Former jewel thief reveals his secrets

A man’s home might be his castle, but few homes have moats and battlements. If a burglar wants to break in, he probably can—and in tough economic times, a burglar is more likely to do so.

Fortunately, most burglars are lazy and fearful. They target the homes that look like they will be the easiest to rob with the lowest risk of capture. Your home does not need to be impregnable—it simply needs to be less appealing to burglars than others in your neighborhood.

How to reduce the odds that your home will be targeted—or send the would-be burglar running if it is…

Keep your garage door closed as much as possible. Leaving the garage door open when you go out tells all who pass that there’s no car inside and it is likely that no one is at home.

Open garages also provide convenient cover for burglars. They can simply walk or drive into the garage, shut the door behind them, then force open the door connecting the garage to the home without worry that they will be seen.

Regularly leaving your garage door open when you are home and there is a car parked in the garage is a bad idea, too. A burglar might figure out that your garage door tends to be closed only when no one is home.

Of course, if you have expensive bikes or yard equipment in your open garage, you’re inviting burglars to walk right in and take them.

Stay out of the obits. The newspaper obituary page offers burglars a handy guide to which homes are going to be vacant when. Burglars simply wait until the time and date listed for a funeral or memorial service, then break into the homes of the local residents mentioned among the relatives of the deceased.

If you provide an obituary for a family member to a local paper, either do not list survivors or do not mention when the memorial service will be held. Instead, provide a contact phone number for those who wish to attend.

Post a “Beware of Dog” sign. Dogs bark and bite, which makes them effective burglar deterrents. Even if you do not own a dog, a sign warning that you do could encourage a burglar to target a different home. You also could attach a dog’s chain to a stake in your yard to add to the illusion.

If you buy a dog to scare off burglars, favor a small, “yippy” dog over a big one. Most little dogs bark incessantly when strangers approach their homes. Big dogs might bark a few times, but unless they are trained as guard dogs, they’re less likely to keep it up.

Leave a sandbox, tricycle or other outdoor toys in your yard even if you don’t have young kids. Most burglars prefer to stay away from homes that have young children. These homes are less likely to be vacant than others—a stay-at-home parent might be inside during working hours, and families with young kids are less likely to go out at night.

Find a cheap used tricycle or sandbox at a garage sale so that you can leave it outside without worrying that it will be stolen. Leave toys on your lawn even when you go on vacation. Most families take children’s toys inside before heading out of town, so leaving them out creates the impression that the home is not vacant.

Post a “video surveillance” or “you are being videotaped” sign on the front gate or elsewhere around your home. Burglars fear being photographed even more than they fear alarm systems. They have time to flee if an alarm sounds, but there might not be much they can do once their image is caught on tape.

Putting up inexpensive, fake video cameras in conspicuous locations around your home improves the illusion. Fake cameras are available in home stores or on Web sites, such as, for $10 to $20 apiece, sometimes less.

Remove thick hedges and privacy fences. Burglars love to break into homes with doors or windows that are not visible from the road and from neighboring homes. They can take their time breaking into these homes without fear that they will be seen.

If a high hedge or fence around your home provides potential cover for burglars, replace the hedge with plants no taller than knee-height… and replace the fence with a lower fence, a chain-link fence or a wood fence that has spaces between the slats.

Don’t let mail or newspapers pile up when you are on vacation. This makes it easy for burglars to see that the home is vacant. Unfortunately, stopping delivery informs newspaper deliverymen and other strangers that you will be away. It is better to ask a trusted neighbor to collect your mail and newspapers for you.

Also, be sure to have someone mow your lawn in the summer or shovel your walk if it snows in the winter.

Use lights and radios to make it seem that someone is home. Homes that are completely dark before bedtime are obvious targets for burglars. Timers, available for a few dollars at home stores and hardware stores, are a reasonably effective solution.

Also, leave a radio on and tuned to a talk station when you’re away so that anyone who approaches the home will think someone is inside.

Install motion-activated floodlights on every side of your home, not just over the driveway and front door. Bright lights scare away most burglars.


The master bedroom is the first place that all burglars search. Valuables stored there are likely to be found even if they are well-­hidden. The main living area of the home also is likely to be well-searched.

Least likely to be searched are young children’s rooms…­garages…unfinished basements…and the space above hung ceiling panels.

I would not recommend installing a safe. Home safes consolidate the family’s valuables in one place, which makes them easier to steal. If the burglar lacks the know-how to crack your safe, he might take the whole safe with him…or wait for you to return and force you to open the safe, turning a bad situation into a dangerous one.

One potentially effective strategy is to set up your home so that it convinces the burglar that he has found your valuables before he actually has. Hide your most precious possessions in a room unlikely to be targeted, but leave a few less important “valuables” in a location a burglar is likely to search, such as a drawer in the master bedroom. These “valuables” might include a stack of small bills with a $20 bill on top…a few credit cards that are expired or cancelled…a broken but impressive-looking camera…or some costume jewelry that looks more ­precious than it is.

For maximum security, rent a bank safe-deposit box. Banks always are more secure than any location in the home.