Why is One House Broken into Over Another?

TASA ID: 10544

Within the world of personal, individual or family security, there are many activities that take place each week that appear to be normal daily operations, but in fact expose us to loss of property, information and overall security.  Many individuals engaging in illegal activities look for the easy mark or soft targets and will most likely take the path of least resistance.  Below is our discussion of areas in our personal lives where we can recognize the opportunities provided and work to divert the criminal further down the path of least resistance.

It is family vacation time and everything is set in motion, with one of the last tasks many times being what to do with the family pets.  In more and more cities throughout the United States, businesses are opening up that offer to come by your house and look after your pets.  These services have individuals who will come by your house to let the dogs out, feed the cats, check on their welfare, etc.  The main problem with the security aspect of this service is that many companies operate vehicles with their business name and operational details written across the vehicle.  With names like, “While You Are Away” or “Pet Services,” they can provide further advertisement while en-route to your residence that you are away.  A prime example is the common problem of “Porch Pirates” who follow UPS, FedEx or other delivery trucks and steal packages just after they are delivered to your home.  Never underestimate how enterprising criminals will be.  The security issue with companies that provide pet services is when these vehicles park in your driveway several times a day to check on Fido.  Your neighbors and anyone driving by your house and seeing these service vehicles knows that no one is home. 

Another example is that the family (including your teenagers) are so excited about your upcoming vacation trip that they have been discussing this information with their friends on social media.  Any person your child has “friended” knows when the family vacation is taking place and is also informed on the exact dates of travel.  Normally, this type of discussion is harmless information shared only with very close friends of your child, but an important aspect with many social media sites is the goal to collect as many “friends” or “followers” as possible.  At times, individuals who are not close and trusted friends have access to social media discussions.  Their reason for wanting to know when your family is going on vacation has a much different purpose – many times to make you a victim of a crime.   

A part of your vacation plans should include to cancel or suspend newspaper or mail delivery for the time-frame you will be away from your home.  This is a quality service provided, but it will not stop the community/free newspapers or coupons for take-out that arrive in your driveway a couple of times per week.  These are newspapers or coupons that you do not subscribe to, but instead community information papers and flyers that operate off of advertising income.  They are delivered to each driveway in the community, with no way to stop or suspend delivery.  A good idea is to coordinate with a neighbor to remove these newspapers or fliers from your porch or driveway during your absence.  

Could the break in a routine from weekly neighborhood activity be the catalyst for a break-in?Week after week, houses lined all along the street have trash cans and/or recycle cans go to the curb – trash on one day and recycling on another day.Would a break in this routine alert a passerby the residents at a specific location are gone?If a neighbor is picking up the newspapers in the driveway during a vacation, it’s a good idea to have the refuse cans brought to the curb on the proper day of the week and then returned after trash/recycling service.

When you’re on vacation, the number of vehicles parked in your driveway or in front of your house could be a signal for potential thieves that the house is empty for a few days.  Many times on the summer family vacation, the adult children or college students will drive home and park their cars in the driveway or on the street in front of the house.  Other relatives might drive to a central house and park their vehicles, also.  After everyone arrives, they are all loaded into a larger vehicle (many times a rental car) or take a cab to the airport.  While on vacation, this leaves an unusual number of vehicles in front of a residence that normally has an empty driveway from eight am until five pm each weekday.  Before and after regular working hours, one or two cars is most likely routine in the driveway.  A break in this routine could signal no one is home and that a family vacation is taking place. 

A Global Positioning (GPS) Device is a great tool for finding your way around town. These devices also offer a service of providing directions and calculating a road map from your current location and then back to your house.  It is called the “Find Home” option.”  If your car is broken into and it has an “after-market” GPS device, the thief knows you are not home.  All they have to do is select the “Find Home” option and follow the directions to your home.  To avoid this potential problem with an “after-market” GPS device, set your home address as a business, store, church, etc. that is in your neighborhood or general location where you can easily find your house.  Many of us now have a GPS App on our cell phone and keep our phone with us at all times.  This is a great practice; however, in the glove compartment of your car is your vehicle registration and insurance documentation.  On each of these documents is your home address.  Again, the thief knows you are not home.  To prevent security threats like these, keep these documents with you or stored electronically on your smart phone.  Another vehicle security tip that is a good idea is to not leave your garage door opener in your vehicle, especially if there is address documentation inside the car.   If your car is broken into while it is parked in your driveway, once the criminal gets inside your garage, you will more than likely have all the tools he/she will need to break into your house through your garage – in the privacy of your garage without the risk of being seen by an observant neighbor. 

There are different ways to receive a letter or package.  Unfortunately, you do not always know when an item will be delivered to your door or mailbox.  Consider the feature offered by UPS, FedEx or other carriers to notify you when a package or letter will be delivered.  Though the postal service, if a letter requires a signature and you are not home, they will leave a card for you to sign and leave or provide information where the item can be picked up.  What they are actually leaving is a calling card stating you are not home.  This is also true for package delivery and other documents through the big delivery services when a signature is required.  The items are left at your front door or a tag is left for you to sign for delivery on another day.  These companies will also leave the notification tag informing the resident the item in question was left with a neighbor.  A good service, but the door tag says “I am not home.”  A package by the door also states, “I am not home.” 

Sometimes, residents will post a sign on or around their front door stating “No Solicitors.”  This is a great idea to avoid knocks at the door in an effort to sell items you may or may not desire.  The laws vary from state to state on what constitutes solicitation.  Does it require a knock and an overt effort to sell a product?   What about the new restaurant that opens in the neighborhood and has people going through the community leaving a coupon filled door hanger on your front door?  What about a person with coupons that knocks on doors and hands the coupons to whoever answers the door?  If these individuals knock on your door and no one answers, that is an invitation to break-in.  Would a “No Solicitors” sign be a deterrent and help make a potential thief choose a different house to break into? Possibly.

We all remember the part in the movie, “Home Alone” where the Joe Pesci character has the Christmas lights at an individual house timed to the minute.  It was impressive.  Many people still use timers to turn lights on and off while they are away on vacation.  Unfortunately, some of these timers have a pattern that is easy to learn.  Instead of using the standard mechanical, electrical timer, it’s a good idea to spend a little more money and invest in a digital timer that can be set at random intervals to break a set pattern of lights coming on and going off.  You can also set your “smart devices” to control the lights in or around your home and turn lights or a radio on at certain times.  Your home can be monitored for fire, environmental emergencies and other situations.  If your security system has cameras as a component, you can monitor the interior and exterior of your home from a remote location.  Many systems have the capability of alerting your smart phone if movement is detected in a designated area either outside or inside your home.  Additionally, never underestimate that value of a sign placed in the front and back of your home that your house has a security system or is monitored by cameras.  This signage can also be a deterrent to would-be criminals and steer them to a different or “softer” target.

Parking areas or driveways many times are vulnerable locations because when we are outside our home or in another familiar area, we let our guard down because we “feel” safe.  How safe is where you park your car as compared to others in the area?   Do you have hiding spots on your property or large bushes that may provide concealment for a criminal?  What about natural surveillance?  Can neighbors or someone passing by see if you need help?  Do you have adequate lighting on your property – especially at the doors?  Are you aware that there are actually set recommendations for how much light should be in different areas?  These recommendations are given by lighting designers, engineers, architects, and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and they can help you determine the appropriate kind of lighting and the right number of lights to use in different areas.  IESNA operates under American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved procedures whose goals are to inform the public of best practices for using lighting for both visual and aesthetic needs.  Lighting professionals communicate how much light should be used in “lux” or “foot-candle” recommendations.  Both of these are measurements for how much light falls on a surface.  Lux means lumens per square meter, and foot-candles means lumens per square foot.  Lumens are a measurement that describes the amount of light produced from a light source.[1]

Another best practice in the security industry includes the CPTED concepts of landscaping.  Landscaping is an important element that can be used to define semi-private and private space within an area.  For example, a sidewalk in front of your home may be considered semi-private space, but if someone walks around or through a row of ornamental bushes and into your flower garden, they have entered private space.   It is recommended that the height of bushes be no higher than three (3) feet, but we have recently read that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends the height of bushes to be 18 inches.  Tree branches should be trimmed to seven (7) and eight (8) feet* off the ground to provide for natural surveillance of an area to enhance safety.  You want to be able to detect intruders and not allow them a hiding spot.  When you plant trees and bushes, be sure to take into consideration the maintenance that will be required to keep vegetation trimmed to recommended *eight (8) feet clearance levels is also recommended by ASIS Physical Security Principles Book, 2015, p. 214. Your safety and security are important concerns.  If you have lawn and patio furniture, it should be vandal-resistant and if benches are used, they should be designed so that individuals can’t sleep on them.  Your landscaping, if properly laid out can also be a deterrent and prevent criminal opportunity.

There are some common-sense methods that can be used to help keep your family safe, but it’s critical that quality door and window locks (that are used and operational) are utilized.  Many times, families install elaborate security systems, but fail to lock windows and doors when they are not home.  A large percentage of home burglaries occur because doors and windows were not locked and a criminal had easy access.  Home security is about “hardening your targets so that would-be criminals choose a “softer” target that does not have security measures in place.  It’s better to deter a crime from happening instead of “picking up the pieces” after a crime occurs.

Home security should be designed to keep your family and your property safe.  It is important that you teach your family to be “situationally aware” so they will observe if something or someone appears suspicious or out of place.  Be a good neighbor.  The “If You See Something, Say Something” initiative through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is an excellent program where informal surveillance can be a deterrent or crime reporting tool.[2]

These same principles can be applied to other soft targets such as hotels, hospitals and office parks.  Many times, soft targets unknowingly create opportunities for crime to be committed. The secret to reduce crime is to reduce criminal opportunity.

It’s better to be safe rather than sorry.


TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author (TASA Id#: 10544). Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.


Lawrence J. Fennelly, CPOI, CSSI                                                 Copyright © 2021 by Fennelly and Perry

Marianna A. Perry, M.S., CPP, CPOI                                                                                All rights reserved.

[1] How many lights do I need?  Retrieved on April 1, 2021 from:  https://www.superbrightleds.com/blog/residential-recommended-lighting-levels/6548/


[2] If you see something, say something.  Retrieved on April 1, 2021 from:  https://www.dhs.gov/see-something-say-something


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