One of many people’s worst nightmares is returning home from a day out or holiday to find the house ransacked by burglars. And with the coronation coming up and many of us planning to go out over the Bank Holiday weekend, it's more important than ever to keep your home safe.
According to research by LV=, there were 36% more home thefts during the Jubilee weekend than in the same period in 2021. "Whether you’re heading to a street party or even jetting off on vacation, it’s important to ensure that you’re not leaving your home as a target to potential burglaries," says Martin Milliner, Claims Director at LV=.
But what are the most effective ways to deter burglars? Michael Fraser spent several of his younger years committing crime, but realised the error of his ways and has since made it his life’s work to use his experience in this area for the greater good. He has since appeared on BBC’s Beat The Burglar and Channel 4’s Going Straight.
We spoke to Michael to get some insight into how we can protect our homes from thieves. Here's what he had to say.
1. Make sure you’ve got two locks
Explaining how a robber goes about assessing potential targets, Michael says: "Opportunists will look at a row of houses, and if they only have one lock on the front door, you know you’re going to get into that place."
If you're looking for a new lock, the Ultion Nuki Smart Lock came out on top of the GHI's smart lock tests; you can set it to lock automatically at certain times of the day. You can set it up so that it can be unlocked with your phone, a key fob or a separate number pad.
2. Use both locks at all times
You might have two locks, but if you’re not using them, then you’re no more safe than a household with just one.
"A burglar will come to the front door and use their foot to put pressure on the door, which will tell them whether the door has two locks in use," Michael explains.
3. Don’t display a ‘beware of the dog’ sticker
A pet is perceived as an age-old means of securing your house, which is why many dog-owners like to make this very clear with a sticker on their front window. But Michael would advise otherwise. "As a burglar, you know you’re going to get in there because they won’t have an alarm on if they’ve got a cat or a dog roaming about," he points out.
As well as this, an explicit display of having a pet such as a cat will only serve as a sign to any clued-up burglar that there’ll be a cat-flap around the back somewhere, which would aid entry into the house.
4. Invest in curtains
...or something else to obscure the view into the inside of your house. "If you can see into the living room, it gives a clue about the people and the personalities who live there," Michael says.
Especially around the festive season, with Christmas gifts on show, it's important to make even more of an effort to block the view into your house. Michael urges, "Never, ever advertise what you’ve got for Christmas. A lot of people put the empty boxes showing they got a 42" plasma colour-screen TV outside, and it’s like an invitation in."
5. Invest in window locks
"If they’ve got no window locks, you can go round the back and guarantee their security is even weaker," Michael says. Don’t advertise your house as one that has not taken sufficient safety precautions.
6. Get a cage for your letter box
"A lot of people leave their keys near the front door, ready to go, but they don’t think about letterbox fishing," says Michael. This entails burglars sticking a pole through the letterbox to reach up and lift the keys either to the house or the car. If you leave your handbag near the front door, then you might also be vulnerable to having that pinched in the same way.
Getting a caged box to sit inside the letterbox will prevent this, Michael advises.
7. Think about where you display things
If you, like many households, have your calendar up in the kitchen facing a window, Michael warns that you may be putting yourself at risk. A calendar may clearly document the dates that you're going to be away from the house, allowing criminals to plan their future robbery.
8. Keep brooms and mops out of sight
This sounds like an odd one, but Michael explained to us that once a burglar has gained entry through the back of the house, they will head towards the front door and place a broom (or similar) against the front door "so that while they're searching – which can take less than two minutes – they’ll hear you if you open the front door, giving them an advantage to escape."
The other trick burglars have to protect themselves once in the house is dropping the catch on the front door, so you can no longer fit your key in the door.
9. Take photos of every room in your house
In anticipation of a potential burglary, it’s a good idea to photo-document every room in your house, logging all important items as you go. Not only is this useful information to have on file for the benefit of the insurance company in the event of a robbery, and might aid the police in identifying any missing items, but there’s another clever reason for it.
Michael notes that during a robbery, a thief will likely "tip the place completely over". This isn’t just because they're in a rush to grab your stuff and run. "You’re confused and don’t necessarily notice what’s missing – you just know some things are missing," Michael points out. Having photographs of your rooms in their normal state will also help you to work out exactly what’s been taken.
10. Don’t rely on your dogs alone as guards
During filming for his BBC programme Beat The Burglar, Michael was once challenged to break and enter a house containing guard dogs. As Michael recalls, "The people said they believed I’d get in, but they didn’t think I’d get out because the dogs would attack me. They even checked if I wanted to go ahead with it because they were concerned about what the dogs might do in defence of the house.
"I went ahead with it anyway, and broke in using a wheelie bin to climb up to the first floor, getting in through the small bathroom window, which was left open. When I was in, I slid down the bannister and jumped straight on to the kitchen worktop. The dogs came running but I used a long-handle brush to open the fridge, knocked out two sausages on to the floor, and then used the brush to stroke the dogs and talk to them while they were eating. The dogs, within five minutes, were my best friends."
As if that’s not shocking enough, Michael describes how he then went on to lead the dogs into the downstairs bathroom, keeping them in there while he continued to grab what he could from the house. "I burgled the house and put everything into the car left on the driveway, with the keys kindly labelled for me. At the end, the last thing you see me doing is carrying the two dogs out, putting them in the car and taking them with me."
Beware of putting your house up for sale online
The notion that burglars might be smart enough to use online photographs, floor plans and virtual tours available on the internet to plot entry and escape routes from houses is new to us, but it’s something Michael brought to our attention.
"I call it internet shopping," he says. "We go on the internet and we look up places that are up for sale. The estate agents’ sites will give you a virtual tour by camera around that property.
"So the burglar goes on, has a look, gets familiar with the place, and that gives them more confidence. They can then Google the area to know where they’re going to escape to, and they can get the price tag of the house to work out what kind of possessions the current owners are likely to have in there."
This is obviously a very worrying concept, but it’s hard to avoid making photographs available online if you want to actually sell your property. So follow all Michael’s tips above and you should ensure that, even in the event of a burglar scouting out your house online, you're fully protected from them gaining entry once they get there.
As Michael points out, "None of us tend to take enough security measures until we’ve been burgled, or a relative has." But it’s not worth leaving it until it’s too late. "Stand outside your own property and think, 'how would I get in?'" he suggests. And we think that’s a pretty good place to start.
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