My Stuff’s Gone


By: Gary Foreman

Each year criminals steal tens of billions of dollars from our homes and cars. This year we can expect over 2 million burglaries in the U.S. Sure you carry homeowner's and auto theft insurance. Even so, if someone steals your stuff you'll still lose time and some money. So let's take a look at burglary prevention. We'll focus on how to keep it from happening and will leave how to collect on insurance and get your things back for another time.

Police stress two things in crime prevention. Make it hard for the thief to enter your house and take your things. And also make it easy for him to get caught in the process of the theft or trying to sell your property.

It's important to be able to see your house from the street. Burglars don't want people to see them prying open a door or window. That means that you should trim bushes and shrubs so that people walking or driving by can get a clear view of your home. Yes, you'll give up a little privacy. But it could be a reasonable price to pay.

Avoid making announcements that invite burglars. Don't leave attractive items (bikes, etc.) outside where they'll attract thieves. Boxes from recently purchased computers, TV's and electronics put out on trash day let everyone know that you have new goodies inside. Cut the boxes into pieces small enough to fit inside your trash can so the thieves won't know your business.

Lighting is the cheapest form of prevention. There's a reason the bad guys like the dark. They don't want to be seen and identified. Cost is not an excuse for a lack of lighting outside your home. In most parts of the U.S. you can leave a 100 watt bulb burning for 10 hours for less than a penny. So for less than a nickel a night you'll have light all around your home. And if the thought of leaving lights burning all night is just too much to bear, you can buy lights with motion detectors.

The police believe that if you can delay a burglar's entry by as little as four minutes that they'll move on to an easier target. Burglars know that to avoid getting caught it's important to get in quickly and quietly. Approximately one third of all burglaries occur through unlocked doors or windows. That sure makes for a quick and easy entrance.

Make sure that your exterior doors really are secure. They should be metal or have a solid wood core. Hollow wooden doors are not safe. Never leave spare keys near the lock they open.

If your hinge pins are on the outside, you need to take special steps to keep the bad guys from removing the pins and then just taking the door out of the frame. Special hinges are available or you can install a pin that will prevent the door from being lifted out.

A deadbolt is an important tool in keeping doors secure. Every outside door should be fitted with a deadbolt. The best ones for crime prevention require a key to unlock them from either side. But remember to keep the key handy from the inside so that someone can get out quickly in case of a fire.

Sliding glass doors are a common entry point for burglars. Often they're behind a home and out of sight. Tracks are often loose and allow locks to be easily defeated. A pin inserted through a matching hole in the door and frame from the inside can be sufficient to keep the door from being jimmied. Or a piece of dowel rod can be laid in the bottom track to prevent the door from opening. Other fancier locks are also available.

Remember to lock your doors and windows even when you're home. In some places one third of the robberies take place while someone is home. Stumbling across a surprised thief can be very dangerous.

Alarms are becoming increasingly popular. And a wide range are available. Most residential units make a loud noise if triggered. Some activate lights or automatically notify the police. An alarm system doesn't need to be fancy to be effective. Anything that brings attention to the burglar's actions should be enough to scare them off. If you do install an alarm, check with your insurance company. Many offer rate reductions.

Get in the habit of locking doors and windows before you leave the house. Activate your alarm if you have one. Follow the same pattern every time you leave so you don't forget anything.

Burglars often use an attached garage to enter a home. It can be much easier for them. Once he's inside the garage the thief can take his time defeating any lock on the door that leads inside your residence. Since they're hidden from view it's unlikely they'll attract any attention.

If you're going to be away overnight or longer, you want to make it appear like you're still home. Naturally you'll want to have the mail and newspaper deliveries stopped. Set timers inside the house to turn on televisions, radios and lamps at different times of the day. Ask a neighbor to park their second car in your driveway.

You can help to prevent property crimes. About two thirds of all burglaries take place in homes or apartments. In 1992 the average amount stolen in a burglary was $1,215. The good news is that since 1988 the number of burglaries dropped 7%. Burglars are looking for an easy target. Don't be one.

Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website (www.stretcher.com) You'll find hundreds of free articles to stretch your day and your budget.

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