Some home burglaries are undoubtedly crimes of opportunity that were not planned ahead of time. But such burglaries would be an exception to the rule. The most successful burglars, even if they don’t spend weeks or months planning a job, at least take some time to case neighborhoods in order to pick attractive targets.
Knowing this leads to a question: is it possible to tell whether a neighborhood is being cased? Actually, yes. Research data and actual interviews with convicted burglars reveal that they tend to do certain things when scoping out homes.
Below are a number of telltale signs that burglars might be casing your neighborhood. If you notice just one or two and nothing ever comes of it, perhaps it was just a matter of coincidence. Or maybe you dodged a bullet. If you notice more than one or two, chances are your neighborhood is being cased.
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1. Suspicious Cars Driving Slowly
Every neighborhood is visited by strange cars. However, be on the lookout for suspicious cars that are driving through the neighborhood slowly. Be especially wary if you see them drive by your house multiple times. Burglars are known to drive through neighborhoods searching for clues that certain properties may be unoccupied.
The same goes for strangers walking down the street or riding bikes at abnormally low speeds. It is one thing to take a casual stroll or a leisurely bike ride, but it’s another matter entirely to linger while you’re doing either one. A person walking slowly down the street and eyeing every house is suspicious.
2. Strangers Taking Pictures
Hand-in-hand with suspicious cars, cyclists, and pedestrians are strangers stopping to take pictures. You expect a real estate agent to take pictures of a home ready to go on the market. But real estate agents are well-dressed. They also tend to meet with homeowners just before the pictures are taken.
If you see what appears to be a random stranger taking pictures of a neighborhood home, be suspicious. If they take pictures and then immediately walkaway, be even more suspicious. There is no reason for a random stranger to be taking pictures in the neighborhood.
3. Fliers on the Door
Another common tactic is to hit a neighborhood by sticking fake sales fliers in front door handles. Savvy burglars will do this for two or three days in a row just to see who removes the fliers and who doesn’t. Homes with two or three fliers stacked up may be unoccupied.
It is one thing to get a flier from a local restaurant every couple of months. But if the same flier is delivered to your house several days in a row, there is a good chance someone is casing the neighborhood. Perhaps it’s time to alert the neighbors that something may be up.
4. Door-to-Door Interactions
Burglars will sometimes case a neighborhood by going door-to-door posing as sales professionals, contractors, or even utility workers. No one answering the doorbell is an indication of unoccupied house.
Vivint Smart Home, a home automation and security provider that serves customers nationwide, explains that a popular scam run by door-to-door operators is for one person to lure the homeowner outside while the other enters through the back and burglarizes the home.
5. Strangers Looking for Help
An extension of the door-to-door scam is knocking on the door and asking for help. You might have someone who appears to be a utility worker doing something in the neighborhood. If he knocks on your door and asks for a glass of water or to use the bathroom, be very careful. That’s a definite red flag.
Asking for help could be anything from wanting to use the phone to needing a few dollars to fill up an empty gas tank. Unfortunately, we need to be suspicious these days. Complete strangers knocking on your door and asking for help just isn’t the norm. People have cell phones, right? That’s why these types of situations are so unnerving.
6. Strangers Rifling Through the Trash
Another potential sign a neighborhood is being cased is that of strangers rifling through the trash. It is one thing to see scrap collectors driving through neighborhoods looking for discarded appliances, bicycles, and other metal objects. It is something entirely different if someone is looking through the papers in the recycling bin or digging through your trash cans.
Burglars sometimes turn to the trash to try to figure out if a home has anything worth stealing. They look through recycling bins for information they can use to steal a person’s identity.
7. Little Things Out of Place
Some burglars case entire neighborhoods without ever knocking on a door or peeking in a window. Instead, they do little things that seem out of place. The goal is to see if homeowners notice.
For example, a burglar might wander through a neighborhood looking for attractive targets. When a potential target is identified, they drop a golf ball in the yard and continue walking on. The golf ball still being there two or three days later tells them the house is probably unoccupied.
All sorts of little things could point to potential trouble. Maybe you return home and find that your doormat has been flipped upside down. Check with your neighbors. If there seems to be a doormat flipping epidemic in the neighborhood, there’s a good chance that burglars had been through earlier.
8. Burglars Look for Subtle Clues
We tend to think that burglars only recognize obvious clues like stacked up newspapers and no cars in the driveway for days on end. They do notice those things, but burglars are also very adept at looking for subtle clues. Good burglars know what to look for because they are students of human nature.
The best way to thwart burglars who might be casing your neighborhood is to be as observant as they are. Pay attention to everything that goes on. If something seems out of place, don’t just chalk it up to coincidence. Be extra diligent and, if necessary, contact the authorities.