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The State of Home Burglaries in Australia

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The State of Home Burglaries in Australia

How likely is it that you’ll have your home broken into this year? Well, over 200,000 burglaries are recorded in Australia annually1 , with 20% of burgled houses being broken into more than once. Statistically, you’re most likely to be burgled at 5pm on a Friday afternoon in October and least likely to be broken into just after midnight on a Sunday in February.

The most popular items taken in home thefts are (in order) cash, laptops, jewellery, cameras, mobile phones, wallets/handbags, ID documents (especially credit cards), TVs, computer or video games, watches, video/DVD players, power tools and stereo/audio equipment. The Northern Territory and Western Australia currently have the highest national burglary rates, while the ACT boasts the lowest2.

Our burglary rates are lower than in the UK and roughly on par with the US but more than twice as bad as countries like Germany, Spain, Japan and Sweden.

When comparing Aussie burglary rates with those of other developed countries it’s clear that we have a break-and-enter problem in this country. Our burglary rates are lower than in the UK and roughly on par with the US but more than twice as bad as countries like Germany, Spain, Japan and Sweden. The international average is around 1.8% of all households burgled, and our average is 2.5%. In other words, 1 out of every 40 houses in Australia will be burgled this year3.

Inside the mind of a burglar

Thieves may scope a neighbourhood out by dressing as a phone, cable or gardening professional. A common ploy is to knock on your door and see if you answer. If you do, they might leave a bogus flyer or ask if you need your roof cleaned or if you’ve seen their lost dog. If you’re not home, they may sneak around the back of your house to look for a well hidden point of entry. Burglars want to avoid confrontation and attention, so having a noisy dog can be an effective deterrent.

The thief might do a brief check around your front door and yard area to look for a hidden key. Failing that, they might break a window, jimmy open the front door with a crowbar or pick the lock. If the house has deadbolts installed, these are much harder to get past. Normally, a thief doesn’t want to hang around longer than necessary, so if it takes a long time to break into your home, they’re likely to give up and look for an easier target elsewhere.

A burglar might only be in your home for 5-10 minutes, but that’s long enough if you haven’t hidden your valuable personal possessions very well.

Once inside a home, a thief won’t want to dawdle, so they’ll make a quick search of the master bedroom for cash, jewellery, phones, credit cards, cameras and other valuables. They’ll usually check the bathroom for any re-sellable prescription medications, then move on to the kitchen and living room for electronic gadgets and any personal information that might potentially be used for identity theft. They’ll also target your car keys (the most common method of stealing a car these days is to grab the keys from inside the home).

If the thief can steal your car, they’ll load all their goodies into it and drive off. If not, they’ll ring their accomplice to drive over and pick them up. Then it’s off to the next promising-looking house, and then the next, etc. A burglar might only be in your home for 5-10 minutes, but that’s long enough if you haven’t hidden your valuable personal possessions very well.

Is your home at high risk for theft?

A survey of police detainees conducted in Western Australia by DUMA (Drug Use Monitoring in Australia) provided some useful insights into what attracts burglars to particular homes (or discourages them). For example, when offenders were asked which factors would most likely deter them from trying to break into a house, their replies were:

When offenders were asked in a survey which factors would most likely deter them from trying to break into a house, their replies were surprising!

  •  A dog; it doesn’t need to be big – just noisy (61.4%)
  •  A functioning alarm system (49.1%)
  •  Lights on inside the house (19.3%)
  •  Security grilles on windows and/or doors (19%)
  •  The fact that it was an unknown area to them (14%)
  •  High visibility from the road (14%)
  •  Functioning sensor lights (22.8%)
  •  The presence of gates (12.3%)

Conversely, when asked what made a home more attractive for possible burglary, the primary motivator was a house that appeared to be vacant or unoccupied. Thieves looked for (a) no cars in the driveway, (b) no lights on in the evening, (c) no response to a knock on the door, (d) rubbish bins left out, (e) piled up mail in the mailbox or similar indications that no one was at home. In many cases the burglars already knew that the occupants would not be home at a specific time.

Burglars indicated that the most common mistake homeowners make is to leave doors and windows unlocked or open, and gates unlocked

Homes without alarms, dogs, security grilles, roller shutters and other deterrents were most easily burgled, and surveyed criminals also commented on how many people would leave spare keys in places where they could easily be found.

The most common methods these thieves used to break into homes were (in order) through an unlocked door, by breaking a door or window, through an unlocked window and by breaking or picking a lock. Some even used skylights and doggie doors to gain entry, or accessed the home while the homeowner was visibly occupied with outdoor chores4.

Homes without alarms, dogs, security grilles, roller shutters and other deterrents were most easily burgled, and surveyed criminals also commented on how many people would leave spare keys in places where they could easily be found.

How to be smarter than the burglars

To reduce your chances of becoming a burglary victim, you need to be proactive and sensible about home security. For example, you may have heard that using one of those motion-activated fake dog-barking devices is a good deterrent. Well, maybe – but experienced thieves can tell the difference between a real dog and a barking electronic device.

You’re better off putting a Beware of Dog sign in plain view (even if you have no dog), and even a dog bowl and chain just inside the gate for ‘extra evidence’. Another common suggestion is to leave your television or radio going if you leave your house unoccupied for a few days. This may work on an opportunistic thief doing a quick walk-by to check your place, but what if they return for a second look? After all, how many people have their radios on 24/7?

To make your home safer, some simple steps will go a long way:

Maintain Your Lawn – If you’re going away for a week or two, mow your lawn. A poorly maintained yard is an obvious indication that a house might be empty

Hide Your Valuables – If your car keys are in a bowl near the front door, your camera is on the bookshelf, your jewellery is sitting in a jewellery box and your cash is ‘hidden’ in the freezer, a thief will only need 5 minutes to collect a nice haul. A hollow book safe isn’t a bad idea, provided you have a lot of books in your home. And children’s rooms are a better place to hide valuables than the master bedroom.

Be Suspicious of Door Knockers and Telemarketers – When you are asked “When would be a more convenient time to speak to you?” they may be trying to find out exactly when you won’t be home.How well do you know your visitors? – Even ‘pleasant’ delivery, repair or salespeople can be checking your house out for others. Some thieves may even gate-crash big parties to see what goodies are available inside a house.

Don’t let People Know About Your Vacation Plans – Be aware of the extra risk at holiday time – Many thieves have no qualms about stealing Christmas presents from under your tree while you’re out or targeting your home during the Easter break. They may even learn when you’re going to be away at a wedding or funeral and choose that time to steal from you. Don’t let people know about your vacation plans.

Make Your Doors and Windows Tougher to Breach – The vast majority of thieves enter your home through doors or windows, so this is where you should tighten security. Install security grilles and high-quality deadbolts. Good locks only work if they’re installed properly (short screws in soft wood don’t accomplish much). Ask your locksmith about the best ways to maximise door and window security. Install security grilles and high-quality deadbolts. Good locks only work if they’re installed properly. Ask your locksmith about the best ways to maximise door and window security.

Keep Ladders and Tools Away From Burglars – If a burglar has forgotten to bring his collection of tools, he’ll look to see if you’ve kindly provided some. Lock your hammers, crowbars, axes and large screwdrivers away so burglars can’t use them to break in. Ladders can be useful too, so secure these with a chain and padlock.

Keep Garage Doors Closed – Thieves have actually stolen cars from open garages while the occupants were inside the house. Aside from this, an open garage gives thieves a good look at what else you’re storing in there. Garage door locks are notoriously easy to bypass, so think about having a deadbolt or special padlock installed for added protection.

Play it again, Sam – If you’ve been burgled once, you’re at even greater risk of being broken into again. Thieves already know your home’s layout and are happy to wait until you’ve replaced your valuables before paying you a second visit. If you’ve already been victimised, it’s a sign that you need to upgrade your home’s overall security system.

Consider an Alarm System – Alarm systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated, often including video surveillance that can be monitored remotely from your mobile phone. Alarms won’t necessarily stop all thieves from entering your home, but they can deter opportunistic smash-and-grabbers or at least make them speed up their time in your home.

Consider Installing Security Cameras – If you’re going to install cameras, use real ones – Yes, you can buy fake security cameras. Yes, they might fool some thieves. But other burglars are just going to look up, chuckle quietly to themselves, ignore them and break in. A seasoned burglar can tell the difference between a real CCTV camera and a phony.

Mark, Video and Photograph Your Valuables – Having a record of what’s in your home can be extremely useful if you have to make an insurance claim. Keep a copy of this digital record somewhere outside your home as well. If you engrave some of your personal items this makes them harder for thieves to sell, and also makes it easier to retrieve them from police if they’re recovered.

Upgrade Your Home’s Lighting – Timer lighting or motion-activated lighting can make your house look more ‘lived-in’, whether you’re at home or not. Given the choice, burglars prefer to work in darkness. A well-lit house (with bulbs that can’t be easily and quickly removed) is far less attractive to a criminal than a dark, empty-looking house.

Understand the theft cover in your Home and Contents insurance

Have you ever really stopped to think about the total value of what’s stored inside your home, and how much it might cost to replace these items if they were stolen or damaged?

Home and Contents insurance will normally cover you for home theft or attempted theft, but the devil is in the details. If you are going away and leaving your house unoccupied for awhile, you may not be covered past a specified period. If you are taking things like laptops or jewellery outside the home, you’ll likely need extra optional cover to protect them.

When insurance companies ask you to ‘read the Product Disclosure Statement for full details’, there’s a good reason – it’s so you know exactly what you are covered for and what terms, conditions and limitations apply to your individual policy.

Have you ever really stopped to think about the total value of what’s stored inside your home, and how much it might cost to replace these items if they were stolen or damaged? There are numerous online replacement value calculators that can help you do the maths, however. Here’s a hint: the Aussie average for value of household items is over $60,0005.

The best way to protect your home against burglary is to be security-conscious, vigilant and adequately insured. Then, cross your fingers….

1. http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/facts/1-20/2013/1_recorded.html
2. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/interactive/2014/jan/19/burglaries-australia-statistics-interactive
3. http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/cfi/161-180/cfi174.html
4. http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/tandi/481-500/tandi489.html
5. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Dec+2011#Contents5