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How to Beat Burglars at Their Own Game

Burglars are smart. Here’s how to be smarter.

All of our content is written by humans, not robots. Learn More
Gabe Turner
Gabe Turner Chief Editor
Last Updated May 27, 2024

When you think of a burglar, an image of a ne’er-do-well who’s got no marketable skills probably comes to mind. That’s true for some of them, but if we can learn anything from movies like the “Ocean’s” trilogy, it’s that criminals can also be really smart. A simple lock won’t be enough to keep those types of burglars out of our homes. You’ll have to outsmart them and beat them at their own game.

Now you might be asking, “How do you do that?!”

You start thinking like the burglars do. What is it that they’re after? How do they operate? What makes one house more inviting to them than another? Change your perspective just a little, and you’ll be amazed at what kind of security holes you’ll notice. Once you know the holes, you’ll know how to plug them.

Let’s get into it.

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Think Like a Burglar

OK, so we’re not suggesting you give up your day job and consider a life of crime. When you’re doing serious battle, though, it never hurts to take a little time and think like your enemy thinks. You’ll find you’re better able to anticipate their moves.

We’ll go first. Here are three important insights about burglars to get you started.

Burglars Want Things

Okay, this one’s obvious – maybe too obvious that we sometimes forget to consider it. Burglars break into homes to steal. They might go after things like high-end electronics, jewelry, and expensive art, but they’re particularly fond of cash or anything they can exchange for a quick buck. Look around your house and you’ll realize you have a lot of those things. We’re not suggesting you get rid of your valuables. You just have to make sure you’re not advertising what you have. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Do you have one of those signs that says you’re armed? You might think that’s a good burglar deterrent, but you’re actually advertising that you own expensive firearms. And according to the FBI, firearms are one of the most commonly stolen items in burglaries.1 That’s something they can sell off quickly in underground markets. 
  • If you buy a new Macbook, don’t set the box out on the road for trash pickup. That’s a clear indication that there’s a Macbook inside the house, and might just give a burglar the motivation to break in. Sure, you want to recycle, but take the time to break that box down and get it into your recycling bin with the lid closed.

You can frustrate burglars inside your home, too. Invest in a safe and lock away any valuables you don’t use every day. As for items like televisions, iPads, and computers, use their built-in safety features to protect them. Use pin numbers, secure passwords, or biometric identification to lock them down. Enable any tracking mechanisms. You might be able to recover any stolen items. You’ll definitely frustrate the thief’s ability to turn them into cash. At a minimum, they’ll think twice about striking your home again.

FYI: Don’t forget that your personal information can be as valuable as any item in your house. Use password managers and other electronic storage options to keep burglars from getting their hands on passwords and account numbers.

Easy is Better Than Hard

Duh, right? Remember, though, you’re thinking like a burglar. It may never have occurred to you that the things you know and take for granted, they know, too. They don’t want to work harder than necessary to get what they want any more than you do.

What does that mean in a practical sense?

It means if you make your valuables easily accessible, they’ll be glad to take them off your hands. That means putting things away so anyone who does manage to break in will have a hard time finding them. More importantly, though, it means keeping expensive items away from windows. Think about it: you’re a burglar walking down the sidewalk, and you notice the Hope diamond winking at you through a home’s front window. You’re not going to pass up that opportunity. A quick elbow to that window, and you’re the new owner of a pretty nice gemstone.

And, while we’re on the subject, lock your doors. We might have mentioned this before, but a healthy percentage of burglars simply walk through the front door because it’s unlocked. Leaving the key under the mat isn’t much better. Turns out, burglars have figured that little trick out (probably back in the 1950’s). Oh, and don’t leave your car keys in the car either.

Lastly, invest in a toolshed. Don’t leave expensive tools and machinery like lawn mowers just lying in your yard. They’re too easy to take and too hard to track once stolen. Lock them away in a shed or keep them inside your house.

When It Comes to Easy, You Can’t Beat an Empty House

This might not have occurred to you since this is probably the first time you’re thinking like a burglar and all, but most thieves prefer a quiet workspace as in a home with no occupants. Turns out they don’t like being disturbed when they’re, you know, stealing stuff. Anything you do that tips off a would-be burglar to the fact that you’re not home just makes your home a more inviting target.

In fact, “being home” even when you’re not home is maybe the most important tip we can offer you. How do you do that?

  • Keep your exterior tidy: Prove you are at home by keeping your lawn mowed and your bushes trimmed. Don’t let your trash pile up. Set it out on pickup day, and put your bins back as soon as the trucks come by. Check your mail every day. Make those little home repairs that you can do yourself.
  • Leave a car in the drive: As much as possible, you want at least one car parked at your home so it seems like someone’s in the house. If you go out of town, then consider taking an Uber to the airport or having a friend take you. That way, no one knows you’re gone.
  • Keep your interior busy: Smart devices are making it easier and easier to seem like you’re home when you’re not. Smart light bulbs, for instance, can be set up to make it seem like you’re moving from room to room, even if you’re away on a work trip. Smart plugs let you turn your television off and on.
  • Keep your business to yourself: If you tell everyone on social media that you’re heading away for a glorious two-week vacation in the Bahamas, you’re probably not just making your friends and family jealous. You’re also alerting burglars to the fact that your house is going to stand empty for 14 whole days. That’s too good an invitation to pass up. Limit what you share online, and limit who can see what you do share.
  • Invest in security systems: Here’s the thing: you can do more than just make it seem like you’re home. You actually can be home, even when you’re not, at least in a virtual sense. Door and window sensors, motion detectors, and the best security cameras let you monitor what’s going on at your house, even if you’re on the other side of the planet. Or, save yourself time and energy and sign up for a monitoring plan so someone keeps an eye on your home for you. Add a video doorbell with two-way audio, and you can even answer the door from work.
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Pro Tip: You are allowed to go on vacation every once in a while. Just make sure you ask relatives and neighbors to keep an eye on your house, take out your trash, mow your lawn, and check your mail while you’re gone.


All right, that should be enough to get you started. Now, what have you got? Over the last half-hour or hour, while you’ve been thinking like a burglar, what holes did you notice in your security? Do you need to repair your screens? Would installing some blinds help to keep passers-by from seeing your stuff? Could you use a stronger front door?

Because that’s really the secret: We can give you a list of great tips for outsmarting home invaders, and many of these – like investing in security equipment – are all-purpose, one-size-fits-all suggestions. Only you know your home, though. Only you know where the vulnerable points are. Well, you and the guys casing it.

So don’t just do what we tell you. The best tool in your security toolbox is what you know. Use it to keep you and your family safe.