How to protect your home from burglary

You can protect your premises and save on insurance at the same time.

Insurers will often consider the presence, or absence, of security features when determining your home insurance premiums.

Burglar alarms, secure shutters and other business or home security measures can make a significant difference to your safety and your insurance premiums. This is because of the specific way most break-ins are carried out.

Try looking at your home the way a burglar would. This helps you work out how best to protect your home. This guide, based on Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) reports and interviews with detained burglars, details how to protect your home.

10 simple ways to protect your home against theft

1. Lock up your home every time you go out - even if it's just for a short time.

2. Trim back bushes that obscure your front door or give places for thieves to hide.

3. Ask your neighbours to collect your mail if you go on holidays.

4. Give the illusion that someone is home at all times. Automatic lights and a radio set on a timer are good ways to achieve this.

5. If you've just bought some expensive new gear, ensure you break up the packaging before putting it into the bin.

6. Get an alarm system - this could be an actual system or just a barking dog. Can't afford that? Just get a 'Beware of the dog' sign.

7. Invest in a solid front door with a deadlock.

8. Add privacy film to the glass on and around exterior doors. This will help distort the view from the outside and prevent window shopping.

9. Get to know your neighbours. They can keep an eye on things if you're away.

10. Scatter your valuables throughout the house in unusual locations.

Compare policies and cover yourself for theft

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How to think like a burglar

Most burglars are likely to look for easy targets when robbing a home or business. According to the AIC report, most burglaries are opportunistic and done on the spur of the moment. Even when someone sets out with the specific intention of breaking into a home, they typically don’t have a target in mind. Instead, they just decide on a specific house when they see it.

Most burglars report being in and out within 5 to 15 minutes and taking less than 5 minutes to enter the property itself, usually through open or unlocked doors and windows.

It’s probably no surprise that peak season for burglary tends to be the summer when more people are leaving windows open.

Some detained burglars surveyed by the AIC stated that when they saw a home’s occupant washing their car in the driveway or doing yard work, they’d sneak around the back and rob the house. Others mentioned simply walking off the street into a house party and taking things.

Unsurprisingly, home insurance typically won’t pay out if the burglars gained entry through an unlocked door or unsecured window while no one was at home. Insurance also won’t pay if the burglars were invited in or were otherwise only there as a result of your failure to take reasonable precautions (like making sure you don’t have uninvited guests at a house party).

The most common ways of breaking into a home

The most common ways of breaking in don’t necessarily involve breaking at all.

According to the AIC report, approximately

  • 70% of burglars reported breaking in through unlocked doors or windows
  • 40% reported having broken doors or windows
  • 20% reported picking or breaking locks to gain entry
  • 20% reported using other methods

The vast majority of burglaries simply involve walking in off the street, while only a minority involve actual breaking and entering.

How do burglars pick a target?

A lack of security systems is one of the most common reasons for targeting premises. Almost 80% of thieves say that’s how they choose a target. Burglars have targeted houses for the following reasons:

  • Minimal security. According to the survey, around 80% have targeted premises because they saw a way in or minimal security measures.
  • A tempting target. According to the survey, around 35% have targeted premises because it looked like a rich target, or they saw good things to steal.
  • It looked empty. According to the survey, around 20% have targeted premises because of a lack of activity.

What kind of security is the best deterrent?

According to burglars, even the smallest and friendliest dog is an effective deterrent. Not because they’re worried it might attack, but because it might draw attention by barking.

Alarm systems, sensor lights and grilled windows and doors are also very off-putting. Some won’t take the risk if the property is visible from the road or if they don’t know the area. In some cases, a gate is all it takes to put off a burglar.

Dogs might be one of the most effective deterrents because they don’t indicate that there are any valuables inside, while some burglars take the appearance of other security systems as an indication that the home contains valuables.

Despite this, even the most basic security measures definitely help a lot more than they hurt. Households without basic security measures like deadlocks and alarm systems were involved in 15% of home robberies, while those with security measures were only involved in 2%.

Your home security mistakes, according to burglars

When asked about homeowners’ most common mistakes that unintentionally invited burglary, many of the surveyed burglars said the same things.

  • Over 70% said people make the mistake of leaving doors and windows open.
  • Over 40% said people make the mistake of having minimal security.
  • Almost 30% said the backyards were easy to enter.
  • Over 10% mentioned detectable “hidden” keys.
  • About 10% mentioned fake security, like false signs of occupancy or purely cosmetic security lights.
  • About 5% also mentioned skylights and environmental design choices, such as a concealing tree line that goes right up to the walls.

When burglars look for a way in, they look for the easy ways, such as open doors or windows, along with minimal security. They’re looking for parcels on the doorsteps, items left in the backyard or an unlocked shed or garage that might have something worth taking.

A handful may have mentioned skylights, tree lines and environmental features, but most burglars aren’t looking for that much of a challenge, and you generally don’t need to worry about skylights or specific environmental features.

Instead, it might pay to think about visibility more generally, including how clear and wide the driveway is and how visible a property is from the road and to its neighbours.

German-Shep

What are the most commonly stolen items?

When a burglar enters a home, they’re generally looking to get in and out within a few minutes. They will take whatever’s valuable and close to hand. This might be something they saw through a window, whatever’s lying out in plain sight or valuables in obvious spots like jewellery in jewellery boxes, car keys on a key rack and handbags left on a table.

According to RACQ, the following were the most commonly stolen items during break-and-enter home burglaries in 2015:

  • Cash
  • Jewellery
  • Cameras
  • Handbags and wallets
  • Phones
  • Car keys

While phones were the most at-risk electronics, many laptops, tablets and other electronics are also frequently targeted because they’re valuable, easy to carry and easy to sell.

How do I protect my business or home from burglary?

One of the main takeaways might be that the oldest tricks don’t work anymore. Fake signs of occupancy might no longer work as deterrents and might even make a house seem like a more attractive target.

Fake security measures might have a similar effect, with burnt out security lights or cobwebbed security cameras simultaneously indicating that there may be something worth stealing and that the area is less secure than it initially appears.

The following are some of the main takeaways:

  • Burglars aren’t looking for a challenge, so take advantage of deterrents and avoid making it easy.
  • Always lock your doors and windows. It can be worth it even if you’re just stepping into the backyard or heading down the road for a few minutes.
  • Padlock your backyard sheds and make sure your garage is locked.
  • Avoid leaving tempting items in the backyard.
  • Avoid signs of vacancy. These are often used as an indication that a home is an easy target.
  • Any kind of dog is a very effective deterrent, while simple low-maintenance countermeasures like shutters, deadlocks and a gated backyard also help.

Generally, deterrents are the most effective form of security. If someone does get inside, there are ways to make sure you’re less likely to lose what’s most important.

  • Hide away valuables like jewellery boxes. As long as they’re out of plain sight and not in one of the most expected hiding spots, they’re a lot safer.
  • Avoid keeping valuables like power tools in a shed. Instead, keep them in a locked garage. Ideally your garage should be just as secure as your home.
  • Backup your data, and remove USBs and hard drives with important information, irreplaceable photos or anything else from computers when not in use. These are much less likely to be taken than the computers, but if they are connected to your computer, a burglar won’t bother removing them.

How to make sure your home or business insurance policy covers theft

There are two ways to match your security to your insurance:

  • Use security measures that also reward you with lower insurance premiums.
  • Avoid doing things that will void a claim, such as leaving the door unlocked.

Lowering your premiums

The most effective countermeasures are often rewarded with lower insurance premiums, but different insurers might consider different aspects. When you get quotes for home insurance or quotes for business assets insurance, it’s worth shopping around to see if one insurer might reward your security measures more than another.

If you’ve recently installed or upgraded your security measures, such as if you recently got a dog, installed security shutters or renovated your garage, it can be worth re-assessing your policy and seeing if you may be entitled to reduced premiums for cover.

Generally, some low-maintenance countermeasures like shutters, a fenced backyard and deadlocks may entitle you to lower premiums, while insurers might appreciate advanced security systems like alarms even more.

However, it’s also important to make sure you know the terms and conditions that may apply to your cover. Policy exclusions apply to all insurance policies, and home insurance is no exception.

Know the policy exclusions and other conditions

Exclusions are conditions where a policy won’t pay out. Other terms may also apply. Generally, these match real life burglary risks. For example, you won’t necessarily be covered in the event of a burglar gaining access through an unlocked front door while you’re out of the home.

For home, contents and business insurance, the following are some typical exclusions:

  • No cover if you were robbed while away from home, with a door unlocked or windows open.
  • No cover for theft from an unlocked garage or shed.
  • No cover while your house has been left unattended for an extended period, typically 60 to 90 days.
  • No cover for theft from people who were in the house with your consent.
  • No cover if your house is showing signs of not being inhabited. Some policies may require you to cancel mail deliveries and have someone mow the lawn while you’re away. Others might require you to have someone check on the house at least weekly while you’re away.
  • No cover for specified items, such as larger watercraft, go-karts, dirt bikes and any other motorised personal vehicles, which may be frequent targets of theft.

For your contents insurance in particular, you should also be aware of any limits and sub-limits which may apply. Some of the most at-risk items will have their own restrictions on how a policy covers them.

For example, typical policy conditions may include the following:

  • Limited cover for valuables. Electronics and jewellery might be restricted to a maximum of $1,000 per item and $10,000 in total. You will often be able to add extra cover for additional premiums or additional cover for items outside the home as well.
  • Limited cover for outdoor items. Often, only specified items such as lawnmowers and barbecues will be covered, and only up to a limited amount. For example, a policy might only pay out $2,000 for all outdoor items with a maximum of $500 for any one item.
  • Security system requirements. If you are getting reduced premiums as a result of having certain safety measures, like security lights and a burglar alarm, then you may be required to ensure they remain fully functional and are tested regularly. If your alarm was found to be broken or poorly maintained at the time of a break-in, and you were claiming lower premiums by having it, an insurer might deny a claim.
  • Keeping property in good repair. A rusting padlock on a shed, broken windows or deteriorating door might all make it easier for a burglar to gain entry. You may not be covered if it’s found that a failure to properly maintain your property was responsible for the break-in.

By taking appropriate precautions, you can make sure the risk of burglary is minimal as well as reduce your home or business insurance premiums. A similar principle applies to other risks like storm, fire and flood, and it can be worth looking for the best way to protect your home from all potential hazards as you compare insurance policies.


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Andrew Munro

Andrew writes for finder.com, comparing products, writing guides and looking for new ways to help people make smart decisions. He's a fan of insurance, business news and cryptocurrency.

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