When Mary Smothers was twenty-one she and her husband had no insurance and no security alarm.
They were renting, so she figured there was no need.
But one day she came home with her six-month-old son on her hip to find her home broken into and belongings piled in the living room. The burglars were still there.
She went to a neighbor’s and waited for police.
Too late; their home was cleaned out. The criminals were never apprehended.
A tough test to pass
These days Smothers owns and runs Security Consultant Pros.
One of few women licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Smothers passed the Manager’s TX DPS Private Security exam after working fifteen years in the insurance industry.
The high-tech security systems her company offers — along with her advice below — go a long way to deter burglars.
Where you live
We’re lucky that Lake Travis crime rates are low, at least compared to Austin and other big cities.
But did you know that within every neighborhood certain homes are more likely targets?
“Burglars prefer corner lots,” Smothers says. “They have more possibilities for entry,” not to mention exit and escape.
Who you are
Burglars also target single women and the elderly. But most burglaries happen during regular work or school hours.
This means that break-ins are less likely where people are out and about. Appreciate your nosy neighbors!
No matter where and how you live, though, there are things you can do to cut your risk.
Burglars often study their target’s patterns and vulnerabilities.
Like cockroaches, they seek out dimly lit places to hide—tall shrubs, thick brush, privacy fences, anywhere someone can elude a passing glance.
If you prefer feeling sheltered from the street, consider investing in a security camera system.
No easy entry
Open windows and unlocked doors are obvious no-nos.
And Smothers points out that just about everybody hides a key outside somewhere.
Burglars can watch to see where someone picks it up, but too often it’s easy to figure out where a key is hidden.
Even doggie doors have been used by enterprising burglars. Smothers recalls a rash of burglaries a few years ago when a small child was taught to go through and open the door from inside.
No easy pickings
I’ve had a kayak stolen from the top of my driveway. But it was pretty old and decrepit. For all I know, whoever ran off with it thought it was set out for trash pickup.
More recent property crimes have involved a valuable sculpture taken from a front yard in The Hills and a car stolen from someone’s driveway—the culprit was on foot and the keys were in the car.
Both of those crimes happened in a gated community.
Asked about deterring thefts of outdoor things like the sculpture, Smothers suggests motion sensor lighting. An alarmed pressure sensor or tilt sensor would alert owners and police.
High-quality video surveillance might not have stopped the thieves who stole the sculpture, the car, or the kayak, but it might have led to their apprehension.
Cars and trucks
Along with not leaving your keys in the ignition, Smothers has more advice for drivers. She noticed an unusual burglary trend when handling insurance claims.
Victims are shopping at an upscale shopping center.
If a garage door opener is clipped on the visor, the thief breaks into the vehicle. The registration is in the glove box. You can guess what happens next.
Smothers suggests keeping the garage door opener in your purse or backpack or clip it on your belt instead.
Or choose a system that works using your smartphone, like the 2GIG Go Control system that Security Consultant Pros offers, which can turn a home into a smart home via Alarm.com.
Use the right hardware
One North Austin woman was recently surprised by a would-be burglar as she got out of the shower. She hadn’t heard him ring the doorbell, as burglars often do to be sure nobody’s home.
The guy leaned his back against the door and kicked it hard, splintering it from the frame while keeping his eyes on the street.
Smothers explains how to prevent that kind of thing.
“Most locksets come with short little screws for the strike plate of the deadbolt,” she says. Sure, the deadbolt is locked, but the doorframe itself isn’t secure.
“Throw those little screws away,” Smothers says. “That’s the first thing Security Consultant Pros technicians do when they’re installing locksets.”
They use screws that are three or four inches long that attach the door frame through the strike plate into the stud behind it, making it very difficult to kick in.
Don’t get bumped
Some burglars don’t even bother trying to kick in the door. They can buy a bump key for less than $25 online.
Security Consultant Pros stymies them by installing special deadbolt locks designed to prevent bumping, like Kwikset SmartKey deadbolts with BumpGuard.
Hide your stuff
If burglars do get inside they’re likely to search just a few places, grab what they can, and dash.
“Don’t keep cash, jewelry, and other valuables in the master bedroom, especially the closet,” Smothers says. “The master closet, under the mattress, and in dressers and jewelry boxes are the first places burglars look.”
Electronics are most often stolen from the living room.
And—most surprising—burglars will look in the freezer for things like credit cards and (apologies in advance to pun-haters) cold, hard cash.
Make things difficult
In general, Smothers advises, “burglars will bypass a home if it requires too much effort, is well lit or too exposed or has visible signs of security.” Don’t make it easy.
Minimize the opportunity for cover. Keep doors, windows, and vehicles locked using good-quality hardware. And alert would-be thieves to the presence of alarm systems and cameras.
Just in case
Keep records of your valuables in case you do need to file an insurance claim. Take pictures or video of expensive purchases, including model and serial numbers. You can even snap photos of receipts.
Smartphones make pictures easy, but what if the phone itself is stolen? Email the photos to yourself or upload them to the cloud storage of your choice.
And while losing stuff hurts, it’s good to keep things in perspective. As long as you’re physically safe, things could be worse.
More home safety tips
Security Consultant Pros has a list of 50 home safety and security tips on their website.
“Bottom line,” Smothers says, “You really should be alarmed.”