That’s your first mistake,’ says former burglar Michael Fraser as he gestures towards my propped open front gate.
‘An open gate is an invitation to an opportunist burglar to come in.’
Michael, 60, grew up in care and spent his teenage years burgling homes, schools and businesses.
Break-in season: Home burglaries typically increase by 10% after the clocks go back in October each year
After turning his life around, he now works as a security consultant advising people how to protect their homes from thieves.
Today, he is looking around my house to check if it is burglar-proof. And it seems I’m far from the only one who could benefit from his advice.
While domestic burglaries in the UK fell during lockdowns last year as people spent more time at home, they are now rising sharply.
Insurer Aviva received a third more claims for theft from homes in September compared to January — and it is expecting reports to rise further, as burglaries typically increase by 10 per cent after the clocks go back in October.
Darker evenings and events families attend during the festive season make it easier for crooks to target homes when we are out.
Protecting your home from burglars not only keeps your belongings safe, it could reduce home insurance costs, too.
Some insurers now offer incentives to customers to add security measures to their homes.
Locking up: Reporter Rosie Taylor makes her home secure after receiving some useful tips
Pay-monthly building and contents insurer Locket gives preferential rates to people with security devices, including smart doorbells or cameras which link to your phone and alert you to suspicious activity.
Other insurers, such as More Than and Halifax, offer small discounts if you have secure locks and an alarm.
Any measures which help you avoid a claim will protect your no claims discount. This is around 10 per cent after one year up to a maximum of 40 per cent after five years — a saving of roughly £56 on the average home insurance policy.
Michael, who is an ambassador for Locket, tells me: ‘Burglars want to be in and out quickly with no hassle, so anything which shows you take security seriously will put them off.’
Ex-thief’s tips to keep your property safe
- Shut your gate. A closed gate is a ‘psychological barrier’ but an open one attracts opportunist thieves.
- Have more than one door lock. Use deadlocks or five-lever mortice locks (where you have to lift the handle to open the door) for extra security.
- Keep your bathroom windows shut. Burglars can climb pipes running up the wall and get in via first-floor windows.
- Clean your alarm keypad. Having an alarm is a great deterrent — but make sure you wipe the keypad regularly or a burglar will be able to guess the code by seeing which keys are dirty or worn.
- Invest in a ‘smart’ doorbell or camera. These allow you to see who is at the door and talk to them over a speaker via your smartphone even if you’re miles from home.
Thieves tend to avoid homes which display a Neighbourhood Watch sticker or one warning belongings are watermarked, which makes it easier for police to identify stolen goods.
A working security alarm, windows with visible locks or blinds covering ground-floor windows also act as deterrents.
Michael shakes his head when I tell him I have none of these. ‘Looking at it as a burglar, it shows you don’t take your security very seriously,’ he sighs.
Although you might think thieves would typically sneak round the back of your house, official statistics show criminals entered through a front door or window in six out of ten burglaries in England and Wales in 2019-20.
Michael asks me to walk up to my locked front door and gently push my toe against the bottom.
It gives a little — which he explains is a clear sign I’m not using a deadlock. ‘It’s easy for anyone to quickly check how secure the locks are,’ he says, explaining that crooks might pose as someone posting a leaflet to give them an excuse to be outside your door.
With my door having failed that test, Michael can tell it is held shut by a single Yale lock, which he could easily force open with a crowbar, or hook open from inside using a wire coat hanger fed through my letterbox as it doesn’t have a protective cage (another security failure). He does approve of my door chain, however, which adds security if I’m in the house.
When I joke no one would want to burgle me because I have ‘nothing worth stealing’, Michael explains that’s a common misconception which makes people complacent about security.
‘A burglar is looking for any gains they can get so they’ll grab laptops, phones and jewellery but also anything else that might be worth even £10 or £20,’ he says.
Aviva figures show the average claim for burglary is for £4,800 — but that does not include irreplaceable items which hold sentimental value.
I’m shocked to discover that thieves may take belongings such as wedding photos or even a loved one’s ashes — and then demand money for their return from desperate victims.
It’s also a surprise to learn how valuable bits of paper can be.
Get smart: Some insurers now offer incentives to customers to add security measures – such as smart doorbells – to their homes
Michael explains: ‘Personal data is worth money these days, so a burglar will grab letters off the table, from your letterbox or out of your recycling bin.
‘They can sell the details to other criminals to clone your identity or use them to take out a credit card in your name.’
However, having neighbours either side of my mid-terrace home is one thing that works in my favour. Burglars want a quick getaway without being spotted so they prefer to target semi-detached and detached properties with side and rear access.
On terraced streets, nearly one in three burglaries takes place in an end-of-terrace house, but mid-terrace homes next to alleyways are also common targets, according to Churchill Home Insurance.
Ground-floor flat dwellers are twice as likely to be burgled as people living on any other floor.
I’ll certainly be taking Michael’s advice to improve the security of my home, but could following his tips save you money, too?
It all depends on your insurer. Hannah Davidson, senior underwriting manager for Aviva, says: ‘Insurance policies are designed to cover a wide range of scenarios — theft risk is only one factor taken into account when pricing, so increased security devices may not automatically lead to lower premiums.’
She warns insurers may reject your claim if you haven’t taken ‘reasonable precautions to prevent loss or damage’, such as locking doors before you go out.
You must also take care to meet the minimum security requirements set by your policy, such as window and doors being locked (if they are lockable) whenever you are out of the room.
Your claim might also be rejected if a burglar gets in after finding a key hidden outside your home or if you leave tools lying around in an unlocked shed or garage which a burglar uses to break in.
You should also activate your alarm every time you leave your home as your insurer may not pay out if it wasn’t on at the time of a break-in.
If you are unfortunate enough to be targeted, report it to the police and get a crime number straight away, as insurers may refuse claims if they’re not reported within 24 hours.
And remember, complying with your policy’s small print will not only ensure your insurance is valid if you need to claim, it will put off burglars targeting you in the first place.
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