A security expert’s guide to the most common items that get stolen from the home

Ever wondered what thieves target when they break in? Here are the most common items stolen during a burglary – and what you can do to protect them.

By Shilpa Ganatra

Imagine the scenario: you’re a professional thief – complete with a fetching black and white striped top and a sack marked ‘swag’ – and you’ve just broken into someone’s home. You’re in their hallway, with a view to each room. The question is, what do you search for? Michael Brooke, Head of Operational Services at Police Crime Prevention Initiatives (PCPI), has spent his career concerned with issues like this.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than putting smiles back on people’s faces by introducing them to interventions that prevent crime and make them feel safer,” he says. “Fear of crime is a huge thing in our minds.”

We’ve sought out Aviva data on the most common items for claims, and Brooke has expert knowledge on why these items are popular with thieves, plus what to do to keep them safe.  

Get your electronics hidden and marked up 

Phones, tablets and laptops are popular items for thieves “because they’re easy to find in the home, of high value, and easy to sell on,” explains Brooke. The best way to prevent them being stolen is to keep them away from the usual places, like bedside tables, desks and sofa armrests. “Instead, keep them somewhere that only the homeowner knows.”

Tracing software like ‘Find my phone’ apps are useful, but professional thieves know how to get electronics wiped quickly, so time is of the essence.

Another way of deterring thieves is by using covert markings like DNA solutions. These are “identifiable liquid chemical solutions which are invisible to the naked eye, but can fluoresce under UV,” says Brooke. “Some of the kits come with window stickers to say that items have been property-marked.” The thief knows that it’ll make the item more difficult to sell on, and it could be enough to put them off entering the house.

Jewellery is safest in a safe 

High value, easy to fill your pockets – no wonder jewellery is a popular item with thieves. Sadly for us, jewellery often carries sentimental value that’s more important than its monetary worth. That’s why covert marking and hiding jewellery away are a smart way to prevent items being stolen. 

“I would ban jewellery boxes if I could, because all you’re doing is helping the thief by putting your valuables in one place,” says Brooke. “We should be locking it away into a nicely hidden, security-robust safe.”

Barry Sullivan is chair of Institute of Registered Valuers who works closely with the National Crime Agency as a jewellery expert. He says that South Asian families, who typically keep 22-karat bridal jewellery in the home, are particularly at risk of having high-value jewellery stolen. 

Thieves are always on the lookout for Rolex and Cartier watches. “The scarcity of some lines means they’re often worth more on the second-hand market, which makes them extra attractive to steal,” he says.

Because the value fluctuates, to make sure that any insurance claims are accurate, “people should get unusual and rare jewellery valued every two years, and ordinary jewellery, every three years,” he says. “That’s especially the case because the standard currency for valuations is dollars. That means when you get items re-valued, any changes in the dollar rate will be rectified.”

Don’t let thieves take your bike for a ride 

As demand outstrips supply during the pandemic 1, bikes are a lucrative item to steal, especially as more expensive e-bikes have become common. “It never ceases to amaze me how somebody will spend four figures on an e-bike but security for that e-bike is a secondary concern,” says Brooke.

The PCPI has practical tips on bike security, one of which suggests that it’s a good idea to record photos and identifying features with bikeregister.com.

“Then there’s physical security. Owners should be looking to buy a certificated, a quality, security-standard D lock,” says Brooke. “And we suggest that a bike should be locked up in a minimum of two places.

“Finally, you have to think of security in layers. The target may be the bike, but the bike is in the back garden, and there may be a side door to the back garden. So you’ve got to think about the environment in which the bike sits.”

Which brings us nicely on to the next point…

Thieves love to window-shop your shed

“The majority of criminals are really quite lazy and they want to do what’s easiest,” says Brooke. “And there’s a perception that breaking into a garage door or a timber shed is relatively simple.”

It helps that these are often crammed with sellable equipment like lawnmowers, DIY equipment and bikes. The rise of the garden office means that pricey items like laptops are now there for the taking.

To help protect your items, sheds without windows means that your items won’t be display. If you do have doors and windows, try to make them face the house so you can keep an eye on it. Also, the door frame matters. Even if the padlock was Ocean’s Eleven-proof, the thief could unscrew the hinges on the other side of the door instead. “But you can install security screws that don’t have a traditional head, making them more difficult to unscrew,” says Brooke. There’s more shed and outhouse security advice from the PCPI.

We’ll be there to help you feel at home again 

If the worst happens and the burglary is successful, Aviva are conscious about helping homeowner on an emotional and practical level. 

If you have home insurance with us, we’ll send an approved tradesperson to secure your home and make it safe after a break-in within two hours of you calling us. 2 And our claim handlers are specially trained to help customers through this sensitive time. That includes ensuring customers set the pace of the claim, to reduce pressure at this traumatic time. But with a little luck and a lot of security, burglaries could well be avoided.

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