Former Burglars Are Sharing Their Wildest Secrets For How To Avoid Getting Robbed, And It’s Fascinating

A few times on Reddit, some former burglars (and some victims of burglary) have come forward to give advice on preventing theft. Here are some of their tips:

Note: None of these tips are completely foolproof. They're just based on people's own experiences with theft.

1."Don't leave liquid valuables (cash or jewelry) sitting in the open. There were plenty of times I simply smashed a window, reached in, grabbed $20-$30, and ran off. Sad, but true, that a crook is willing to break a $100 window to steal $20."


Man looking in a window
20th Century Fox

"Don't leave things out that people can see from outside your home or car. If you buy a new TV or computer, break down the box it came in. Don't just leave it by your garbage bin. Lock doors and windows. Keep your handbag close and closed.

"If someone wants to break in, they will. Don't keep everything out in the open. And have insurance on anything that is valuable."


2."Any safe that's not bolted down and is small enough for one or two people to carry isn't safe at all.

"Also, my ex's grandfather had a safe stolen from his home that was bolted down — the thieves wrapped a chain around it and ran it out the window to a truck. Took the safe straight through the wall.

"All they had to do was follow the drag marks, though...but still."


Fridge full of jewelry
Warner Bros.

"Fake rocks are a dead giveaway. Sock drawers are cliché. If you have a small safe that’s not bolted down, we are taking that thing. We all have a 'safe guy.' Our goal is to get in and out pretty quickly. If you hide something in a random box all the way up in your attic, it’s probably safe.

"Whatever you do, please don’t leave your damn kid at home."


3."Even if your house is well-locked, if your shed isn't, I likely have access to a plethora of tools I can use to gain access. Don't help the burglar. Lock your shed."


Man surrounded by tools
20th Century Fox

4."Here's one of the terrifying things: Alarms didn't matter. I would target houses marked with alarms and without equally.

"When your alarm goes off, the company will generally wait 15-30 seconds before making the call to you to check up on it, in case of false positives where you accidentally tripped the alarm. At that point, if the company immediately alerts the police, the correspondence will take another 15 seconds, and if the police are immediately sent out, you still have about a minute, at worst, to do your thing.

"If you want to scare yourself, get a stopwatch and a friend, and start at your front door or a back window. Have them give the go-ahead to start, and shout out 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes, and see how much you could get away with in that time.

"My hits were usually between 3-5 minutes, and the only trouble I ever had with alarms was when they were not silent alarms. Those things can be loud and irritating.

"Worse, many companies (or many of their employees) don't bother asking for the code word. If somebody answers the phone and says, 'Sorry, it's just me,' they'll take the person's word for it. They'll get suspicious when the alarm doesn't shut off shortly after, but you're usually good for about a minute at that point. And yes, I have answered the phone a few times to tell the alarm company it was a false alarm."


Girl on phone
Big Machine

5."Cop told me [after our apartment was burgled] never leave valuables in your nightstand. Might have even said bottom drawer. Sure enough, mine were checked. I could tell because my envelopes were moved from where I placed them."


"Not a burglar, but our home has been broken into. We only had the one-bedroom at the time, but the places that the burglar looked into were: the closet (everything was thrown out), desk drawers (found a bit of cash, and our passports were taken), the entry furniture (drawers), under the bed, [and in the] bedside tables.

"At least now I know where not to hide valuables. Not that I have any."


Close-up of tabbed book in open nightstand drawer
Grace Cary / Getty Images

6."Don't use key racks or bowls next to the door! Don't leave any bags or containers in view in your car!

"The amount of stolen cars where the burglar takes one step into the house, picks up the keys to the family car, and leaves immediately is just sad. I've seen cases where the homeowner (carrying groceries) doesn't realize a sneaky individual has followed them, caught the door before it closed, and just picked up the car keys as the owner tosses them into a bowl. I know of one dumbass who's had four cars stolen, whom the police believe entered through the front door while it was unlocked!"


7."I would check out a house several times over two days. If there was no sign of movement — no lights coming on or off, no curtains moved, newspapers left on the driveway — I was interested.

"Is the house in a nice neighborhood? Is it well kept? If so, I figured they had nice stuff.

"Next question: Is there an easy escape route? Woods in the backyard were excellent.

"Next question: Is there a window hidden from view that I can smash if I have to?"


Men sitting in a van outside a house
20th Century Fox

8."You'd be surprised how often people get robbed by people they know or people connected to people they know."


"The vast majority of burglaries are perpetrated by people who have been inside your home before.

"This is very important to realize. When you have guests over that you don't know well (maybe at a Halloween party), lock all of the doors to bedrooms, and don't have anything super valuable just laying out to show. Most of the time, they won't take anything during the party, but they will come back later...with friends."


9."Leave a TV on if you are going out during the day. Better yet, turn on the TV, put in a movie, and turn up the volume.

"A blood 'n' guts action movie is a good choice, since those who enjoy that sort of movie tend to be male and, well, more likely to have a gun. So long as a person cannot see that nobody is actually in the room, the flicker of a TV and music or sound are a good way to turn a person off. Smart burglars will avoid those houses and go for places they are sure nobody is home."

Big Machine

"If you really want to deter a smash-and-grabber, make a CD with music that is broken up by the sounds of a vacuum."


10."If we have the time and find out that you hide stuff, you can expect to come home to a ransacked house.

"Otherwise, at least for myself, it was mostly a 'rush in and grab what I could, then get out' situation. Most smash-and-grabs don't trash your home, and you probably wouldn't even notice they were there if it weren't for the broken window or opened door.

"Alarms mean nothing, since most smash-and-grabs are done in only a few minutes (I usually took 3-5 minutes). Cameras mean nothing since a wise crook will have a mask. Really, the best advice [It Takes a Thief gives] is window laminate. Of course, a good, solid door on the front and back of the house is important, along with a decent deadbolt. If the deadbolt doesn't go into a stud, it is a waste of money."


Burglar opening a safe
Warner Bros.

11."I tried to only hit houses with enclosed backyards.

"[I looked for] no cars in the drive or on the street, plenty of windows on the garage (to check for cars inside), large windows on the front of the house (easy to see inside to case), no flickering TV/computer, no music, signs of a decent person (well-manicured lawn? well-tended flowers and a clean sidewalk and drive? It's 10 a.m., you're probably at work) and an enclosed backyard. Seriously, the worst thing you can do, other than leaving everything wide open with signs announcing it, is having an enclosed backyard.

"That beautiful wood fence you have up? Those lovely tall bushes? That ivy-covered fence? Congrats, you've just ensured that your neighbors will probably never see me."


12."A recent study showed that burglars come back to the same houses quite often. They do this because of a number of motives.

"1.) They want to take things they, for some reason, couldn't take the first time.

2.) They're kinda familiar with the house.

3.) It's guaranteed that the people they robbed replaced the stuff they stole the first time; often these replacements are of better quality than the original.

So after you get raided, take good security measures."



13."Listened to a KFI radio interview when I lived in Los Angeles. Former anonymous burglar said he avoided houses that hung the US flag. Said it told him the occupants likely owned at least one firearm. Would avoid even if it looked as though no one was home."


14."Let me give you the low-down on dogs: They aren't protection or security.

"A dog can be easily tamed usually. Act friendly, give it a few rubs, and they'll happily follow you around. If that doesn't work, after my first run-in with an annoying dog (a small, yappy dog), I started carrying rawhide sticks with me. That stopped them very fast.

"Also, on the topic of dogs, if you want a security dog, get a small, loud dog that barks at almost everything. Big dogs may look scary, but considering most people don't like the chance of their dog turning on them, the dogs are either very tame or chained up. Small dogs, however, bark. A lot. Those were the only ones I was ever worried about. Even then, as I said, a stick or two of rawhide, and they were down for the count."


Corgi dog

15."I used to make a living (barely) car-hopping. The cheap car-alarm imitation blinking LED is a no-go, or was.

"At the time, there was a relatively limited number of aftermarket car alarm manufacturers that used a blinking LED. And a bazillion fakes. The fakes were visible from a mile away. (The timing was always off. Real ones blinked maybe twice per second; fakes blinked much faster.)

"How to avoid being hit? Easy: Don't leave valuables in the car, especially visibly. Cars are not safe places. And those people who have fancy removable front panel or pull-out car stereos, please stop putting it underneath the passenger seat. It is the first place car-hoppers look."


Woman in truck
Summit Entertainment

16."I'd pick places based on the upkeep of their equipment.

"I stuck with commercial burglary. If the cash register was out of date, so was their camera system. If the clerk leaves the register open a crack while they're behind the counter, that means the safe is likely open in the back room.

"It also helps to hit the places that hire felons because the cops are gonna waste a lot of time looking into the staff members who have a criminal history. The closer they're looking at them, the better off I am. Of course, this was ~15 years ago; things change."


17."I'm going to give you the best advice for home security you will ever get: window laminate.

"Alarms, dogs, all of that are either useless or reactionary. The only thing that ever really shut me down were laminated windows. A crook's biggest weapon is speed, and their biggest enemy is time. If somebody were to try to break into your home and ended up hitting a window that was laminated, they would, in almost every case, run off.

"It isn't even all that expensive, especially since you only need to laminate the first-floor windows (and any windows on a first-floor roof on a two-story house, such as a porch or deck roof). Don't waste money on alarms or dogs. Spend it on good window laminate put in by professionals, and you will be much safer."


Boy looking through window

18."My sister was robbed once. Her stash of cash and jewelry were in a sock in a mess of a closet she had. They didn't touch her closet.

"She lost her computer and DVD player, though, and the computer was stashed in one of those hollow ottomans with a lid."


"Someone broke into my family's house four or five years ago when we were out at a concert. They checked everything — took all money and jewelry they could find. Except! My room was a mess to begin with.

"I left piles of clothes on the floor, my study desk messy AF, left piles of papers on both desk and floor. I had €800 and golden earrings on my desk, just sitting there.

"The burglars opened the doors...and didn't move a thing. Left my €800 and golden earrings alone and moved to another room. From then on, I have been using this as an excuse why I don't need to clean up my room."


Wide angle view of large bedroom with piles of clothes on the floor and messy bed
Carlos Ciudad Photography / Getty Images

"Had my house burglarized by a so-called friend. He missed by far the most valuable thing. It’s just a safe sitting on the laundry room floor. He missed it because I’m a scumbag and had it covered with a mountain of dirty clothes and towels.

"So not being tidy saved me upwards of 35k."


19."50% of the people on my street are either retired or work from home or have a stay-at-home spouse. Always an old lady watching through her curtains. It's my safest home ever."


Old woman looking through window
Camille Tokerud / Getty Images

20.And finally, "Leaving lights on while you are gone is a pretty obvious tactic that many crooks have learned means 'free game.' During the holidays is when crooks start to really case houses. If they see that your house has the exact same lights on two to three days in a row, it is almost a guarantee you aren't home.

"My advice would be this: Don't stop the mail or paper. Have a friend or neighbor come over in the evening and put them inside, and have them switch lights around. A lot of crooks will use papers and mail to judge if a person is home or not over the holidays (and any time of the year), and if they see papers and mail coming and vanishing, especially with different lights changing, the risk of somebody being home is too great.

"Just leaving a few lights on all the time is a bad idea, though."


"LED lighting is cheap these days. If your house is gonna be vacant for a while, consider investing in one of those smart-lighting home automation systems where you can set different rooms to turn on and off at different points in the day. (Kitchen during dinnertime, bedrooms at night, etc.)

"My neighbor did that, and it fooled me. I rang his doorbell to ask to borrow a pressure washer wand, with no response. Figured he was with family and wasn't taking any more visitors, but turns out he's been on vacation for the past four days."


Burglars running up to a house
Universal Pictures

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.