About a year ago, Aberdeen saw a bout of car thefts. Anything from the newest Audi (of which there are plenty in the supposed oil capital of Europe) to the clunkiest Saab was fair game. Some were used for joyriding and dumped in good condition, some were burned to a mere carcass of the beloved possession they used to be.
Not a day went by without Fubar news reporting another stolen car, with its owners desperately looking for answers in the comments.
And what was the main reason for the cars being stolen?
The owner would nip in the house to put away the shopping, whilst some opportunistic delinquent would pop their hand through the unlocked door and swipe the car keys off the bowl in the hallway. Or they’d go around in the dark of the night, trying doors along the street to find the one unlocked one.
Now, you might say that it’s their house; they should be able to leave their doors unlocked without the fear of getting their possessions stolen. And yes, in an ideal world it’s perfectly okay! (have you ever been to a small town where everybody knows each other? There are so many curtains twitching that if a thief somehow managed to enter the town, it’d be old news by the time they’re two steps in.) But the sad reality is that most of us do not live in that ideal world. We live in cities, in urban locations, and in your average town where desperation exists and people result to crime for entertainment.
We could all spend an insurmountable amount of money on home security, but why start with that when there are simple yet effective ways to keep safe? Below I’ve listed just a few key things to do NOW, but feel free to add more in comments!
Some things in life are free
These are some quickfire tips that do not cost you a PENNY to instigate. If it’s free, I love it!
- Lock your doors
DUH! I hear you yell. But apparently, it’s not a given! Your door should always be locked. Taking groceries in? Lock the door. Sitting in your living room watching TV? Lock the door. I’d even go as far as locking the door when taking the bins out. When I can’t see my door, it’s locked. The easiest way to make sure this happens is to have a self-latching lock. You know, a Yale or Abloy. One of those annoying ones that lock as soon as you close the door. But even if you have a bulk-standard 5-lever mortice lock, it’s still doable, you just need to get yourself into the habit.
- Keys in the bowl!
And I’m not talking about the party game here. So you’ve locked your door and it’s all well and good. But people have a tendency to make life easier for themselves, and inadvertently making it easier for burglars as well. How I hear you ask? By leaving the key in the door.
Most locks are not fitted too far away from the post slot on your door. Go on, have a look. Hell, go outside and stick your hand in; can you reach your keys? Because post must be able to get in, there’s very little in the way of a bendy arm and your lock. If you leave your keys hanging on the door, you could just leave the door open. Yes, it’s extra effort, but people do that.
If you have elderly relatives who leave the key in a chain/bit of yarn hanging off the postbox, get them to stop it, NOW! See point five below re spare keys. Having them hang on a bit of yarn will make them so easy to snatch.
- Use social media responsibly
“Four weeks, 3 days, 23 hours to Shagaluf baby!”
How often have you done a countdown to your holiday on Facebook? Uploaded a picture of your poolside cocktails on Instagram?
Next time you’re away, really think about posting this stuff. Not only does concentrating on social media take away from spending time with your friends and family, but when posting stuff like this, you’re screaming “I’m not where my stuff is, can you please take advantage of this?!”
- Hide your valuables
As much as I’d love to have one of those hideaway entertainment units that with a press of a button slips your TV into the depths of a bookcase, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
But I sure as hell ain’t gonna make it easy for anyone to see what they could take. All my jewelry is in boxes, laptops on the shelf below the coffee table and cameras in cupboards. By putting your most precious stuff in front of the window, you’re advertising your goods for stealing.
- Forget the key under the mat
Most common places to hide a spare key? Underneath the doormat, above the doorframe, in a fake rock in the shrubbery…
Have a spare key at your work, with a friend or with a trusted neighbour, don’t just leave it lying around.
- Gang up
Join the coolest gang around the block; the curtain-twitchers. The Neighbourhood Watch [link is Scotland specific but the information carries through]. Having a small group of just regular people trying their best to keep vigilant is proven to reduce crime rates. You can find your friendly local watch here. If there isn’t already a watch working in your area, you can set up your own.
- Hoard the TV boxes
We’ve all been there. We’ve bought that funcy new TV that came in a huge cardboard box that doesn’t fit ANYWHERE. The loft entrance is way too small to even think about shoving it up there and under the bed is full. And realistically, are you actually going to ever need it? Binning it is a huge temptation.
Think twice about just plonking it in or next to the bin though. By leaving it there you’re yet again screaming “I’ve got fancy new stuff”. If you want to bin your boxes, break them up into the smallest pieces you can so you can fit them in the bin, out of sight.
- When you’re away, there’s no time for calls
In more ways than just one. You should be turning off your phone anyway (think about those roaming charges!), but remember how back in the days before everybody had mobile phones we had those big things that attached to walls with a cord and you could take calls on them? Well, if you still have one of those, make sure you unplug it before you leave for a holiday. Nothing says “I’m not here” like a phone that rings non-stop.
- Don’t be a creature of habit
Depending on how nice your house is and the area you live in, burglaries might not be a complete game of chance. It might not be an act of desperation, committed through an open door. Burglars are a lot more clever than that.
If you’ve ever seen Home Alone, you’ll know that burglars will often run surveillance on potential targets. They might not sit out there in an unmarked van with binoculars to peek in, but they’ll be looking for identifying marks.
Always park in the same spot? Always leave the house at the same time? Have a standing appointment on a Wednesday at 7pm? They’ll know. And they’ll take advantage of that.
If you can, try to park in different spots so it becomes that touch more difficult to know when you’re [not] home. Best of all, park in the garage and close the doors.
Try to vary the times you come home from work. Shift work is especially good, but you can try to vary your hometime. Because if there’s a fear that you might be home anytime soon, it reduces the risk of burglary that little bit more.
- Don’t Bring Me A Shrubbery!
Unlike Monty Python, we do NOT like shrubberies. Well, maybe small ones.
The barer your garden is, the better. There’s nowhere to hide and there’s more chance burglars will be seen when attempting to break into your house.
- Be nice to Brenda next door
This isn’t just about being neighbourly, but it’s also about security. If the neighbours know you, they’ll know what is odd and different. They’ll know who looks like they should be visiting you, and they’ll know when something’s just off.
And if you’re friendly, they’re just that one bit more likely to keep a friendly eye out for your house.
- Don’t Beware of Dogs
This is a bit of a two-edged sword. On one hand, having a sign saying people need to be scared because there’s a territorial dog there might deter people from trying to enter without you there.
But at the same time, having that sign could indicate that your security isn’t that great otherwise; aka you rely on your dog as protection too much.
- Don’t give to charity
Those darn charity muggers! I don’t know about you, but in our building, people like to let charity collectors in. They’ll come knock on your door to ask you to donate to various good causes.
In itself, there’s obviously nothing wrong with this. It’s a tad annoying but hey ho, if it brings in donations…
BUT the paranoid person in my head tells me I can’t trust this. How do I know they’re really collecting for charity, rather than checking who’s home or seeing what kind of stuff you have? For us when they come around, the lights are always on but there’s nobody home. Am I right to be paranoid? I say yes. Because one day a few years back I was at home alone, ignoring the charity muggers as I normally do. In fact, I was in the spare room right next to the front door so I could hear every word that was being said. Words like “nobody’s home”, “try the door”, “lights aren’t on”. Saving grace? Locked door. And from thereon, lights are always on.
- Operate a Check-100 policy
When the electricity guy comes to check your meter, do you just let them in? They come in, take the readings and leave, right? What’s the bother?
What if one day it isn’t actually the gas manny? What if it’s just someone who pulled a boiler suit on and goes around checking what’s out there? How do you even know who these people are?
Everyone who wants to have access to your home should either be someone who you know, or someone with official ID. Don’t accept printed bits of paper, or “oh I left it in my van”. No matter their age, sex, what they do, always check their ID. If someone gives you trouble about you insisting that you check it, phone the company in question. In front of them if you have to. Because you have the right to know who you let into your property. The only exception being police officers in uniform with their badge number clearly visible.
Spend a penny…
If you do have some money to spend on security, these are super-cheap ways to kick it up a notch!
- Home Alone your time away on holiday
Remember that bit about Home Alone (the first one) where Kevin was at home alone, realising he was being watched so he turned lights off and on, moving random objects to make it look like his parents were home? Well, you can do that, very easily.
What you do is buy a couple of these babies:
And plug your lights in them. These are timers for your plug sockets. You can set the most convenient times in them, and your items will come on like magic. When you’re away for the weekend or longer holidays, get these set up in advance and it appears as if you’re at home, turning the lights on.
Another great way to pretend you’re home is having a fake TV.
For a tenner, you can set this on a timer, and it emits a light that simulates the glare from a TV. If someone was to glance at your window (curtains closed of course; see next point!), you’re totally in there, watching TV…
- Stop those peeping toms
Some of you love to live your lives out in the open. You have blinds but never close them, and you walk about in the nude, gladly waving your bits for everyone to see. Kudos to you! But it might attract burglars.
No curtains means your goods (more than the ones on your body!) are on show at all times.
No curtains means it’s easy to see when you’re home.
So buy a set. Close them every now and then. Don’t show your stuff for everyone.
- Blue Peter with some Magic Markers
Sometimes, the worst happens and your stuff gets stolen. But when they’re being sold, or when you’re trying to claim it back, how do you know that that particular TV/iPod/tablet is actually yours?
In comes the innocuous UV pen. This is actually one of the first things that I got in the UK. As I moved to the student halls, we all got a little welcome back that included information about the halls, a rape whistle, vouchers to the student bar and a UV pen. It was given so that we could mark our items for easy identification should it get stolen.
Invisible in the day-to-day light, the ink in these pens lights up under a UV light, and reveals anything you need it to. A basic pen is super cheap, but you can also buy a kit with a UV light as well so you can see what you’ve written.
So get writing. Draw up an inventory of valuable goods, and number the items. On the item, write your postcode, house number and item number with the UV pen. You have now made it easier to recover stolen goods.
- Chain me up baby
Burglaries don’t happen just when you’re away, but when you’re at home as well. If you’re bad at remembering to lock the door, or are generally worried about someone forcing their way in when you answer the door, a simple door chain can act as a deterrent.
Don’t get me wrong; these chains are NOT secure enough to stop a burglar from forcing their way in if they really want to. But they know that they’ll need to make an extra effort to do so, and often this is enough.
- Have a good long Screw
This is a bit of a more difficult one, but something everyone should think of.
Have you ever changed the front door at your home? Or maybe one of the inside doors? You’ll see that they’re all attached by a regular hinge, and come standard with some screws. I hate to tell you, but the standard cheap screws are often not enough to keep your door secure if enough force is put behind it, and your door is easily broken in.
This tip is actually from a Facebook post I saw making its way round a few months back. A girl was moving to a new flat, and her father replaced the current screws with longer ones. You could even go as far as buying hinge bolts to make it even more secure.
Just remember to ask your landlord for permission if you’re in a rented flat!
- Be a Dummy
If you can’t afford a proper security system with a subscription to a security company, sometimes it works to just have a dummy alarm set up. Some thieves aren’t stupid, but if we’re talking about the opportunistic type, it might very well be enough to deter them from trying to break in.
- Double-wrap it. No, triple, no, QUADRUPLE it!
Imagine unlocking your doors, but no matter what you do, you just can’t get in? You’re standing there, turning the key this way and that, but nothing ever works out the way it should.
Well, now imagine that someone has got hold of your keys and for some reason know where you live. You’ve locked your door, but what is there to stop them from entering now? Absolutely nothing.
Imagine you have four locks. Seems secure enough, right? But if they have the keys, they’ll be able to get in easily?
But… If you buy the same kind of lock with keys that look exactly the same. You can colour-code the keys so that you know which lock they go to, but nobody else does. This’ll buy you some time.
Now imagine that out of the four locks you have, you lock…. Two. Any two. You’ve got locks 1-4, and you lock 1 and 3.
Whoever has your keys will assume that all four locks are locked. And they’ll turn the key in each one of them. They turn the key in lock 1, unlocking it. They turn the key in lock 2, locking it. They turn the key in lock 3, unlocking it and in lock 4, locking it. They’ve done all four locks now, and how many are unlocked? Two. How many are locked? Two.
This is a bit of an overshoot, and there is the argument that if the burglar-to-be is in full state of mind, they can FEEL the lock being actually unlocked in the first place. But it’s just such a hilarious thought to think that as they’re struggling along, they’re always locking two locks…
- Ahhhh Yess
So you’ve done everything you can, but still someone managed to get in. No matter how few possessions you have, it’s still important to have insurance! Think of all the little bits and bobs that you have. If they were all taken or destroyed, would you be able to easily start over? If your clothes were ruined, would you be able to buy another wardrobe?
Nothing will ever replace memories lost (so back all your files up to an external cloud!), but with insurance, at least you won’t be starting from a complete point zero.
So that’s a “quick” run-through of cheap or free ways to keep yourself secure. You can also check the Police recommendations. What are your tips?