How criminals break into your home; Simple tips to make your hou - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

How criminals break into your home; Simple tips to make your house a less desirable target

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It's difficult to picture it happening at your house, but there are more than 2 million burglaries a year in the United States, according to the FBI.

Anthony Berrios says most criminals practically use a guidebook, each following many of the same rules.  To keep your house safe, it's important to view your home through two perspectives: not only as a homeowner or resident, but also through the eyes of a criminal.

Berrios, Associate Dean of Criminal Justice at Keiser University, interviewed hundreds of criminals as an investigator. 

"They are totally detached from any sentiment in the home, and it's not their house, they don't care. But they will be really careful not to disturb as much as possible," he explained.

The idea of a criminal is to get in and out quickly.  He or she will often unlock all of the doors as soon as they enter your home, so they can escape in any direction if somebody shows up. 

They are also likely to disturb as little as possible.  That way, you won't be able to detect they've been there right away, and they have more chance to escape before 911 is called.

When approaching a home, Berrios thinks like a criminal. 

Broad daylight is a great time for criminals if they sense you're away from home.  Heavy landscaping or areas of low light allow a person to conceal themselves while they slip into your home, and neighbors are less likely to notice.

First, they will try the door handle, and walk right through a door or window left open or unlocked.

If a door doesn't have a metal "strike plate" between the lock and the general lower lock on the edge of a door frame, it will be easier to kick in.  Windows are often easy to break.  Berrios says you can push a window's glass inward to see how much it gives and get an idea of how it will break.  Hurricane windows are not always secure, depending on age.

Extra locks on the doors or alarms that chime or beep can be good deterrents, particularly if they are hooked to a system that warns law enforcement.  Even then, however, Berrios says they may try to act quickly and leave while the opportunity of your items sits in front of them.

Often the best way into a home is through a garage door.  If a car is left unlocked in the driveway with a door opener inside, that's a simple strategy to enter your house. 

Many garage doors are now built now with sophisticated options. 

"As soon as the homeowner comes home and they're in for the night, they can activate and deactivate the garage door opener," he explained.

A garage does not have to be covered in special features, however, to keep it safer.  A homeowner can pull a safety lock on the motor mechanism above to disable the garage door so it can't be activated, or slide the physical metal lock on the inside at the edge near the wall.

Once a criminal gains entry to the house, they have their eyes on the items that are going to sell quickly and be difficult to detect.

"They want small, portable, pricey," Berrios says.

Video games and consoles, for example, are perfect.  In a few seconds of scooping those items into a pillowcase or bag, that can mean hundreds of dollars in resale value.

"Every single one of these has a resale value and they're very difficult to trace back to the original owner. This is quick cash," he said.

Thumb drives are also an easy grab.  They're tiny but can contain a wealth of information to be sold, like Social Security numbers.

"They could have confidential, personal information, tax records, anything that could help me eventually steal the identity of the homeowner as well."

Criminals will typical zip through living spaces that have personal electronics or valuables, then the master bedroom.

Many people store personal documents, electronics and jewelry in obvious places.  Just because a polite guest to a home wouldn't enter the master bedroom, doesn't mean anything to a criminal.

Jewelry left next to the sink or in a jewelry box is easy to grab as it's all in one place. 

"A lot of this stuff is portable, it's hard to trace.  I'll take it with me and find some value on the open market," Berrios explained.

Berrios says a person breaking into your home will look under the bed and in your closet.  Often, the personal items of value will be kept in those spots.  Even a locked safe that's not nailed down will be useful.  The whole safe can go with them; the lock will be broken open later.

As for collectible items like signed jerseys, a fine art or coin collection Berrios says it doesn't take a trained eye to know it's worth something.  If it's prominently displayed it will catch their eye.  Or, if a criminal has a personal interest, they may take it as a souvenir.

"There's very little you could do to secure your collectibles, but one of the things you should do if you do have valuables, you should have photographic identification of the valuable, receipts of purchase and it should be registered with your insurance company," he said.

Insurance companies can't retrieve your stolen items and the sentimentality will be destroyed, but they can compensate you for your monetary loss.

A child's room and the kitchen are some of the last places a criminal is likely to look.

The best piece of advice from Berrios is to act a little paranoid and set up obstacles.  The more obstacles there are to a break-in, the less likely a criminal will select a home as a target.

That's even more important during the holidays.

"Don't be surprised if they're driving around your neighborhood, seeing who had the best Christmas, and you're top of their list as a target," he said.

Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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