In last week’s post on Overlooked Home Security Risks, we identified specific rooms or areas that homeowners often leave unsecured. This week, we’ll look at how burglars themselves often hide their intentions and identities. Then, we’ll suggest some tips for stopping these “burglars in disguise.” Many of our customers have ideas about what burglars look like and how they act based on misleading images. Security commercials show thieves breaking into houses at night, often confronting frightened families inside their homes. This type of imagery effectively drums up interest in home security systems based on fear.

Of course, those types of things do occasionally happen, and we do not take them lightly. However, most burglars work much more carefully, often planning out their actions weeks in advance. After all, the consequences are high if burglars get caught. In this post, we’ll share some of the ways burglars plan their crimes while escaping notice from potential victims and neighbors. You’ll learn some of the tactics that thieves use to make their actions as safe as possible. Knowing how criminals operate can help you determine your own chances of falling prey to crime. Following some basic safety precautions can also keep your home less attractive to burglars to begin with. Let’s dive right in to how burglars can search for victims without having their intentions discovered.

A white van parked outside a house.

Burglars will often canvas a neighborhood with an unfamiliar vehicle before breaking into a home. Pretending to be doing work in the neighborhood is a common tactic.

Scouting Out Your Home from a Distance

Burglars like to know what awaits them before entering a home. Our post on Avoiding Common Security Mistakes points out that nearly 3 out of every 4 burglaries takes place in an empty home. This rings true despite the fact that most houses are occupied at least 50% of the time. Burglars use different techniques to scout out their next potential victim. Take note if you see the same vehicle frequently circling the neighborhood. This could be a burglar trying to determine which houses to break into, and when. Once a thief has narrowed the target down to a couple homes, they watch those specific homes more closely. Mapping out a potential entry method and a time of day for their crime makes burglars much less likely to get caught.

You have a few weapons at your disposal to make your home less attractive to snooping criminals. Many of our customers use smart home devices to give their home the appearance of being occupied. Smart light bulbs, for example, allow you to set a schedule to have them turn on and off at specified times. You also have the option of randomizing when they turn on and off so that potential thieves don’t catch a pattern. If you have a home security system, make sure you place yard signs and stickers on the exterior of your home to advertise that fact. This also makes your home a less attractive target to burglarize. Finally, our Yard and Driveway Security Tips can help you improve perimeter security and ward off unwanted guests before they even have a chance to approach your home. Some burglars, however, are not satisfied with tracking homes from a distance before committing their crime. Let’s look at some techniques used by the bravest burglars in disguise.

A man with a paper knocking on a door.

Most burglars will take simple precautions before attempting a break-in, while trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible.  Photo Credit Costa Constantinides on Flickr. Used Under CC BY 2.0 License.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Some burglars find ways to examine your home from a much closer perspective than the burglars described above. It may seem counterintuitive for thieves to spend very much time around potentials victims’ homes. However, burglars often find clever ways to spend time around their targeted houses before breaking in. Some of them dress up as salespeople canvassing a neighborhood, or crossing guards. Neighbors do not usually think twice about seeing a well-dressed individual with a clipboard approaching a house. In fact, burglars in this study conducted by an NBC affiliate in Portland, Oregon related that they always knocked on the door before attempting their crime.

Additionally, some burglars even use disguises to enter a home after knocking. Burglars dressed up as utility workers or city and town employees often talk their way into a house. From there, they either grab what they can while inside or create a mental map for a future burglary. We recommend refusing entry to anyone who knocks on your door without an appointment. Stories like this one out of New Jersey are all too common, as burglars try to find creative ways to carry out their crimes. Finally, we also recommend that homeowners ask for some sort of work-related identification from these visitors to verify their story. Call the police if you have a bad feeling about anyone who visits your home unannounced.

Delivering Unwanted Mail (or Worse)

This concept relates to the idea above and describes another way burglars try to preview homes for potential break-ins. Some criminals take built-up junk mail and use that as a prop to hide their activity. “Delivering” flyers and junk mail allows burglars to approach your home under seemingly innocent circumstances. While delivering, they take the opportunity to peek in the windows to see what valuables they might find or plan a way into the home. If you notice that you start receiving far more flyers than usual, this may point to trouble.

Furthermore, some burglars work in networks, where thieves use “scouts” to help them locate victims. These scouts can be friends who work in tandem with the burglars, or even trash men, cable workers or other legitimate contractors. Sometimes these individuals will leave “clues” for burglars indicating why a particular home makes a good target. For example, disposal workers can leave something in front of a house to indicate that there has been no new trash for a few days. Potential thieves know they can likely look forward to en empty home at that location. Contractors who work inside homes may leave trash or inconspicuous items outside homes that correspond with the number of people that live inside. We strongly suggest that you keep the area around your home clean and free of debris. If you notice something out of the ordinary, clean it up and keep your eyes and ears open during the upcoming days.

Installing a doorbell camera or a surveillance system that watches your doors can help notify you if these threats come to pass. If thieves mill around your property with ill intentions, you may be able to catch them before they make their move. Furthermore, the presence of cameras alone helps keep criminals at bay. Seeing a doorbell camera or outdoor surveillance alone often prevents burglars from approaching your home at all. If something does go wrong, taking these steps gives you a much better chance of catching the culprit and recovering your belongings.

2 girls taking a picture of themselves on the beach.

While taking and posting vacation pictures may be tempting, we recommend waiting until your return to share them on social media.

Social Media Stalking

You may find yourself pleasantly surprised to get a social media friend request from an old acquaintance. Before blindly accepting the request, however, consider your trust level for this individual. The worst burglaries are often perpetrated by distant family members or “friends of friends.” Oftentimes, these people hear about specific valuables in your possession from people that you trust. At that point, they need to know when you plan on leaving the house for an extended amount of time. Social media often enters the picture at this point. Many homeowners post vacation plans or schedules on social media as a way of sharing/bragging about their good times.

We recommend taking a couple steps to help eliminate this danger. For one, watching what you put on social media can help keep your schedule and whereabouts private. Additionally, check your security settings to make sure that only friends can see what you’ve posted. On that note, you should remain vigilant about who you accept as friends on social media platforms. As nice as it may feel to get unexpected friend requests, keep in mind what these new “friends” might find out about your current life. Obviously not all acquaintances who wish to follow you on social media are burglars in disguise. However, the more you share, and the more people you share with, the greater your odds of becoming a victim.

Creating a Complete Security Plan to Thwart Burglars in Disguise

We hope that this post has given you some ideas on how burglars in disguise operate, and how to stop them. If you have any questions about the information shared in this post, please do not hesitate to contact us. We provide free home site surveys to assess security concerns and make recommendations. Perhaps you have noticed some of the behavior described here and wish to take steps to keep your home safe. Or maybe you wish to add security features to make your home less vulnerable. Whatever the case, we will work with you to make your home as unattractive as possible to potential burglars. Together we’ll create a plan to keep your family and your home safe and secure.