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Identifying and Defeating the Most Popular Burglary Tools

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In our post on Defeating Smart Criminals, we discussed the precautions burglars often take before choosing a target. Stopping burglars involves knowing when and how burglars try to get into homes. It also requires knowing what types of features or conditions make homes an attractive target. Our Yard and Driveway Security Tips help you make your home less appealing to burglars from the outside. In addition to addressing these issues, many of our customers ask more specific questions about burglary methods. For example, “What types of gadgets make the most popular burglary tools, and how are they used?” “How do burglars disable our alarm systems or defeat our other security measures?” “What can I do to make myself safe when a burglar really knows what he/she is doing?”

In this post, we aim to answer these questions. We do not offer any single, completely foolproof means of security your home. We can, however, inform you of how thieves may try to conquer your security equipment. From there, we can offer tips to protect you against even the most sophisticated burglary tools and techniques. We’ll begin with the most basic tools any burglar carries around to break into homes. Along the way, we’ll offer tips to help lessen the danger of each tool’s effectiveness. From there, we’ll look at a couple more advanced and technological burglary tools. Finally, we’ll look at some general security tips to make burglars less likely to use those tools in the first place. Let’s begin at looking at the rudimentary, yet effective, tools in every burglars’ toolbox.

An open toolbox and tools

Burglars often use simple, everyday tools to gain entry into victims’ homes.

Everyday Tools to Gain Entry

Many burglaries fall under the “smash and grab” category. Just as that description indicates, burglars enter homes through methods that value ease over sophistication. For example, they may use a hammer to break through a picture window. Burglars who find this too noisy or obvious may use crowbars to pry a window open. Criminals can even use screwdrivers to pry open unstable locks, especially those on sliding doors. This study out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte examined the motivations and burglary methods of 422 criminals in different states. Roughly 7 out of every 8 burglars reported breaking into homes through the use of force. This means that taking basic precautions can hinder the most common means of entry for a thief. So what precautions can you take?

For one, we recommend installing a burglar alarm in your home. Installing these systems ensures that a breach will activate an audible siren response. A monitored alarm system also generates a police response to a break-in. Knowing that breaking through a door or window will create this response can stop a potential crime. After all, 60% of criminals in the same study cited above would actively avoid breaking into alarmed houses. Finally, install quality door and window lock hardware, and make all of your home’s entry points as visible as possible. Doing so makes a potentially conspicuous and public forcible entry an unattractive option for burglars. Now let’s take a look at a method that requires a little bit more effort but requires a cleaner entry than using blunt force: picking locks.

Tools for Breaking or Picking Locks

A lock picking kit and guide.

The availability and affordability of lock picking kits, such as this one by Southord, often leads to easy access to homes for burglars.

Burglars who do attempt to enter your home without breaking in forcibly can often do so quite easily. When it comes to lock security, you generally get exactly what you pay for. In the home lock market, homeowners often choose locks based on budget rather than quality. Burglars can easily defeat cheaper locks through a variety of methods. Some burglars use a drill to remove the front of a deadbolt. After completing this step, they can then use regular household tools to manipulate the lock open. This video illustrates how this tactic works against a common residential-grade lock.

Some burglars prefer defeating locks in a way that makes less noise. Picking locks is a skill that anyone can learn fairly quickly, and the process takes very little time. Lock-picking kits like the one pictured cost very little money, and burglars find them just as effective as locksmiths do, making them one of the most effective burglary tools. Users can use the picks to replicate the functions of keys. These picks easily defeat most common household locks, including deadbolts.

Installing high-security locks, such as those provided by Medeco, can alleviate this danger. Our post detailing Eight Ways a Criminals Can Open Your Door details the methods and tools used to defeat most deadbolts, and how Medeco locks defends against them. These locks can keep out criminals who prefer entering homes without making a racket by breaking glass or attempting to force windows open. Medeco deadbolts provide specific defenses against drilling with hardened steel inserts. Additionally, both the inside of Medeco locks and the keys that work them have unique design features that make picking these locks incredibly difficult. This section of the Medeco website details the type of technology that makes these locks so difficult for burglars to conquer. Now that we’ve looked at some manual burglary tools, let’s see how burglars aim to disable your home security system.

Wire Cutters to Disable Your Phone Line

If you do have a security system, burglars often cut the phone lines to disable communication between the alarm system and the central station in charge of calling the police upon receiving an alarm signal. As we discussed in our post on Security Myths, many people still believe that this eliminates all alarm system communication. In fact, most of our alarm systems now utilize a cellular phone dialer. This piece of equipment acts as a dedicated communication path between your alarm and the central station. As long as you have adequate cell service, burglars can no longer prevent your alarm from calling out.

You may be wondering, “Do many burglars actually attempt this tactic?” This simple answer is “Yes.” News stories such as this one from New Jersey pop up with relative frequency. We have also encountered this tactic frequently in the field. Many customers who have read these stories call to ensure that they will not fall victim to the same fate if a criminal cuts their phone lines. As long as you install a cellular dialer, you will remain safe from the results of this simple yet often-effective tactic. Let’s look at one more tool that burglars use to disrupt your security system’s functionality.

Wireless Signal Jammers to Disable Your Alarm

While not one of the most widespread burglary tools, burglars can use wireless signal jammers to disrupt your wireless alarm signals with very little effort. We discussed wireless burglar alarm systems in our post on Smart Security System Design. These systems rely on radio communication between the alarm panel and the system’s sensors to remain functional. This communication takes place on a specific radio frequency listed by manufacturers. This means that anyone who knows your wireless alarm’s manufacturer can easily find the wireless frequency it uses to communicate.

Burglars can use a device known as a “frequency jammer” or “alarm jammer” to render this frequency useless within a certain range. These jammers work by sending out an overwhelming signal on your home alarm’s frequency. This signal creates so much “white noise” that your alarm system can only pick up the signal from the jammer, and not the weaker signals sent from the contacts to the main security panel.

Purchasing encrypted wireless contacts can help alleviate this danger. Our preferred security panel, the QOLSYS IQ Panel 2, utilizes these types of sensors. Encrypted contacts send a signal with a unique, hidden (or “encrypted”) code for each signal it sends. Think of an email service that requires users to enter a password to send or receive emails. This technology works similarly by providing a layer of protection that only specific security equipment can properly understand. In order for the radio signal to interact with the panel, the panel must acknowledge receiving the encrypted message and then send a signal back to the contact itself. Signal jammers do not send properly encrypted messages to the security panel. Therefore, burglars cannot block the security system’s wireless communication. In this manner, radio signal encryption addresses one of the most technologically savvy and difficult-to-defend burglary tools.

A safe bank deposit box

Keeping certain valuables in a safe bank deposit box can completely eliminate a burglar’s potential access to them.

Tips to Increase General Security

Of course, no one security component can keep determined burglars out of your home. Finding an attractive target is what makes burglars want to reach for their toolbox in the first place. We mentioned earlier that a home security system makes many burglars change their minds about robbing a particular house. Installing home surveillance to keep an eye on your property can do the same. In the same study we cited earlier, burglars listed cameras as a potential crime-stopper when discovered on a home. Exterior cameras effectively keep an eye on your house at all times. Anyone who attempts to use their favorite burglary tools to enter your home will be caught on film. No matter the method or means used to attempt a crime, you’ll have the ability to see exactly what happened, and when. The combination of cameras’ crime-deterring and crime-solving ability make them an excellent security investment.

Finally, we recommend that you find safe locations to place your most valuable possessions. Even in the worst-case scenario, burglars can only take what is available to them. Storing important documents and irreplaceable items in a safe can make your valuables more difficult to rob. Our Best Practices for Safes can help ensure proper safe selection and installation. Finally, keeping some items offsite in a bank vault can put your valuables completely out of sight and out of mind to burglars. Eliminating criminals’ access to your most treasured possessions adds tremendous security and peace of mind.

Putting Together a Complete Plan to Thwart Common Burglary Tools

We hope that this post has informed you about the specific burglary tools and methods that criminals use to carry out their crimes. Additionally, we hope that you gained some ideas to protect your family against these measures. Feel free to contact us with any questions or feedback you may have about this post. If desired, we can visit your home to provide a free site survey. We’ll address any areas that may provide you specific concern, and make recommendations of our own as well. Together we can create a plan to keep you and your family as safe as possible against any tools burglars may use to try to break in to your home.