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Signs Burglars Are Casing a House

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a brown house with focus on the blades of grass in the foreground

The term “casing a house” is used to describe a tactic that burglars use to pick their targets. Most burglars won’t randomly choose a home to burglarize. At the very least, even the most inexperienced burglar will watch several homes for several hours before they choose the right home to break into. Burglars will also focus on the neighborhood, specifically choosing a neighborhood that fits their casing profile. While casing a house, a burglar will watch the homeowners for patterns in order to determine the best way to enter the home.

This article will teach you common burglar signs so you can determine whether your home, or a home in your neighborhood, is being watched by a burglar.

Should You Worry About Burglars?

Burglaries are more common than most homeowners might think. Every year, over a million homes are the victims of burglary. In the United States, the burglary crime rate is 376 burglaries per 100,000 people. In some states, such as New Mexico, the burglary rate is even higher, with 778 burglaries per 100,000 people.

Burglaries are more common and more dangerous than you might assume:

  • The FBI reports that there is a home break-in every 13 seconds in the United States, totaling over 2 million burglaries every year.
  • Seventy-two percent of burglaries happen while the homeowners are away, showing that burglars will watch homes and wait until the homeowner has left the house before they break inside.
  • Over 60 percent of burglaries happen between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM. Burglars know that between these hours, most homeowners will be at work, and children will be at school.
  • Most burglaries can be completed in 10 minutes, especially if the burglar is able to gain entry to the house quickly.
  • Only 13 percent of burglars are caught. Since burglars are able to enter the house quietly and leave quickly, most burglary cases have little information to catch the burglar.
  • Around 75 percent of homes do not have a security system, and these homes are 60 percent more likely to be targeted by a burglar. Burglars try to avoid security cameras and security systems since security devices will increase a burglar’s chances of being caught.
  • Thirty-four percent of burglars enter the house through the front door, 22 percent enter the house through the back door, 23 percent enter the house through the first-floor window, 4 percent enter the house through the garage door, and only 2 percent enter the house through the second story.
  • Twenty percent of burglaries that occur while the homeowner or family member is still inside the home will become violent.
Burglar with hoody in middle of the day sneaking out of a house with his hood up.

Before a burglar chooses to target a home, they first look for specific signs that the home will be worth the effort. According to a study conducted by The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a majority of burglars will plan a burglary before attempting to break into the house. The study found that 49 percent of burglars cased the house and then burglarized the house on the same day. Another 16 percent responded that the casing process took between one and three days. One-third of burglars reported gathering intensive information on their target before planning the burglary.

Has My House Been Marked for Burglary?

Several factors might increase your chances of becoming a target. The location of your home, accessibility to a large street, and the proximity to neighbors are all factors that might increase (or decrease) your chances of becoming a target. For the most part, burglars want easy targets. They look for homes that are separated from neighbors and homes that have trees and bushes blocking the house from the road. Once the burglar finds several options, the potential victims might start seeing the following signs burglars are casing a house.

A red car in the road.

Stranger Danger:

1. There’s a New Car Parked on the Street

The first thing that you might notice is a new car on the street. According to UNC, most burglars will use a car to get to the house. The car will either be the burglar’s own car, the car of a family member, or a stolen car. In very few situations will a burglar scope out a neighborhood on foot. If there’s a new car on the street, the neighborhood should watch the vehicle closely.

If you notice that there’s an unknown car on the street, you should check to see if there is someone inside. Typically, if the car belongs to a friend or family member of a neighbor, you won't see the stranger sitting inside the car for long periods of time. If there is a person inside the car, the chances are that they’re up to no good. One of the best things you can do in this situation is to approach the car and talk to the person. If the person is a potential burglar, they now know that someone has seen their face and is suspicious of them. Now, if the person is to burglarize a house in the area, the cops will have a lead.

If you’re unsure whether to approach the car, take down the license place. If a house is targeted for burglary, you will be able to give the license place to the police. You can also report the suspicious vehicle and wait for police to arrive.

Man in trench coat waiting at the front door at a welcome mat.

2. There Is a Stranger Approaching Homes

Another sign that a burglar is casing homes in the area is that you notice strangers approaching houses. The stranger will walk part way up the driveway and stare at the house. Some will knock on the door and ask for something from the homeowner—a glass of water, a pen and paper, or to use the bathroom.

By approaching the homes, the potential burglar is able to tell who is home and who is not. One common tactic that burglars will use is that they will approach a home and ask to come inside (for a drink or to make a phone call). When the burglar is inside the home, they quietly unlatch a window or unlock a side door, creating an easy entrance to break into the home after the homeowner leaves. Entering the home also allows the burglar to see if there is any worth stealing from the home.

Burglar In a hoody (face obscured) at night underneath a white light sticking out of a brick wall.

3. There Are Strangers Walking the Neighborhood Streets

In some situations, a burglar will park down the street and then walk to the neighborhood to find the best home to break into. The suspect will be walking casually, attempting to appear like any other person who is just strolling through the neighborhood. However, there will be two main differences.

First, you don’t know this person. And, second, this stranger will be looking at every house they pass. Their eyes will go first to the driveway, checking to see if there are cars in the driveway. Then, the stranger will look at the windows of the house, looking to see if there is movement. If you notice a stranger looking too closely at the houses in the neighborhood, it’s likely that you’ve caught a burglar in the process of casing houses.

Stranger taking photos.

4. There Is a Stranger Taking Pictures

When a stranger starts taking pictures of your house, there are many things that you should start worrying about. First of all, this is almost always a sign of something bad. Burglars will take pictures of the home to show to their associates. This helps the burglar's companion find the home when it’s time to break in. It could also be the burglar saving the home for a future burglary. Regardless of why, if someone is taking a photo of your home, take a photo of the person.

5. A Stranger Tells You About an Emergency

If a stranger comes to your home and feigns that there has been an emergency, it’s possible that you’re being targeted for a home invasion. The stranger will come to the door and tell you a sad story about how their car broke down, and they lost their phone, or perhaps that they were attacked nearby and had their phone stolen. The stranger will then ask to come inside the house to use the phone.

While inside, the burglar will scope out the home and look for things of value. While inside, they might open a back door or unlock a window to make it easier for them to get into the house later on. If someone comes to your home and asks to use the phone, it might be better to keep them on the porch.

Two joggers running towards the sunrise on a concrete sidewalk

6. Joggers Pass By Your Home Too Often

Some burglars use the excuse of jogging to pass by a home multiple times. For the most part, you shouldn’t worry about seeing a stranger jog by your home one time. However, if a stranger jogs by the house multiple times, it might be smart to worry. In some cases, burglars will jog back and forth on the same street to see when people leave their homes. This also allows them to see which homes have home security systems and which are left unprotected.

Posing as Professionals:

7. You See Solicitors Knocking on Doors

Perhaps the most common way for burglars to know whether a home is empty is by knocking on doors. Burglars will often dress like a solicitor and carry a clipboard to fool people into thinking that they are real solicitors. The burglar is then able to knock on doors without people looking at them suspiciously. The burglar's goal in doing this is to determine who is home at what times throughout the day. Most burglars who use this method will burglarize the house the next day. However, a handful of burglars will find the first door that no one answered and then try the door handle (since 30 percent of homeowners don’t lock the door). If the door is unlocked, the burglar will walk right in.

However, it’s important to remember that not every solicitor is going to rob you. When a solicitor comes to your door, ask what company they work for. Then, collect the phone number for the company and give them a call. If the company confirms that they have solicitors in your area, you can let the person continue on their way. However, if the company doesn’t exist, or if the company denies having solicitors, it’s likely that you’ve caught a burglar.

8. Someone Leaves Flyers on Only a Few Doors

Most homeowners see flyers as a harmless, if not slightly annoying, part of being a homeowner. The homeowner will take the flyer off the door and toss it. However, flyers can actually be a sign that your house is being cased by a burglar.

Flyers, in the world of house break-ins, are markers. They are used for two purposes. The first purpose is to mark the house to show which house is going to be the target, since one-third of burglars won’t target the home alone. The second purpose is to see who gets home earliest. When a homeowner arrives home, most will remove the flyer from the door. The leftover flyers then become a beacon to show burglars which homeowners return home the latest. If you do see a flyer on your door, remove it as quickly as possible.

9. Someone Is Claiming to Be the Replacement for Your Handyman

People who use cleaning services, contractors, repairers, and so forth are often more prone to burglary. Criminals take note of houses that have handypersons and will sometimes attempt to impersonate employees from the company you use so they can case your house. They may claim to be a replacement for the person who came to your home before. If this happens to you, contact the company you use and verify the individual's employment status before permitting them to enter your home. If they are not an employee, you will understand this as a sign that your house is marked.

Trash cans outside of a home.

Evidence of Tampering:

10. Your Garbage Has Been Rummaged

Criminals understand that a home’s garbage can reveal a lot about its owners. When you dispose of mail or other important documentation, burglars can easily obtain bank account details, personal identifiers, passwords, and other compromising information. If you throw away receipts, they can also gain insight into what kinds of valuables are being stored in your home. So, if you notice your garbage has been sifted through, this could be one of the signs that your house is marked. To protect yourself, shred any sensitive documents before disposing of them or reconsider throwing them away at all.

Black and white dog outside.

11. Your Dog Has Been Let Out

Thieves are heavily deterred by houses with dogs because canines have amplified senses and can hear and smell the presence of an intruder long before their owners do. Thus, one of the most unfortunate burglar signs is your dog being let out. Criminals scoping out a house may wait for your dog to be outside and leave the gate open to ensure it runs away so they can carry out their crime later on with greater ease. If you’re worried that your house is being cased, keep a lock on your backyard gate so your furry friend—and your home—stays safe.

12. Your Car Has Less Fuel Than When You Left It

If you don’t pay attention to your vehicle’s fuel levels, now is the time to start. It may seem unrelated, but an empty fuel tank is one of the less obvious signs that your house is marked. Crafty burglars will sometimes siphon the gasoline in your vehicle to delay you on the way home from work or errands so they have a longer window in which to rob your home. If this happens to you, make sure someone is home or keeping an eye on your house when you head to the gas station. And whenever you exit your vehicle from now on, make a mental note or take a picture of your gasoline levels so you don’t fall victim to this burglary tactic.

A house painted green with a red door, warm light glows from inside and reflects off of the wet concrete driveway

13. There Are Markings on the Sidewalk Near Your Home

Markings are surefire signs that burglars are casing a house. The marking will usually be a simple ‘x’ drawn in chalk or one straight line. The marking puts the target on your home and alerts the burglar’s companion that your home is the one to break into. If you see a target in front of your home, erase it, and then make sure that multiple people are home for the next several days.

Broken window of a home with books inside.

14. Broken Windows, Unscrewed Motion Detection Bulbs, or Scratched Locks

If you really want to know how to tell if a burglar is watching your house, take a walk around your property and examine your windows, outdoor lights, and locks. Someone who has attempted to break in or plans to in the future may have broken a window as a test of your security system or scratched a lock in a failed attempt to pick it. If your motion detector light bulbs are loose or missing, it could mean someone plans to come back at night sometime soon.

Feeling Uneasy:

15. Your Gut Feeling Is Alerting You

If you think that your home is being cased by burglars, it’s always better to be safe. Watch closely for the signs that your home is in danger and then protect your home. If you have a home security system, you should make sure that it is armed. You should also station someone in your home to make sure that someone is always inside. If you have a dog, let your dog play in the yard and guard the house.

Other Potential Signs Burglars Are Casing a House

We’ve now covered some of the more common signs that your house is marked, but these are far from the only burglar signs. When a criminal has chosen a house to target, they may leave visual indications to remind themselves which house they want to break into. Some of these include upside-down welcome mats, commonplace items in the front yard, such as a golf ball, or chalk markings on the sidewalk or the house itself.

Person lurking by front doors.

Common Burglar Signs, Symbols, and Codes to Know

Burglars sometimes leave discreet markings to let themselves or their partners know that a particular house is ripe for burglary due to weak security, lone tenants, empty rooms, easy access points, and so forth. Here are some easily visible signs that your house is marked:

  • Diamond: Vacant room
  • Triangle: Single female occupant
  • D with a dash underneath: House vacant on Sundays
  • N: House vacant at night
  • M: House vacant in the morning
  • Cross: Occupant receptive to religious canvassers
  • Circled 7 or 8: Vacancy in July or August
  • Circle: Easy target
  • Lines resembling a ladder: Visible valuables
  • Barred circle: Avoid due to dog, security, etc.

How Do Burglars Choose a House to Rob?

If you’re looking for signs burglars are casing a house, consider whether any of the following risk factors apply to your home. If they do, refer to the following section on ways to prevent your home from becoming a target.

  • There is easy access to your home (no security system, dog doors, glass front doors, window-based AC units, etc.)
  • You follow a predictable schedule
  • Your property is isolated or located at the far edge of neighborhoods
  • You live in a well-maintained area
  • The mailbox is overflowing, or packages are left on the front porch
  • The lawn is overgrown
  • The home is occupied by a single person (especially if female or elderly)
  • Your house is dark for more than one night in a row
  • You have fancy cars in the driveway
Arrow in the middle of a target.

How to Stop Your Home From Becoming a Target

It seems scary that burglars could be casing your home. However, burglars will always choose an easy target. If your home isn’t an easy target, you’re unlikely to have your home chosen. However, what makes an easy target? How do you become less of a target for burglars?

Keep a Record of Suspicious Activity

If you’ve ever wondered, “Has my house been marked for burglary?” don’t dismiss your concerns. Your gut is usually reliable, but if you doubt yourself, start keeping a record of suspicious events. Write down the date, time, location, summary of the event, and a physical description of the individual, if applicable. As you keep track of activity over time, you may notice patterns that indicate someone is casing a house and can contact your local authorities before they’re able to follow through.

Start a Neighborhood Watch Program

One of the best ways to increase safety in your area is to band together with neighbors and start a Neighborhood Watch. This puts all of you on the same page and connects you with local police. Then you can put up signs that lets criminals know that the neighbors are looking out for each other. Read our post on how to start your own Neighborhood Watch.

A modern living room with a gray couch and a large window

Install a Home Security System

A majority of studies have shown that installing a home security system can be your best defense against intruders. Having a home security system means that every door and window is installed with an alarm that will scare away any intruder that tries to get inside. According to a survey done by an Idaho news station, burglars will nearly always run when an alarm is set off. When an alarm is set off, burglars face a lot of risk by staying and attempting to complete the job. The alarm will turn every eye in the neighborhood towards the house, making it likely that multiple neighbors will see the intruders if the intruder doesn’t leave immediately.

Thieves don’t look for a challenge; they look for the easiest house to break into, grab the valuables, and leave. Luckily for the homeowner, a home security system presents a challenge to thieves. As soon as the alarm is set off, intruders know that the police are on their way. Because home security systems present a challenge to thieves and burglars, it’s unlikely that a burglar will target a home that has a security system installed.

Home security systems are also a great way to decrease your chances of becoming a target because of the features that are included. Many home security systems include door and window sensors to protect the doors and windows of the home. Home security systems also include indoor and outdoor cameras, motion sensors, alarms, and professional monitoring.

Cove panel surrounded by other Cove gadgets. Smoke detector, CO detector, medical alert necklace, key fob, and flood sensors.

Lock Your Door

It may be surprising, but many homeowners in the United States don’t lock their doors before they leave the house. The patio door is one of the most common doors that is left unlocked, making it easy for thieves to get inside. Some burglars will find their target by walking up to homes and trying the door handle. The first home with an open door becomes the target. Whether you’re home or away, you should always lock your door to prevent unwanted intruders or consider installing a doorbell camera to deter burglers.

Put Up a Home Security Sign

Having a home security system won’t prevent your home from becoming a target unless the burglar knows that the home is protected. When you buy a home security system, most alarm companies will give you a home security sign. The sign can be placed on the front lawn or in the windows of the home. When you get the sign, don’t throw it away. Instead, put the sign up in the yard or in the widows. Having the sign up will alert burglars that your home is protected and that it would be smarter to move along.

Use Door and Window Sensors

As part of your home security system, you will receive door and window sensors. Door and window sensors are one of the most important devices that are included. The door sensor comes in two parts: the base and the magnet. The base part of the door is connected to the door trim, while the magnet is connected to the door itself. When the door is closed, the two parts should connect. The benefit of the door sensor is that, when armed, it’s nearly impossible to cause a false alarm. If the door is opened, the door sensor will set off an alarm.

The window sensor works similarly to the door alarm. One half of the window sensor is connected to the window trim, while the other half is connected to the window. When the window is closed, just like the door sensor, the two parts should connect. If the window is opened while the security system is armed, the window sensor will trigger an alarm.

Set Up a Neighborhood Watch

After you’ve protected your own home, it’s important to set up a system that will help to protect your neighbor’s house and every other house in your community. Criminals will typically target the first house that they can find (as long as it’s an easy target). This means that if it isn’t your home, it’s the neighbor’s house. Setting up a neighborhood watch can help deter and catch criminals.

A neighborhood watch is a group of people in the area who group together to protect the area. Members of the neighborhood watch will be volunteers who simply value their safety and the safety of those they love. Members can be expected to attend meetings to discuss crime in the area and regularly talk with the local police. By communicating with the police, it helps police members to stay aware and active in your community, decreasing the overall crime.

An old lamp post with a neighborhood watch sign.

What to Do If You Suspect Criminal Activity

If you suspect criminal activity in your neighborhood, you should report it immediately. If you notice signs burglars are casing a house, call the police and report that there is suspicious activity happening in and around your home. When the police arrive, describe the person and the car that the person was driving. If possible, provide the police with a license plate.

Your safety is always the most important thing you can focus on. If you feel unsafe in your neighborhood, talk to the local police and to your neighbors about how to improve the area.

Ready to Get Started?

Now that you know how to tell if a burglar is watching your house, it’s time to take preventative action. A home security system is a great way to defend your home and family without having to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. With a security system, you’ll be alerted instantly if someone is prowling around your property or attempting a break-in. Find out how Cove Smart can make home defense easier than ever. Get a quote on our custom, no-contract systems today.

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