found at the (free) CSPS online forum at http://cspsonline.proboards.com – a wonderful place to share your advice and benefit from others’!

STAY SAFE!

Burglaries in Rugeley: http://www.staffordshire.police.uk/news/latest_appeals/111004_21_rugeley/?view=Standard&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

Distraction Tactics: http://www.staffordshire.police.uk/news/news_releases/111004_ia_distraction_tactics/?view=Standard

Image courtesy of: http://www.kingston.gov.uk/cold_calling.jpg

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