|Securing your home|
|Leaving your home unoccupied|
All external doors should be of solid construction and fitted with locks that at least meet British Standard 3621 (e.g. mortise locks or integrated multi-locking systems). Look for the BS kite mark. If in doubt consult a qualified locksmith. Ideally the locking mechanism should include bolts at the top and bottom as well as the main one in the middle.
Door frames should be well fitted, secure and robust with little or no cavities around them, otherwise the door will just give way when forced. Any glass panels should be laminated and fitted into the structure of the door, not merely held in place by putty, wooden or UPVC batons.
The same standard should apply to all external doors into your house, not just the front door. There's no point having a hefty high security front door if your other doors don't have the same level of security. Thieves will quickly identify the weakest point of entry into your house. Treat any connecting doors to garages as external doors (as garage doors are not secure) and make sure that patio doors and French windows are equally secure.
Fit a door viewer ("peephole") and chain to your front door.
Your doors will of course not be secure unless you lock them. Keep your doors locked, even when you are in the house. Thieves can easily sneak in and steal your car keys or valuables from the hall without you noticing. Pay particular attention to locking your front door if you are in a back room or in the back garden. Don't leave keys in the door, keep them out of reach of the letterbox or windows (but easily accessible in case of emergency).
Nearly half of all burglaries are through windows. Ground floor windows and those accessible from rooftops or drainpipes are most at risk. These should all have key operated window locks. Sash windows can be easily fitted with locking sash bolts. Don't leave keys in the locks or within sight, but keep them nearby in case of emergency.
Thieves don't like smashing glass; it may draw attention to them. If you're replacing glass, fit laminate glass as this is the most resilient against attack.
Be conscious of what can be seen through your window from the street. You may like sitting in your living room with the lights on and the curtains open, but do you really want everyone going past to see your new flat screen TV and expensive HI-FI?
Check your garage door. If it's an up-and-over style with a catch at the top, is there a gap at the top large enough to fit long-nosed pliers through? If so then fit something to block the gap where the catch is - even a simple piece of metal attached to the door frame where the catch is can be enough to slow down a thief.
Sheds are particularly vulnerable as they are usually not very secure. Ideally, avoid keeping anything of value in sheds if possible. When choosing a location for a new shed, try to put it somewhere visible to neighbours or the road, rather than in a secluded corner. Fit a lock or padlock to shed doors, but remember to keep things in proportion. There's no point fitting a great big padlock if the hinges can be removed in minutes with a screwdriver, or if the windows are just plastic sheets.
Given that most sheds are flimsy affairs and therefore hard to secure, consider fitting a shed alarm. These are cheap and easy to install and might act as a better deterrent. Make sure you indicate to potential thieves that an alarm is installed, e.g. with a sticker on the window.
If you keep bikes in your garage or shed, keep them padlocked to something (or each other). It won't stop a determined burglar but may slow down an opportunist thief from making a quick getaway with it.
As well as securing your home itself, it's worth thinking about your garden and surroundings. High walls, fences or hedges offer privacy but also provide cover for thieves. Gravel drives and paths mean you can hear when people approach your house. Look around your house and imagine yourself as a thief - how would you get in?
Install motion-operated security lighting in areas that are not normally illuminated, such as at the back of your home. This can draw attention to unwanted visitors and deter casual thieves. However, be considerate to your neighbours and site it appropriately (pointing down into your garden, not into their bedroom window). Keep the on-time short. There's no point it staying on for half an hour every time a cat goes past. A motion-sensor light outside your front door is also a good idea, but make it reasonable. A 500W halogen light in your face is not a great way to welcome your visitors!
Don't hide spare keys under plant pots or doormats. Wherever you might think of hiding a key, a thief would probably think to look in the same place.
Alarms are a great way to deter thieves but should be considered a supplement, not an alternative to good security. Choose an alarm carefully, ensuring it is appropriate for your property. Make sure the alarm box is sited appropriately so that it can be seen and heard from the street. Ideally, it should not be possible to tell from outside if the alarm is armed or not. (Flashing lights are all very nice, but make it obvious when you forget to arm it one night.)
Some alarm systems can alert a security service when they are triggered. This gives the best protection, but is quite costly.
Some insurance companies give discounts for having an alarm, but often only if "NACOSS" approved and maintained with a maintenance contract (costing more than the discount). You may also be required to use your alarm in accordance with your insurer's dictates, and failure to do so by any member of the family could result in your claim being declined.
False alarms are a nuisance to your neighbours (who will eventually just ignore it), so try to ensure your alarm does not keep going off unnecessarily. Some alarm systems include features to prevent false alarms.
If you hear a neighbour's alarm, don't just ignore it. Look out of your window or go outside to have a look. However, don't put yourself at risk by entering their property to investigate. If you suspect someone is there then call the police immediately. Take note of anything suspicious such as a description of anyone you see leaving, or the details of any unusual vehicles that are nearby, as well as noting the date and time.
Home CCTV systems have dropped in price considerably, but you should think carefully before installing one. Unless you install a system that continually records the images somewhere secure (i.e. not easily stolen by the burglar that broke in!) they may be of limited use, other than as a deterrent. The cameras need to be situated somewhere they cannot easily be tampered with (e.g. cable cut or camera obscured). You must also make sure the camera only points at your own property, so you don't get accused of "spying" on your neighbours or people in the street.
When leaving your home unoccupied, don't make it obvious that you are away. Don't leave notes at your door telling people you are away. Remember to cancel the milk and newspapers and ask a neighbour to push in any mail left in the letterbox. You may also wish to use the Royal Mail "Keepsafe" service. (For a small fee they will hold on to your mail until your return.)
Remember that anything that looks different from normal will draw attention to your house. Leaving an outside light on when you don't normally do so, for example, can actually draw attention to your house and suggest you are away. Curtains open all night or closed all day make a house look unoccupied. (But don't be tempted to leave them half-open - that just makes it look unoccupied night and day!) Ideally, ask a trusted neighbour to keep an eye on your house and open & close the curtains each day. It may seem like an imposition, but you can always return the favour when they're away.
Use timers to turn on lights inside your house at appropriate times, but try to make it subtle rather than too obvious (i.e. don't put a bright lamp next to the window). Remember, you're trying to make it look like someone's in, not highlighting there's nobody there.
Hide away any small items of special value such as jewellery or important documents, don't just leave them lying around. It won't stop a determined thief looking for something specific, but may be missed by a casual thief in a hurry. Consider buying a safe if you have items of high value.
If you are leaving a car at home then consider leaving it in the driveway rather than in the garage. Of course this depends on how valuable your car is and how you feel about leaving it outside. The benefit is that it's less obvious your house in unoccupied, but the downside is your car is more at risk. Another option is to ask a neighbour with two cars if they are willing to park one of theirs in your driveway.
Before leaving remember to check all around your house to make sure everything is turned off and all doors and windows are locked. Arm your alarm if you have one, and make sure a neighbour has appropriate contact details in case there are any problems.
When leaving your vehicle (for no matter how long) always remove any valuable items such as satellite navigation systems or removable hi-fi equipment. Hide away anything that a potential thief may think could be worth stealing, even if you know it isn't. For example, even if you know your old jacket or sports bag on the back seat isn't worth anything, a thief may break your window to steal it thinking that it is, or hoping it might contain a wallet or mobile phone.
Never leave wallets, handbags and other such valuables in the car, even hidden away.
Be aware of anyone loitering nearby as you leave your car, especially if you are hiding stuff away in the boot.
Even when leaving your vehicle briefly (e.g. to pay for fuel at a petrol station or post a letter) make sure you turn off, remove the key and lock the vehicle. Opportunist thieves can take advantage of just such a momentary lapse of security to make off with your vehicle or belongings before you even realise what's happening. If you are leaving passengers in the car then you may not wish to lock them in, but at least turn off and remove the key. There have been cases of cars stolen from garage forecourts complete with children in the back!
Thieves don't always have to break in to get into your house. Sometimes they can just knock and be invited in. Most people who call at your home will be genuine, but sometimes people can turn up at your door unannounced with the intention of tricking you into letting them into your home, or conning you into giving them money or personal details. Always be wary of anyone you don't know who calls at your door, no matter how honest and genuine they may appear.
A bogus caller may attempt to trick their way into your home to steal valuables, cash or car keys. They can be very convincing and persuasive, using one of many different excuses to gain entry. Examples of such excuses include:
They may be smartly dressed or wearing a convincing looking uniform, and have a convincing looking ID badge or card.
They may talk you into going to get something (e.g. pretending they need to check your utility bill) so they can steal from your hallway while you leave them alone at the door. Sometimes they work with an accomplice who tries to enter by a back door or window while they distract you at the front door.
Callers may also be trying to sell you sub-standard goods or services, such as building work or repairs, driveways, tree cutting, etc. They often pressure you into making a decision there and then, claiming that repairs are needed urgently or that their offer is for "today only". If you do engage them they may ask for some payment up front and then never complete the job.
Unfortunately, although most charity collectors are genuine there are some people who will prey on your generosity and collect money by pretending to represent a charity. There are in fact some organisations that are operating completely legally, but only giving a small percentage of their collections to charity, pocketing the rest as profit.
It's also possible that a bogus caller may just be fishing for information, gaining your trust and then casually asking questions about your holiday plans for example, or trying to establish how long a neighbour is away. They may pretend to be selling alarms or security devices, asking about what you have, or "casing the joint", looking in your hallway to see where you keep your keys and jackets (potentially containing wallets), etc.
Before answering your door, always make sure your back door is locked (with the key removed) and windows closed. If you have a "peep-hole" then look through it first to see who is there. If you do not know the caller then put on the door chain (if you have one) before opening the door. Don't remove the chain until you are satisfied the caller is genuine.
Ask to see the caller's identity card, and examine it carefully (don't just give it a cursory glance). If they don't want to let you examine it properly then don't let them in. A genuine caller will not mind if you take their card and close the door while you examine it. Unfortunately anyone can easily create a convincing looking ID card these days, so if you are not sure then call their organisation to check if they are genuine. However, don't just call the number shown on the card (it may just be an accomplice's number). Look up the company in the phone book.
Don't assume whatever the caller tells you is true. This may seem like stating the obvious, but a skilled con artist can often convince even the most wary people to believe their story with some appropriate patter. If they say your house requires urgent repairs then get an independent professional opinion rather than taking their word for it.
Don't give away any information the caller does not need to know, such as your phone number, personal details or holiday plans. Again, this may seem obvious, but it's easy to be caught off guard once they've gained your trust with some friendly conversation and they ask you a seemingly innocent and casual question. If you are uncomfortable about questions they are asking then just tell them you need to go, and close the door.
Don't keep large amounts of cash in your home. Don't leave wallets, keys and other valuables near the door or where they can be seen from the door when you open it.
You are not obliged to let anyone into your house. Only the police and fire brigade can force or demand entry into your house, but even then only in exceptional circumstances. Utility companies must have the police with them to demand or force entry into your home.
When out and about at night, avoid walking through unlit or secluded areas if possible. Try to keep to the roads rather than isolated paths. If you feel uncomfortable about a stranger or group of youths ahead then cross to the other side of the road before you reach them. Don't engage with them and avoid eye contact.
If you are threatened or intimidated then try first to ignore them and move away. If you are attacked then try to make as much noise as possible (e.g. shout or scream) to draw attention and try to get away.
We have a supply of personal attack alarms available for sale to Watch members at £3 each. For more information please contact Brian Latto on 0131 449 2831.