Lock Up Your Doors

Beware of the barbie burglars

Summer days – time for gardening, mowing the lawn, or a back-garden BBQ. But will you lock the doors of your home? The light-fingered are becoming bolder, slipping in when you're distracted and walking off with the new HD TV you've just bought. AA Insurance offers a few tips to make sure you hang on to what's yours.

Conventional wisdom has it that during a recession the light-fingered get going and the number of homes being burgled goes up. In fact that doesn't seem to be the case right now, with the latest British Crime Survey statistics (for 2008–09) showing a slight fall. But compared with previous years, they do show that burglars are more likely than ever to slip in through an unlocked door or open window to help themselves, right under your nose.

In fact, the latest statistics showed that 59 per cent of burglaries were carried out while someone was at home – a figure that has been steadily increasing over recent years. In 2004–05, for instance, this was the case in 44 per cent of burglaries. And just over half (51 per cent) happened in broad daylight.

Says Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance: "Unfortunately, we often unwittingly make life easy for opportunist thieves. For instance, if you're doing a spot of gardening you may well have left one of your doors unlocked or even open – be honest now! And of course your burglar alarm, if you have one, would be switched off.

"If you're mowing the lawn, say, you're not going to hear anything either – so it could be some time before you discover that your wallet or purse has gone – statistically, those are most likely things to be stolen."

Simon adds: "We've even had reports of homes being burgled while a family BBQ is going on, perhaps with several people in the garden.

"Sometimes – in about 25 per cent of cases – the thieves are seen and they make a quick run for it, but fortunately cases where violence ensues are very rare."

Next most popular after a wallet or purse (stolen in 46 per cent of cases), come TVs and electrical goods such as MP3s, digital cameras and hi-fi equipment (36 per cent). Next come computers (29 per cent) and jewellery (23 per cent). And 8 per cent involve the loss of car keys and the car.

"What links all these items is that they are quick and easy to take – and have some value that can be easily realised by the thief," he says.

However, Simon is keen not to cause unnecessary concern, as burglaries are not as common as most people think and it's easy to take simple steps to foil attempts at breaking in. "Home security is really common sense," he says. "Keep your eyes open and don't leave unattended doors and windows open – particularly if you are just 'popping next door' for a minute."

If you are burgled:

  • Call the police immediately – if the thief is still on the premises, the police should respond much more quickly
  • Don't attempt to tackle a burglar – don't put yourself in danger
  • Don't touch anything or tidy up any mess, as the police will want to check for fingerprints and evidence. But do start to compile a list of things that are obviously missing
  • Call your insurance company to make a claim – give them the crime number that the police will have given you
  • If your wallet or purse has gone, immediately stop your credit, debit and store cards
  • Tell the relevant authorities if your driving licence, passport or other important documents have disappeared
  • Remember that a burglar who may have stolen nothing or very little may have spotted things they might like to take in future. Some 20 per cent of homes are burgled a second time – so review your security arrangements. Make sure that spare house keys haven't been taken – if in doubt, change your locks

Avoid the grief in the first place:

  • Whenever you are out, always lock your windows and doors, and if fitted set your alarm. Don't just pull your front door to – double lock it and use the mortise lock if you have one fitted
  • Keep a record of your valuables, including pictures, and their serial numbers. Mark them with UV pens or similar simple security marks
  • Keep valuables (including documents) in a secure place – ideally a domestic safe or lockable cabinet. Don't leave them in places that thieves are likely to look first – such as the hall table drawer, your dressing table or under the bed. Think of somewhere unusual to keep them
  • If you are in the back garden, make sure the front doors and windows are locked. And keep your side gates or entrances shut and locked. If you open the patio doors, remember to shut them if you go out of sight of them
  • If your dog starts barking, find out what has aroused its interest
  • Be suspicious if you've see a strange car or van driving up and down your street
  • Never, ever leave your car keys on show anywhere in your house – if a burglar takes them the chances are your car will disappear too