Monday 28 December 2009


Protecting your home when you are away

One of the greatest fears homeowners have while they are away on their vacation, is that someone will break into their unprotected homes. The smart thing to do is to take precautions before going on your trip so that your mind will be at ease while you are away from your home.

A burglar will prefer to enter your home when you are away so he will look for signs that clearly tell him that you are on vacation. And for many, these tell-tale signs are so obvious, one is forced to wonder if some of the victims are actually asking to be burglarized.

The first and obvious sign of an unoccupied house is the pile of daily newspapers piling up at the front door. Cancel your subscription until you return.

The second sign burglars look for is no lights on after dark. You can get a timer that is cheap and relatively easy to operate.

The third mistake that vacationers make is to leave their
drapes, curtain and blinds open. It doesn't take long for a burglar to realize that if he can't see anyone inside the house moving about, the house is unoccupied.

The fourth mistake vacationers make, especially in the winter, is to leave their car outside on their driveway. When the snow piles up on the roof of the car and there are no fresh tire tracks, it becomes quite obvious that the owner of the car isn't around to use it. Park it in a neighbour's driveway. When the burglar sees no tire tracks, he may assume that the owner doesn't have a car.

The fifth mistake commonly made is brought about by people who don't have a slot in their door for their mail. Don't let your mail pile up outside in your mailbox. Arrange for the mail to be picked up at the post office or have a neighbour pick it up at your house and look after it for you.

The sixth mistake made is by not having a neighbour walk to your front door every day it snows. A walkway devoid of footprints is an obvious sign of somebody being on a vacation. This precaution would also mean that your neighbour can removed the advertisments that are left at your door--another telltale sign of an empty house.

The seventh mistake is to call the phone company and have them temporarily disconnect the phone. A burglar who suspects that a house is unoccupied can look up directories that show who lives in what houses and then phone their numbers. If a recording comes on saying that the phone is temporarily disconnected, the burglar will know why. Also, if the phone constantly rings all the time, he will also know that no-one is home. Take the phone off the hook use a small phone lock which will prevent a burglar from dialing long distance.

Burglars have an eighth way of determining if a homeowner is on vacation. If he finds that the homeowner's garbage can is always empty, he will know why. Ask your neighbour to dump some of his garbage in your trash can.

Not many of us are so high in society that when we go on vacation, the newspapers tell about it but if you are going on vacation, for God's sake, don't advertise this so blatantly. Many burglars read the society columns for just that kind of tip.

If you have a Neighbourhood Watch programme in effect in your neighbourhood, let them know that you will be away.

How to spot a suspicious person around your house.

Burglars generally 'case' a house before deciding whether or not they want to break into it. The exception are those burglars who simply knock on doors and if no-one answers, they break into it. But burglars don't 'case' houses by standing in front of them. That would make them very suspect. There are a number of ways that they can 'case' a house.

One way, which does make it very hard to detect, is to periodically drive by a house to see if anyone is home. When I was a private investigator and had to park on a street for long periods of time, I was amazed at how many people would call the police to complain that a suspicious looking car was parked on the street. That's why burglars don't park on the streets for very long. If you are out for a stroll and you see someone parked in a car for some time, call the police. He may be casing a house or the area. If, however, a motorist parks in front of a house and after awhile, he gets out and begins tinkering with the engine,you know something's wrong and it isn't the engine.

If the burglar doesn't have a car, he will stroll back and forth. Now some people stroll on streets and that is quite legitimate but if you don't know the particular person and he appears to be slowing down every time he passes a certain house, call the police.

One of the ploys of burglars is to pretend that they are looking for a friend in one of the houses on the street. Such a burglar will actually be knocking on your door to see if you are home. If you are and you are approached in this manner, ask a specific question, like, "What makes you think he lives in this house?" If the person is legitimately looking for a friend in one of the houses, he will give a very valid reason in hopes that you will know something that will assist him. If his answer is vague, watch him after he leaves to see what he does further down the street. If you are suspicious, call the police.

Burglars often pretend that they are salesmen. Ask for some identification. Almost all salesmen carry identification. If one who comes to your home doesn't carry any, tell him to be on his way and then call the firm he claims he's from. If they never heard of him or the firm doesn't exisit, call the police.

A very common ploy, usually done by two women, is for them to pretend that they are salespersons and then one pretends that she has to go to the bathroom. The unsuspecting victim then invites the two women in and while the one is upstairs (supposibly going to the bathroom) but actually stealing from the bedrooms, the one downstairs is keeping the victim occupied with small talk. If you suspect that this might be happening to you, invite the chatty one upstairs to look at your pictures or whatever and that way you have some control as to what is going on in your house.

If someone comes to your door and asks to use your phone, don't invite him or her in-especially if you are alone. Ask them what number they want dialed and what message you can give. A legitimate person in need will understand your caution.

Most workmen would never dream of stealing from you but if they must use your bathroom, show them where it is and begin dusting the pictures in the hallway next to the bathroom. It's better to be extra cautious than sorry.

Where to and not to hide your valuables

I never ceased to be amazed as to how sloppy homeowners are when it comes to hiding their valuables. Many, if not the majority, don't even hide them. They leave them strewn around the house like toys in a child's bedroom.

Can you believe it? Some people leave thousands of dollars of jewelry in fancy jewel boxes which are then placed right on top of the dresser.

The first place a burglar will look for your valuables is the master bedroom. And after a quick look on the dresser and night tables, they will open the drawers of the night tables and then the dresser drawers. So if you want your valuables stolen, place them on the night tables or the dresser or in their drawers. You won't be surprised then when you return home and find them missing.

Don't hide you valuables under your mattress. It's one of the first places a burglar will look.

If you want your silverware stolen, place them in the drawer below the china cabinet. My wife and I hid our expensive silverware somewhere else in the house and when a thief (actually he was one of our tenants) opened the drawer under the china cabinet, all he got was some cheap flatware. Of course there isn't much you can do about the tea set or other silver but a least the silverware will be safe.

Many people hide their valuables in the refrigerator. Any burglar who is experienced knows that that is where he will find valuables.

Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn't leave valuables in your clothes, especially when they are draped over a chair. A night burglar will go for them first.

Sterios are very popular with burglars because they are easy to sell, or they want them for themselves and they are easy to take out of a house. If you have a very expensive set, have it marked. Don't use invisible marking alone. It won't deter the burglar if he doesn't know you have marked the sterio with it.

Scratch your social insurance number or your name into the side or back of it. It may be disfiguring but most burglars, unless totally amateurish, will pass it by if it's marked that much.

Video equiptment, such as VCRs, camcorders, tape recorders, cameras and binoculars are next. With the exception of the TV and the VCR, the rest of this equiptment should be hidden. There are plenty of places to hide these valuables and plain cardboard boxes with clothes on top and in the basement are generally safe enough.

Don't put valuables in your shoes. In a study conducted on burglars in prison, forty percent said that they would look in the shoes.

Don't leave valuables in the clothes in your closet. As much as thirty-five percent of those burglars polled said that they would search the clothes hanging in closets.

I'm not going to publish my advice as to where you should hide your valuables in your home because such advice only educates burglars. It is suffice to say that there are quite a few out-of-the-way places that you can store your valuables in and as long as you keep them out of the obvious locations, they are relatively safe. And for God's sake, don't forget where they are.

Picking a safe apartment building to live in

One would think that it is safer to live in apartment buildings than it is in houses but this is not so. In September 1988, a number of tenants stood outside a Toronto apartment while a woman was being murdered inside and despite her screams for help, not one of her neighbours called the police. For this reason, and others, you must keep in mind that living in apartment buildings is more hazardous and therefore you should take greater precautions when choosing such a building for your home.

Unfortunately many citizens are forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to live in substandard apartments. But if it is possible for you to choose a better type of apartment, look for these faults.

1. Don't move into a building that always has its front and rear doors open or have no locks or the locks are broken. Anyone can get in and that incudes muggers, drug pushers and other riffraff.

2. Lights are very important in buildings and yet one constantly sees buildings that have hallways half lit, or elevators with very dim lights. The muggers and rapists love these little dark places, thanks to the lazy superintendents who would rather watch TV then get off their royal butts and replace burnt out lightbulbs.

3. If you like being molested and insulted when you enter your apartment building, look for buildings that use the lobby as a general meeting place where all the young thugs in the building and neighbourhood like to gather.

4. If you have difficulty locating the superintendent of a building, don't move in. When you need him, you won't be able to find him. Many good superintendents will leave a note on their door as to which apartment they are in when they are doing repairs. That's a good sign of a good superintendent and a good building.

5. If the superintendent doesn't live in your building, you shouldn't either. He may live in the next building but when you suspect something is wrong, he may not want to leave the comfort of his favorite chair in front of his TV to get dressed for the cold and wintery crossing of the street just to listen to you relate your fears to him. You will be on your own.

6. One of the worst places to be in at any time of the day or night is the underground garage of an apartment building. Many persons are raped, mugged and murdered in these dark and dingy places. Ask to see where your car will be parked before you move in. If it's half a block away from the inside entrance, (and in some apartment complexes this is possible) and the lights are dim, I suggest you find another building to move into.

7. Peepholes in a door are extremely useful when someone is knocking on your door. If the owners of the building won't permit you to have one, then use a door chain lock so that when you open the door to see who is there, a mugger or worse can't force himself into your apartment. If the building owners won't permit you to install one or the other, I suggest you choose another building that will.

8. Many buildings are in risk areas and have poor outside lighting where the cars are parked and also at the outside rear entrances. Don't choose these buildings to live in.

How to live in safety in your apartment building

When I was in the city of Caracas, Venezuela in 1980, I was amazed to see the entrances of many apartment buildings manned by security guards armed with machine guns. Some of the buildings even had gun turrets at the entrances. In Canada, in the most secure of apartment buildings all you will see is an unarmed security guard manning a series of TV consoles.

Alas, living in apartment buildings is considerably more risky than in a house so greater precautions must be undertaken to protect yourself and your family and of course everything in your apartment.

Make sure that the lock on your apartment door is a deadbolt lock. If it isn't, change it and give a copy of your key to the superintendent. If the light near your door is out in the hallway, have it replaced immediately. And be very careful if your door is recessed more than 18 inches into the wall of the hallway. Muggers like these recesses because they can spring at you before you are even aware that they are there.

Avoid renting or purchasing an apartment at street level. These apartments are easily accessible and most if not all of them have no lighting outside the windows. Aside from suffering from a lack of privacy, such apartments can be broken into, especially if the windows are hidden by shrubbery.

If you are getting into an elevator and you don't want some seedy person getting off at the same floor you live on, wait until he pushes the button of his floor before you push the button for yours. If his floor is different than yours, and he gets off when you do, go to the first apartment next to the elevator and knock on the door. It's not likely he'll hang around. If he gets off on your floor, walk slowly in the opposite direction he is going and wait and see if he's going to enter an apartment. If he's merely knocking on a door and no-one opens it, then go to the elevator and go back to the main level and speak to the superintendent about your concerns. Whatever you do, don't go down or up the stairs. Many people have been raped and murdered on the stairs and landings of apartment buildings.

One of the problems facing tenants is the matter of letting someone in the building on their own key. We have a tendency to be kind to one another and open the door and hold it open for someone who appears not to have a key. They will probably be legitimate tenants or visitors but there is a risk of letting in a rapist, or murderer. I can only suggest that you play that one by ear. If they are hanging around the door when you approach it, I wouldn't let them in. I remember picking my wife up from her friend's apartment building and the intercom system wasn't working. I followed an older man through the main doorway of the building and he tried to close the door in my face, and at the same time saying, "You can't come in with my key." He never made that mistake again with me, I assure you. If you are going to close the door in someone's face, you had better be sure that he or she doesn't have a right to be in the building because if you are wrong, you will probably feel the pain for days afterwards. Closing a door in someone's face when that person has a right to be in the building is an assault and if you are not charged, you may end up getting a beating.

If you are a woman, only place your initials before your last name on the name board in the entrance for obvious reasons.

Remember that common sense is what keeps you safe. Never let your guard down and if you are vigilant, you will probably be safe in your home.

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