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News Room

Think Like A Burglar And Avoid Becoming A Victim

Jason Snyman
Sometimes it helps to be able to think like a criminal. To prevent a burglar from targeting your home, you need to know what they look for.

Most people don’t have any criminal intentions. This may be hard to believe, but it’s true. For police officers, detectives, psychologists or corrections officials, however, it helps to be able to think like a criminal. Whether it be a hijacker, burglar or murderer. Their job efficiency depends on it. 

This ability to tap into that criminal psyche aids them in catching criminals, understanding criminals and preventing crime altogether. And it can help you too. 

Let’s take a look at how thinking like a house burglar, and knowing all of their tricks, can prevent you from becoming a victim.

Robbery Stats In South Africa

The annual SAPS Crime Stats for the 2018/2019 period were recently released, stating that 22 431 cases of robbery at residential properties were reported during this time.

According to a News 24 poll run last year, nearly 70% of South Africans don’t feel safe at night. 

Movies and television would have us believe that as soon as we close our eyes to get some sleep, a man dressed in black with a ski mask over his head will crawl through one of our windows. While this usually isn’t the case, home invasion is still a very real threat in South Africa. 

Based on interviews with numerous robbers, Dr Rudolph Zinn of UNISA conducted some research a year or two ago and came up with the following stats:

  • 77% of residential robberies are committed with the help of household employees;
  • Criminals will monitor your home for as long as two weeks;
  • Most attacks occur between 20:00 and Midnight while security systems are deactivated and people are relaxed, sleeping, cooking or watching TV. Robberies can continue until 04:00;
  • 97% of robbers are armed;
  • On average, an armed robbery gang has four members;
  • Three out of ten robbers have already committed murder, or won’t hesitate to commit murder;
  • Only 17% of house robbers are foreigners;
  • Most targets are affluent persons who openly display their wealth. For example, wearing valuable jewellery;
  • The average robber commits 103 robberies over seven years before getting caught;
  • Most of the criminal’s homes or bases are 10 to 30 minutes’ drive from the target address;
  • The conviction rate for house robberies in South Africa, at the time of research, was only 7.67%;
  • Criminals are not really deterred by alarms and armed reaction services.

Other noteworthy stats include that home burglaries and robberies occur most frequently between Thursdays and Saturdays, and see a dramatic spike in the months of April, July, August and December.

There has also been an increase in the number of reports where entry to the house was gained through the garage.

While the cover of darkness certainly leads to a spike in crime, many incidents still happen during the day, while we're out at work and the house is empty.  

So, what do criminals look for in a target, and how can you prevent from becoming one yourself?

Think Like A Burglar – Could You Break Into Your Own Home?

Logically, burglars would prefer to have your house to themselves. This is the fundamental difference between burglary and robbery – the presence of the victim. 

Though armed robbery is on the rise, burglary still occurs far more often. 

According to the recent Crime Stats, 22 431 (up from last year's 22 261) cases of robbery at residential premises were reported. By comparison, the same period saw 220 865 (marginally down from last year's 228 094) cases of home burglary reported.

The worst five areas for robbery were listed as Ivory Park (373 cases), Honeydew (329), Nyanga (266), Mondeor (223) and Sandton (221).

The five worst areas for burglary were listed as Witbank (1363 cases), Park Road (1344), Honeydew (1264), Plessislaer (1219) and Inanda (1033).

Many home burglaries happen fast, with the thief in and out within about 10 minutes. They know what they want, they know where you’ve hidden it and they know how to make a quick getaway. Here are some more statistics to be aware of:

  • Single-family detached homes are a favourite target. There are more access points, less people to control and more places to hide;
  • Houses in the middle of the row are also at greater risk. Houses on the corner have higher visibility from the road;
  • Burglars will scout a neighbourhood by moving from house to house ringing doorbells and intercoms to see if anybody is home;
  • Small dogs, particularly those that stay indoors, remain the biggest deterrent to burglars;
  • Burglars prefer to avoid low walls or wire fences. You may think that high walls protect you, but all they really do is provide the burglar with cover;
  • Sliding doors are easy access points;
  • Having a good neighbourhood watch in your area can be a major deterrent. Burglars and robbers will scout the area beforehand;
  • 77% of the time, the criminals have received inside information from your domestic worker, gardener or builder;
  • People who advertise home businesses or the sale of a car are likely to be targeted. They are more likely to have cash on the premises;
  • Unsecured garden equipment such as shovels, axes or picks could be used as weapons against you.

What Does A Burglar Look For?

Recent stats show that the most commnonly-stolen items during a burglary are electronics. The latest tech, gadgets, gaming systems, laptops and tablets are all easy to grab and carry away.  

Chances are pretty good, however, that items such as cash, jewellery and prescription medicine will also be targeted. This last one is what makes the elderly such a popular target. 

Thieves will sweep all the hiding spots you thought were very clever. Your underwear drawer, vases, suitcases, liquor cabinets, office drawers, under the mattress, medicine cabinets and even the freezer. 

Sport collectibles are high on the list, and so are fine wines. Some thieves have taste. Guns, locked away in portable safes or stashed irresponsibly in your bedside table, are also high on the list. 

The large flat-screen television box you left outside by your dustbin may alert burglars to the fact that you’ve got some money to throw around – and they’ll be having that television. If they can carry it. 

If you’ve left your car and car keys at home in the garage – which is a common entry and exit point – they’ll be having that as well. While in the garage, expensive tools, collectibles or bicycles are also on the list. 

Other sought-after items include designer clothing or handbags. Savvy burglars, if they know their way around your office, may even make off with the gift that keeps on giving – your identity. Some people keep all of their important documents or financial details stashed somewhere in their home.

What You Can Do To Deter A Criminal

Take a walk around your home at night. If you can see in through the curtains – so can the burglar. If you can break into your house without much effort – so can the burglar. Perhaps you have a routine, which is exactly the same, each and every day. Anybody watching you would have picked up on this, and they love how predictable you are. 

If you don't have dogs, another solution is to keep your television on during the day, when you're away. This gives the impression that somebody may be home, and could deter criminals. It goes without saying that you should always keep your doors and security gates locked. If you have anybody under employment at your residence, never share too much information about your personal business with them. 

Remember that the second storey of your home isn’t burglar proof. They will erect scaffolding in your garden if they have to, so make sure to have these windows burglar-proofed as well. 

If you think the freezer is a great place to hide your jewels – the burglar knows all about this. He’ll go through each and every Tupperware. 

Though an alarm system doesn’t always deter a criminal from entering your home – you should definitely have one. Particularly an alarm around your perimeter or on your gate. Invest in motion-sensor floodlights.

Thieves have ways around electric fences, but they don’t like them. Electric fences are the first line of defence. CCTV cameras are also big deterrents. 

According to the recent stats, the breaking and forcing of locks were the second highest (threatening being the first) form of gaining entry to the property. Any lock, besides a deadbolt, is easily disengaged. Invest in sturdy deadbolts for your doors and access points. 

Enlist in your neighbourhood watch and never, ever post your whereabouts on social media. Wait until you’re home before you post your vacation photos. 

According to the recent stats, the third highest form of gaining entry to the property was, in fact, being let inside by the victims themselves under false pretences. Always be vigilant and never grant anybody entry to your home unless you are absolutely certain that it is safe to do so.

Don’t let your mailbox overflow – this may be seen as a sign that you’re never present. 

And finally, it’s always a good idea to protect your biggest, most expensive investments with homeowner’s insurance.

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