16 Signs Your House is Watched by Robbers (AND How to React)


There are some common signs that robbers are watching a house. Being observant about them can help protect you from a home invasion. Before a home invasion, robbers typically want to do the following:

  • They want to know if the house is vacant or not. So they might leave ads and stickers, look through your trash, check if you’ve been picking up newspapers and mail. They might also call to see if anyone will pick up. This gives them a clue if the house is occupied or not.
  • They might throw stones to see if anyone will respond and if an alarm will go off. So if you notice a broken window, this is a likely reason why.
  • They’ll try to make their break-in easier by cutting wires on security systems, removing lightbulbs from security lights with motion sensors, breaking a lock or covering the security camera lens or redirecting the camera. A missing dog is another common pre-home invasion sign.
  • They’ll inspect your home beforehand by mispresenting themselves as a new cleaner, repairman, seller or even a police officer. Be vary of strangers, especially if they have access to your house interior.
  • They’ll try to keep you away from your house at the time of robbery by emptying your gas tank, slashing a tire, alarming you of a false emergency or an accident involving a loved one.

Now that we’ve covered the typical signs that robbers might be watching your house and planning a break-in, let’s dive deeper and explore them one by one, along with some good security responses you can take.

They’re checking whether you’re at home

1. Ads, flyers and stickers

This is one of the easiest ways for potential robbers to see if a house is vacant or not. They will place ads and stickers on the front door, on the porch, or at the gates.

Stickers are commonly used because they are more easily seen. So if someone places a sticker on your front door or a window they will be pretty sure that the house is vacant if you don’t remove it.

The answer is obvious: This is not time for laziness. Remove annoying ads and stickers as quickly as you can. The same is true for other deliveries and regular mail clogging up your mailbox.

2. Calls from unknown numbers

Another easy way to see if you’re home or not is to give you call. If you’re going on vacation, consider redirecting calls to your home phone number to your mobile phone. It can be easily done if you own an iPhone.

3. Checking the trash cans

Trash cans can be a wealth of information for robber and even identity thieves. Many people throw away personal information along with other trash and this can be easily found by a determined robber. They can discover whether you’re planning a vacation, your phone number and email address, your workplace, names of family members, bank account information etc.

All of this information can come in handy when planning a home invasion so it’s truly important to cut up papers with personal information. To make that a fast (and oddly pleasurable) I recommend using a paper shredded. I use the Amazon Basic Shredder (link to Amazon) which can cut credit cards effectively as well.

Just as importantly, trash cans reveal if the house is vacant or not. If you’re going on vacation, perhaps you can make a deal with the neighbors to fill up your trash can on occasion along with removing any ads, stickers or regular deliveries in order to create that impression that you’re at home.

4. Throwing stones to check for response

This is a more aggressive tactic and it’s less frequently used because a broken window can raise the security awareness of the home owner and make a break-in more difficult. But by throwing a stone, the robbers can see if there’s anyone at home and whether an alarm system is in place.

5. Strangers asking for help

A morning jogger asking for a glass of water or a poor deliveryman asking to use the loo? It’s only natural to want to help your fellow man, but keep in mind that there’s a risk involved.

If you decide to give them access to your home keep a close eye on any strange behavior. They could try to steal your valuables then and there, or they could snoop around and look for security vulnerabilities instead. Cut their trip short (well, to a bare minimum), or don’t allow them inside in the first place.

They’re looking for security weak spots

6. Strange faces and occurrences in the neighborhood

Have you noticed strange faces around your property or perhaps in other parts of your neighborhood? Robbers typically look for a house that is the easiest to break into. For that reason, they are likely to leave odd signs and impressions on other neighbors as well.

This is why being good with neighbors is valuable, as rumors of such snooping around quickly spread. Especially if your neighbor is the classic old lady that is constantly looking out the window for new gossip material.

7. New serviceman on your property

Suspect service providers can range from home cleaners, pool cleaners, all types of repairmen, sellers or advertisers or even a fake police officer. Any stranger that has access to your property can be a potential robber.

Repairman and cleaners are especially dangers in this regard because they can have access to your locks, alarm system configuration, personal information, the location of your home safe and valuables etc.

That’s not to say that you should be overly paranoid and isolate yourself from the world. But asking a stranger for their name and credentials and running a quick check to see whether they are who they claim to be is a good safety measure.

8. Ruined plants and footprints

Footprints and ruined shrubbery near the windows or near the fence are a clear sign that someone is snooping around. An experience robber won’t be this clumsy, but it happens. This is why tactically planted thorny shrubs and bushes are a good security deterrent if they’re near the fence or they’re blocking access to windows. A tall and spiky fence will also prevent many robbers from climbing over in the first place.

9. Strange markings on the house and taking pictures

Strange markings and signs are sometimes made by robbers to mark houses that are easy targets for other members.

Taking pictures is another way to share such information. However, it’s not clear to what extent robbers would risk having digital evidence on their phones or cameras in case they do get caught or investigated by the police.

They’re neutralizing your home security equipment

10. Broken locks

A broken lock is a clear sign of robber activity. It doesn’t have to be fully broken though. Scratches on the doors or windows or a malfunctioning lock indicated that someone’s been tempering with the mechanism or trying to claw their way inside.

11. Security equipment tempered with

If your security camera is easy to access a robber will likely try to cover the lens with a sticker or a piece of cloth. If you’re using a bullet camera, they could also move it in another direction.

Lights with motion sensors, especially bright and powerful floodlights are a good deterrent against criminals. They might try to remove the light bulbs before making a home invasion.

Any damaged wiring is a sign of human (or unholy) intervention. This is why it’s a good idea to consider purchase wireless security equipment for outdoor areas or make sure that the wires are not accessible from outside the house.

12. A missing dog

Ok, I don’t think that your lovely dog is just a piece of security equipment. But you have to put yourself in the robbers’ shoes. A barking dog, especially a guardian dog is their worst nightmare. If your dog’s gone missing keep your eyes out for unwelcome guests.

They’re trying to keep you away from home

13. A slashed or flat tire

Once robbers know your habits and your workplace, they will try to immobilize you while you’re away from home. A slashed or a flat tire is an effective way of doing so. In this article I explained how to prevent tire slashing.

To summarize, the most effective prevention tips include parking the vehicle in a visible spot, having a motion sensor alarm and/or a motion sensor dash cam installed in the vehicle. In any case, if a tire “accident” happens, it’s a good idea to ask your neighbors, friend or a family member to watch your house until you get it sorted out.

14. Empty gas tank and engine tempering

An empty gas tank or a car engine that’s been tempered with can also leave you stranded in the middle of the road. If your vehicle is making strange noises and not moving as normal, check the exhaust pipe for a rag or other material blockages. If any such thing is present contact the authorities or someone you trust to watch over your home until you get there.

15. Calling about a false accident or emergency

If a robber gets hold of your number they can use lies and deceptions to get you away from your home before the invasion. Imagine receiving a call from someone that’s supposedly a police officer or a doctor that your daughter has been injured and that you need to get somewhere quickly. A prepared home invasion would probably be the last thing on your mind.

16. Setting up a false event/meeting

Less dramatically but with the same intention, an invitation to an event, a meeting or a date can be used in the same way. The robber has the advantage of picking the time and place, so if you’ve confirmed that you’ll be attending, they will know exactly when to strike.

Be vary of dating apps, especially meeting with an unverified user, not just because of a potential house invasion risk but for personal safety as well.

FAQ

How do robbers pick a house?

A robbery is usually a premeditated crime. Meaning that the robbers identified that the house holds valuable possessions and there is a reduced risk of getting caught.

As with any situation, there is a risk-to-reward factor involved. A house in a more affluent neighborhood will be more attractive to burglars than a house in a poorer neighborhood. But the risk of getting caught is potentially higher as well, as is the chance that the authorities will take the crime more seriously and investigate with due diligence.

Generally speaking, houses in rural environments and those that are more isolated are more susceptible to break-ins, as are vacant houses and cabins.

Which houses do burglars avoid?

Burglars generally avoid:

  • Strong doors
  • Security systems (alarms, motion sensor floodlights, security cameras..)
  • Dogs (especially trained guard dogs)
  • A high and sharp fence 
  • Closed drapes or shutters (provides uncertainty and doubt about what is happening inside)
  • Corner homes (they offer more public view)
  • Two story homes (because easy-to-carry valuables are often kept on the second floor in the master bedroom)
  • Houses with warning signs and stickers (i.e. firearm, guard dog, security system warning)
  • Smart locks (some smart locks can provide notifications to the homeowner in case a door/window is opened)
  • Irregular routines

How do burglars break in?

Common break-in entry points and methods are:

  • An unlocked or open door
  • An unlocked or open window, especially a ground floor or basement window
  • Removing a window AC unit and climbing through the open space
  • Smashing a glass door or window to unlock it
  • Using a crowbar, credit card of a bump key (for lock picking) to open the door
  • Hacking into a smart lock

Looking at statistics:

  • 34% of burglars enter through the front door.
  • 23% enter through a first-floor window.
  • 22% enter through a back door.
  • 9% enter through a garage.
  • 4% enter through an unlocked entrance
  • 2% enter somewhere on the second floor

You can find more burglary statistics here.

Final Word

You know what they say, prevention is the best medicine. Keeping your house safe from intruders means paying attention to strangers in your neighborhood and, if you believe it’s necessary, increasing your home security to deal with the threats. A good starting place are my top 43 home security tips that will help you secure those vulnerable areas in an easy and affordable manner.

Peter Boné

Chief editor of Security Latest with 5 years of real security work experience. I'm also a family man with wife and two sons. When I'm not turning homes into fortresses, the Boné family is usually on the Nintendo or on California's best hiking trails.

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