Think like a thief - Tips to protect those things dear to you

Criminals are always looking for an easy opportunity to take what isn’t theirs. However, on the flip side of their gain, is the loss impact for the victims, which can have profound psychological and financial implications. Even a small incident, where the victim doesn’t come into direct contact with the criminal, can leave the victim feeling violated and out of pocket.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics for the fourth quarter of 2021-2022 noted an increase in many crime categories, including burglary at residential premises, carjacking, theft out of or from motor vehicle, and other general theft. Employ the mindset of a thief and keep the following precautions in mind to deter criminals from taking advantage and seizing those things dear to you.

At home

Isolated and empty homes and those with higher walls or surrounded by bushes are greater targets because there is less chance of a thief being seen and possibly caught while committing a crime. However, we are living in a country marred by violent crime and home invasions, where any house may be fair game.

Therefore, think like a thief and critically evaluate your home security to identify gaps. Then boost it to the greatest level you can afford. That might mean installing burglar bars or security gates at a minimum, or if you have the budget,  a home security system with an alarm including inside and outside sensors, an electric fence and IP cameras. If possible, enlist the help of a security company. Make sure that the systems installed are in good working order.

Also, have a look around your yard and home for things that might be setting you up as a target. For example, an overgrown bush offering a perfect hiding spot; or a large tree with overhanging branches that could be used to scale walls. Tools or ladders left lying in the garden can be used to break into the house. Your Pikitup wheelie bin can be used as a climbing aid or to transport stolen items. Large dog doors, and open windows and doors, even those on an upper floor, offer easy access. The boxes of your extravagant purchases left outside with your rubbish for everyone to see lets a thief know exactly what there is to steal. An overflowing mailbox or a bin that is not placed out on collection day could indicate that no one is home.

Plus, have a look around your yard for items of value that are easy pickings, for example, garden furniture, ornaments, or a free-standing braai. A gate motor is also quite valuable and easily taken if it isn’t protected by a locked anti-theft cage.

Think about the things that you can add to your home as deterrents, such as outside and motion sensor lighting, or internal lights set on timers to go on and off at various intervals. Keep curtains drawn on any window that can be seen from the street to prevent potential thieves from seeing what you have in your house or whether the room is occupied. A dog can sometimes be a deterrent – the general sentiment is that small dogs bark drawing attention and large dogs bite.

Most importantly, remain attentive to your surroundings. Be wary of people at your gate or door. Look out for suspicious activity in the street or litter that can be used as markers. Get to know your neighbours. You’ll be able to watch out for one another and you will immediately know when something out of the ordinary occurs at a neighbouring home or strangers are lurking. Join your community WhatsApp or Telegram group or your neighbourhood watch group – these have been proven to thwart criminal activity.

On the road

Anything easy to pick up and valuable, for example, a cell phone or a laptop, is highly attractive to a thief. In the car, to avoid smash and grabs, valuables are better kept in the boot or under the seats. If these items will have to stay in the car when you reach your destination, it is best to stow them away before you get there, in case someone is watching you when you arrive.

While driving, always keep the car doors locked and the windows closed. Remain attentive and minimise distractions from gadgets, music, or other people in the car. A criminal is relying on any opportunity and waiting for you to be distracted, and your gadgets could be what they’re after.

Observe your behaviour through the eyes of a criminal. Consider whether you could be boxed in at a robot because you stop too close to the car in front of you, or outside your home as you wait for the gate to open. Or whether you are an easy or attractive target to follow. Also, could your phone be easily snatched because you’re sitting in your car with the window down and your phone in your hand. Act in a way that you would if you know you are being watched because you are probably being watched.

In life

No matter where you go or what you do, it’s important to be attentive. Don’t carry too much cash or valuables on your person and keep these items out of sight. Leave unnecessary bank or store cards at home. Avoid walking around with your phone in your hand or talking on your phone while walking as this makes it easier to snatch. Avoid leaving your phone, wallet or purse on the table while seated at a restaurant. Also, consider whether something could be taken from you without you noticing, for instance out of your bag or from your back pocket.

“Often, it is only when something unexpected happens that we stop and consider our surroundings,” says Duma Ngcobo, Chief Operating Officer at Tracker. “Think ahead, with the mindset of the worst that could happen, and take action accordingly to stay safe.”