2 Securing Your Personal Property
Our author, John Humphries, is a management trainer with over 20 years successful experience in the UK and abroad.
2 SECURING YOUR PERSONAL PROPERTY
Most burglars will be in and out of a house within three minutes.
The opportunist thief will take those items that they can most easily sell. These tend to be TVs, videos, hi-fi systems and cameras. The professional will tend to go for jewellery and valuable ornaments. Although there is little you can do once the thief has broken in, don‘t make it easy for them. Never leave cash, cheque books, credit cards or keys lying about the house. Don‘t keep your most valuable pieces of jewellery in the obvious box on the dressing table. Hide them in the loft, for example, or even under the dirty washing in the laundry basket.
Although the chances of the thief being caught are small, the police do recover large quantities of stolen goods but have great difficulty in tracing the owners. To give yourself a better chance of recovering stolen property, mark them with your post code. There are several methods of marking items including engraving or etching, ultra violet marking and special pens for marking glass, china and other glazed surfaces. Property marking kits are available from most DIY stores.
In addition to marking valuable items such as jewellery, clocks and watches, silver and gold ware, ceramics and antique furniture, take colour photographs of each item and keep them in a safe place. If you own any paintings record the exact size, details of the subject, the medium (oils, watercolours, acrylic), the artist‘s name and a description of the frame.
3 PROTECTING YOUR CAR AND OTHER VEHICLES
Car theft is one of the highest reported crimes in the United Kingdom, one car is stolen every minute (I don‘t know who owns it but they really must be more careful). There are basically four categories of car crime:
- Joyriders – young people, mainly boys, who steal and drive away cars simply for the thrill. These cars are usually recovered but are often badly damaged.
- Car theft – these are usually stolen by opportunist thieves who hope to sell the car either as a whole or in parts. Professionals will steal a car as a ‘getaway’ vehicle for another crime.
- Theft from cars – again usually opportunists who see something of value lying in the car. Forty per cent of car break-ins involve the theft of mobile phones.
- Theft to order – these are professionals who steal specific cars, usually expensive, luxury vehicles and have a ready buyer, often overseas.
There are many ways in which you can reduce the likelihood of your car being stolen or broken into.
- Always remove the ignition key, even when parked in your garage or paying for petrol.
- If you have a garage, use it for its intended purpose, very few cars are stolen from locked garages.
- Never leave valuable items, briefcases, handbags, coats etc on view in your car, lock them in the boot.
- If your car is not fitted with an immobiliser, get one fitted and switch it on each time you park your car.
- Fit and use steering wheel and/or gear locks, they act as deterrents.
- Have the vehicle identification number or registration number visibly etched on all windows, this will act as a deterrent as the thief will have to replace them.
- If possible, remove the radio/cassette/CD player when you park and leave it in the boot. These are among the most regular items stolen from cars.
- When parking, even at home, turn on the car alarm if one is fitted, although their value is open to debate as many people ignore the sound.
- Fit lockable wheel-nuts especially if you have expensive, alloy wheels.
- Tracking devices enable the police to trace stolen vehicles.
- Avoid parking in dark, unlit areas wherever possible.
When at home, keep your bicycles in a locked garage or shed. If you have neither of these, store them in your hallway. Wherever you are, always lock your unattended bicycle with a strong chain and padlock. Lock it to railings or a lamp-post if possible.
To make sure that your caravan cannot be towed away:
- Lock the coupling head into a cover.
- Use lock nuts and a clamp on the wheels.
- You could also have a tracking device fitted.
- Etch all windows with a security number.
To prevent thieves from breaking in:
- Always close all windows, doors and roof lights.
- Fit secure locks to the door and windows.
- Keep all valuables and documents out of sight.
4 LEAVING YOUR HOME UNOCCUPIED
The majority of house break-ins occur when the owners are out.
Don‘t advertise the fact that you are away on holiday or even out at work or shopping. The burglar will look for tell-tale signs which show a house or flat is empty.
There are several steps you can take if you are going to be away for a few days or more:
- Shut and lock all doors and windows.
- Use time switches to turn on lights and other appliances.
- Keep your TV, video etc out of sight.
- Hide jewellery and other valuables in unlikely places, or leave them with a trusted friend.
- Cancel all deliveries of newspapers, milk etc.
Ask a friend or neighbour to make sure that all mail and newspapers are pushed through the letter box. If you have a glass front door, get them to collect your mail as a pile of letters and other post lying on the mat can easily be seen through the door and is a sure sign of your absence. Ask them to keep a general eye on your home whilst you are away and if possible give them a contact phone number. Do not close the curtains as this would not be normal during daylight hours and gives another signal to the burglar.
If you are out for a short time, shopping, visiting friends, working and so on:
- Shut and lock all doors and windows.
- Use time switches if appropriate.
- Avoid notes in milk bottles and similar signs.
- Never leave keys under mats, hanging on string inside the letter box or anywhere else where they could be found by potential thieves.
- Draw the curtains if you are going out for the evening.
On returning home to an empty house:
- Press the door bell or knock on the door. If there is an intruder inside, they will leave quickly to avoid confrontation.
- If there are signs of intrusion when you return, do not enter the house but go to a neighbour or public phone box and contact the police.
- When arriving home by taxi or if a friend drops you off, ask them to wait until you are inside the house.
5 AVOIDING BOGUS CALLERS
Unlike most house breakers, the bogus caller is a professional criminal and has planned his or her intended crime. Such people tend to prey on the elderly as they are generally more vulnerable and trusting.
Fortunately, the majority of callers are genuine but they could be confidence tricksters or thieves, so beware as their purpose is to con you out of money or steal from your home.
Before answering the door, look through a window or spy hole if you have one. If you do not recognise the caller, put the security chain on before opening the door.
There are several types of bogus callers:
These people may or may not wear a uniform and claim to be from the gas, water or electricity board, the council, health authority or a similar organisation. Always ask to see their identity card. If they don‘t have one they will leave very smartly. Take any proffered card and examine it closely. If you are still uncertain, tell them that you will check with their company. Genuine callers will happily accept this. Look up the number in your telephone directory, the one on the card may be that of an accomplice. Only when you are sure of their identity, let them into your home.
Their usual story is that they are working nearby and have noticed that your roof, chimney, gutters or windows need urgent repairs. They will offer to do the job immediately, and quote an inflated price for the work and ask for all or part of the money in advance. If you tell them that you do not have the money with you, they may offer to drive you to your bank or building society to withdraw it for them. They will either disappear or carry out a very cheap and shoddy repair. The best way to deal with these people is to politely thank them for the information, ask them for their card and a written quotation saying that you will obtain other quotes and get back to them. Your chances of seeing them again are zero.
Often posing as antique dealers they will offer to buy your antiques, furniture or jewellery and will offer you what may seem a good price but will be a lot less than its real value. Never let them into your home, simply say that you do not wish to sell anything. If you do want to sell something, ask one or two genuine dealers to value it properly.
Before arranging to see anyone selling insurance, home improvements or similar, check very carefully with their company first. They may seem very plausible as they sit talking to you but they could have an ulterior motive. If they ask to use your toilet which is upstairs, discretely accompany them to make sure that they do not go into any other rooms. They may not take anything there and then but could be casing the place for a future break-in.
If a stranger comes to your door asking for a glass of water or to use your toilet, you would be well advised to politely decline.
Sometimes bogus callers work in pairs. One acts as the ‘distracter’ keeping your attention whilst their colleague steals your property. Never let yourself be pressured by anyone who appears to be in a hurry. If you have any suspicions at all, don‘t let them in. When they have gone call a neighbour or friend to warn them. Do not hesitate to call the police if you believe that the caller had criminal intentions.
It is very unfortunate that we have to treat everyone with suspicion but to be safe, be sure.
6 TAKING PERSONAL PRECAUTIONS
As has already been said, crimes against the person are fortunately comparatively rare. However there are precautions that you can take to reduce even this small risk.
- Walk confidently, a positive manner could deter a potential attacker.
- Keep to well lit, populated places and avoid short cuts through dark, deserted areas as much as possible.
- If you hear footsteps behind you, turn round and face the person, again this could deter any likely attacker.
- Always walk facing the traffic. If a driver stops to talk to you, stay at least an arm‘s length from the vehicle.
- If you carry a personal attack alarm, always have it readily available.
- If you think you are being followed, cross the road or change direction and make for a busy place.
- Should someone snatch your handbag or other property, give it up rather than risk injury.
Using public transport:
- Keep tight hold of any bags or cases you are carrying.
- On buses try to sit near the driver or at least on the lower deck.
- On trains avoid empty compartments or those containing only one or two suspicious looking individuals.
- When waiting on platforms or at bus stops try to keep in well lit areas or near groups of people.
- If there is an incident, inform the driver or another person immediately.
- Use ‘black cabs’ wherever possible.
- When booking a mini-cab, always ask the company for the driver‘s name, call sign and make of car.
- Never accept a lift from a mini-cab touting for business, this is not only illegal but could put you in danger.
- Check that all doors and windows are locked, especially at night.
- Keep your vehicle regularly serviced to reduce breakdowns.
- Never pick up hitch hikers however genuine they may look.
- Have a car phone or mobile phone to summon help in emergencies.
- If you believe you are being followed, drive to the nearest town and look for the police station.
- Beware of anyone who tries to flag you down, is the accident genuine? It may be safer to stay in your car and phone for help.
- If you break down on a motorway and do not have your own phone, walk to the nearest emergency phone to get help, remembering to lock the car before you leave it.
Men can help by taking care not to unintentionally frighten women and can take steps to make them feel safer:
- When walking in the same direction as a woman, do not walk behind her. Cross the road and walk on the other side.
- Do not sit next to a lone woman on a bus or train if possible.
- Be wary about talking to a woman, even if it is just to ask a question or for directions. She will not know your intentions.
- If you wish to offer assistance to a woman in a broken down car, keep your distance from her. Preferably offer to phone for help.
- Help female friends and relatives by giving them lifts or walking with them.