Avoiding Home Burglaries While Traveling

BY Beth Williams

Keep em’ Out!

Most criminals who burglarize homes are looking for an easy hit; a house that they can break into quickly, take something of value, and leave without being detected. Yes, there are professional burglars who can gain entry into almost any home if they want; however, most criminals who break into homes are

Avoiding home burglary while traveling

Avoiding home burglary while traveling

opportunists who got lucky with an open window or unlocked door. There’s no fail-proof way to keep out a burglar, but every little bit of deterrence helps. Even if you can’t afford a security system, you can take a few minutes to make your home a little safer. Some relatively simple steps will greatly decrease the odds of a break-in, which means you can enjoy a bit more peace of mind. And isn’t that what “home” is all about?

It is important to categorize the different types of burglars, because you can model your security precautions around their tactics. Knowing the enemy always helps in any situation. The following is a list of the most common types of home burglars.

Opportunity Burglars

This type of Thief will search for theft opportunities that are easy, quick, and petty. If you leave your door unlocked or your window open, they will take advantage of your trust or forgetfulness. In law, this would be considered a second degree crime, or not premeditated. An opportunity burglar will not do very much to decide who they will burglarize; they look for an easy target. They don’t tend to steal very much of value because they don’t know what they’ll find until they are in the act.

Smash Burglars

A smash and grab burglar is more desperate than an Opportunity Burglar. They are often into drugs, and are only looking for cash or items that can quickly be exchanged for cash. A Smash burglary will sometimes be comical, because they will steal something that seems ridiculous, and they will leave behind something that holds much more value. A Smasher will usually enter a home or business by breaking through a door or window. These are a common burglar type in California.

Prowler  Burglars

A Prowler is more professional than a Smasher or Opportunity Thief. They will have connections through which they can channel stolen goods, and they will put more scrutiny and planning into a burglary. A Prowler probably began as an Opportunity Thief, and chose to become more organized in order to gain more from their robbery. Their technique includes targeting and studying their victim’s habits and schedules, and they are very thorough during a burglary.

Targeted Burglars

A Targeted Burglar has nearly mastered their craft, and knows specifically what they are after. After a few years of Prowling, a Burglar will often decide to Target specific high-value items. They know what they want, they do rigorous research, and even know how long it will take the Police to respond to an alarm. Targeted Burglars are often part of a Ring. These rings are nationwide, so items stolen in one state are shipped to others to be sold. Targeted Thieves will sometimes have an Insider, sometimes someone connected with an insurance company. This means they know the value of their targeted item, and most of the details about the security around that item. A targeted burglar will likely change states frequently, so they can strike in New Jersey, then move to California to find another target.

Complete Burglars

Similar to a Prowler in methods, but professional like a Targeted Burglar, the Complete Burglar will clean a house out entirely. When a house is completely bare after a robbery, a Complete Burglar was involved. Like Targeted Burglars, a Complete Burglar will have Insiders and a Ring. An Insider will tell them that you are going on vacation, and a moving truck will arrive to take every item in your house. Similar to a Targeted Burglar, a complete burglar will likely move around often.

The best way to prevent someone from breaking into your home is to make sure all doors and locks have good locks and locking points.  Door jambs are usually made of wood which allow a burglar to kick open almost any door.  A real good idea is to get a burglar alarm…and to use it.

Here Are a Few Tips 

  • Once a burglar has selected a home to burglarize, most will spend no more than a minute trying to break in and less than five minutes inside.
  • Most residential burglaries occur on the first or ground floor.
  • The point of entry is usually made at the rear or by a side door, the second most common access is via the garage door.
  • Most burglaries occur during daytime hours when homes are empty, and belong to two person households.

Now, with a few basis facts of burglary out of the way, in order to out fox a burglar, you need to think like one. Here are a few questions a burglar would ask himself before he breaks into your home. Ask this question to yourself.

If You Were a Burglar Targeting Your own Home

How would you get in to your home? Evaluate your home from the inside and out, night and day. You might even try a “mock” break-in, trying window jambs and loose locks on your house’s perimeter. Just let the neighbors know what you’re up to before you go lurking in the bushes.

If you failed your test, here are a few thoughts to harden your residence to burglars.


Even though most burglaries occur during the day, some occur during hours of darkness. Criminals are in search of houses with no one home. To reduce your home’s risk of burglary at night, install motion lights in the front and in the rear of your house wherever possible. To be extra cautious, try to position the lights at the corners of your residence so the motion detectors can catch someone approaching from the side. Make sure the lights are positioned at a height that someone cannot disable them by easily reaching up and unscrewing the bulb.


Make sure all shrubs and trees are trimmed back so they do not allow a burglar to conceal himself while attempting to open a window or door. If possible, plant bushes with prickly thorns around these locations. They are a cheap deterrent.

Scope out Your Yard

Don’t stop your security awareness at the outside walls of your house. Your yard areas (if any) also deserve attention. In general, don’t leave anything around the yard that might help a burglar get into your house. Ladders, stack able boxes or any garden tools should be put away, preferably in a locked cabinet. Many burglars have used the property owner’s own tools to break into a home. Don’t place outdoor furniture tables nearby the house. These could become an easy stepladder to the roof. To discourage potential climbers, spread grease on any metal drainpipes if they are close to windows. Use Vaseline or clear automotive grease, depending on the color of the pipe (or replace them with plastic pipe). Yes, criminals do climb up drainpipes. Think about it, most second story windows are left un-secured and make a house easy to gain entry to.

Hide Your Identity

Do not place your name on your mailbox or front door, especially if you are a woman. If you really have to do this, use your last name only.

Secure the Windows

Though windows are relatively easy to break, the loud noise of shattering glass will deter a thief if you’re near other houses.

Create a lock for wooden-frame windows. At the top edge of the bottom frame, drill two holes perpendicular to the sash or at a slight, downward angle. Drill completely through the inside sash and halfway into the outside sash. Insert nails or bolts (don’t hammer or screw these) into the holes. To test this setup to make certain the bolts won’t pop out when wiggled.

Don’t leave windows and doors open during the night whether you’re home or away. That’s a commonsense precaution, but a surprising number of people forget to do just that, especially second story windows. It’s a good idea to make a “pane patrol” part of your ritual of leaving the house. Use a pick-proof locking device for your windows. Make sure the frames are solid. If you’re beyond the earshot of your neighbors, they won’t hear the glass breaking.

Consider installing a Plexiglas sheet for the more accessible windows. This will make entry through them more difficult.

Basement windows are an easy target, since they’re low and usually well hidden. Firmly wedge a steel bar across the window, or install a metal grate.

Secure the Doors

  • All exterior doors should be solid core, and can withstand being kicked in. All should have high quality dead bolts with at least 1 1/2 inch throws on the bolts themselves. The bolts in the locks should always be solid, not hollow metal.
  • Insure the door frame has a metal strike plate, which is secured by a minimum of six, three inch screws, which are screwed into the solid door frame.
  • Install a wrap-a-round steel place on the front of the door which covers the deadbolt. This will provide extra protection from a burglar kicking in the door, and reducing his ability to pry the door lock.
  • If you don’t have a peephole, install one in the front door. If you have one, make sure that you and your family are in the habit of using it. Don’t open the door to anyone you don’t know, especially at night. If the peephole is out of reach of your children, keep a stepladder or stepping box by the door for them to use.
  • Dogs, even the small yip-yip variety, have sharp teeth and a way of noisily not welcoming stealthy intruders. But a dog is more than an organic alarm–it’s a living creature, and it’ll need a lifetime of love, care, attention and exercise. If you can genuinely welcome a dog into your life, it will welcome the task of protecting you. But if you’re a cat person (or a guppy person) at heart, then look into electronic security systems.
  • The recording of a bark, as sometimes suggested, may only be effective for particularly gullible burglars. Some people have a playback system that’s triggered by the doorbell, but the cause-and-effect (push, bark, push, bark) is a little too easy to discern. A Beware of Dog sign is better than nothing; for an added touch of verisimilitude, get a sign that refers to a specific breed rather than the generic Dog. A “Beware of Rottweiler” sign (or a bumper sticker that says “I Love My Pit Bull”) might do the trick.

Protect Your Valuables

Don’t leave your valuables (stereo, computer, jewelry, etc.) where they can be seen from a window. If you don’t want to hide everything from sight, consider draperies and blinds. Use a safe’ one of our favorites is the Secret Wall Safe.

Secret Wall Safe Looks Like an Electrical Panel.

Secret Wall Safe Looks Like an Electrical Panel.

Make a valuables inventory. Keep a record of your expensive and personally significant items–not just a listing, but a photographic or videotape record if possible. Store this inventory at another location. This is helpful for both the police and the insurance agency (if you have a homeowner’s policy), to identify the stolen goods.

Use an engraving pen to mark these items with some kind of personal identifying information, such as your initials, in an inconspicuous place. This also helps record your possessions in case of any other mishap, such as fire or flood.

Note: The old engraving recommendation was to use your Social Security number. However, this is now considered to be an unsafe practice–your Social Security number can be far more valuable than any individual object, and a thief may use it to impersonate you for the purpose of getting credit cards, loans, etc. Consequently, you should keep your Social Security number safely stored away. Some states issue driver’s license numbers that are different than your Social Security number; this may be a good substitute. It is now recommended that owners of property use their driver’s license number, followed by the state of issuance.

Example: N38493XX CA

To see a complete selection of home and hotel safety items, visit www.CorporateTravelSafety.com.