Most burglaries this winter will happen while people are at home

Neither hibernation nor lockdown mean we’re safe from thieves, insurers warn. Here are some timely tips 

Kara Gammell
Tuesday 27 October 2020 14:04 GMT
Most burglaries are opportunistic so make sure your property is secure
Most burglaries are opportunistic so make sure your property is secure

The coronavirus crisis may mean that most of us have been staying indoors more than ever before, but the lockdown has not stopped burglars targeting properties – whether we’re at home or not.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 64 per cent of burglaries in England and Wales occurred while residents were on the premises. 

This might sound hard to believe, but separate research from insurer Aviva backs up the idea that we let our guard down when we are at home. More than a quarter of us don’t lock our doors if we’re inside while nearly half leave windows unlocked in unoccupied rooms.

Somewhat bizarrely, a fifth of those who haven’t ever been burgled don’t lock their doors while at home, yet more than a third of people who have been burgled are willing to take the risk.

“Most burglaries are opportunistic, so if a door or window is left unlocked someone can be in and out of a house in just a few seconds,” says Sarah Applegate, a spokesperson at Aviva.

“If we’re at home but on another floor or in another room, we may not even be aware of an intruder, until it’s too late.”

Add to this the clocks going back last weekend and the combination of darker nights during fireworks season present an opportunity that is too good for criminals to resist, and claims history shows that home thefts tend to rise by more than a third at this time of year.

“With the long, light days of summer just behind us, many of us may have fallen out of daily habits like checking windows and doors are locked at night and before going out,” says Tim Downes, senior claims manager at Lloyds Bank Home Insurance.

“However, as the clocks change and the nights draw in, unlocked windows and doors can provide the perfect opportunity for a burglar to come in.

“Even if you’re just nipping to the shops, it’s easy for a robber to take advantage of the cover of darkness or an open window to gain entry into your house. Taking the right precautions means that homeowners can rest easier, knowing their properties are protected.”

Lockdown has also led to an increase in the number of bikes being stolen as more people turn their back on public transport.

According to Admiral Home Insurance data, there has been a 46 per cent increase in claims for bicycle theft compared to the same period last year.

Thieves are looking for easier targets, and the rise of budding cycling enthusiasts around the country might be the opportunity they’re looking for,” says David Fowkes, head of household underwriting at the insurer.

“With people being encouraged to avoid public transport where they can, we expect to see a second surge in bike purchases and, consequently, bike thefts.”

How to stay protected 

Simple tasks like locking doors and windows on both homes and outbuildings can significantly reduce the risk of being burgled. Here are other ways that you can protect your property – and yourself.

Don’t advertise your home online: remove your property listing from online property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla because thieves use these sites as an effective “casing” resource due to the plethora of photos, floor plans and satellite images available with just a few flicks of the finger.

It’s worth noting that, even if your home is not for sale, you could be at risk. If the property was sold in the past decade, there’s a good chance it would have appeared online – and the images will still be in the public domain.

An easy way to sort this out is to search for your address online, then email the site directly to request that the images of your home be removed from any archived posts.

 Tidy up your tech: more people working from home is likely to mean more laptops, recording equipment and smartphones on the premises. When you’re not using your tech devices, put them away out of sight, in a place which isn’t easily accessible.

Be careful when answering your door: if you’re unsure about opening your door, trust your instincts because in 7 per cent of cases where a burglar entered a dwelling, they pushed past an occupant to access the property, according to the latest ONS crime stats. Fit a spyhole, safety chain or video doorbell because these can help you to see who’s at your door.

Don’t make it easy: never leave a spare key concealed anywhere near the front door because thieves know all the hiding places. Similarly, prevent letterbox burglaries by storing keys away from the front door.

Leave a light on: it may sound obvious, but a building that presents itself as unoccupied and insecure is far more likely to be targeted than one which is properly secured. So if you are going out after dark, or even just going to bed early, draw the curtains, leave some lights on and a radio playing to fool potential thieves.

Protect the perimeter: keep hedges and walls at the front of your house low (less than 1m), so burglars have nowhere to hide, and ensure that those at side and rear boundaries are high enough (more than 1.8m) to make ascending them difficult. Go one step further and add a trellis or spiky defensive planting to keep unwanted visitors out of your garden.

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