Burglary FAQ – Your Guide To Prevent and Deter Burglaries

Last updated: March 23, 2018

burglar targeting elderly

As a homeowner or even as a tenant, it is important to know how you can help protect yourself from a burglar. Since burglary is an unlawful entry into a building with intent to commit a crime, it is important that you are aware of the facts related to burglary, what to do in case your home is broken into as well as the measures you can take to secure your home from a burglar. The following questions are some of the burglary FAQs that you should be familiar with.

Who commits most burglaries?

According to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin issued on Feb 2013 there are four types of burglars.

1. Organized Burglaries
Organized burglars plan their crimes to reduce the risk of capture and increase their gain.

Organized burglars mostly target unoccupied homes and leave behind little to no evidence of the crime. They take time to “case the joint” and familiarize themselves with the movements of the victims and the details of the target before committing the crime.

Most organized burglars have a side job in a flexible profession like construction or delivery and know enough about police investigations. They will likely have family or a spouse, own property, and may have past criminal records.

2. Disorganized Burglaries
These burglars are amateurs who rely on brute force and leave behind plenty of evidence.

These burglars smash windows, ransack the house, and leave behind plenty of evidence including fingerprints and blood.

Ransacked House
Burglars targeting homes using obituaries. Source: Today

They are impulsive and reckless and are motivated by money, goods or drugs. In many cases, they don’t steal any property because they didn’t find what they were looking for or were interrupted in the middle of the act.

But that’s not all.

There are multiple instances of such burglars being discovered by homeowners playing video games, sleeping in the bed or making a snack in the kitchen.

Unlike organized burglars they might not have any prior criminal record, and are often too poor to own a car and live within walking or bicycling distance of their targets.

Disorganized burglars are also unlikely to have a job or a family, and are likely to have issues with drugs and/or alcohol.

3. Opportunistic Burglaries
These burglars take advantage of an unlocked door or open window to enter the target location and impulsively take random items, often for personal use.

Opportunistic burglars rarely use tools or break and enter the target location. They will spend very little time inside the premises and can be easily scared.

These burglaries are often committed by multiple teenagers and the motivations are less criminal and more about bragging rights. Areas in the vicinity of schools and colleges are susceptible to opportunistic burglaries.

The perps often have no previous criminal record, or might have been involved in related crimes like shoplifting.

4. Interpersonal Burglaries
The last class of burglars don’t target valuables or money: they are more about intimidating and scaring the victim.

Most interpersonal burglars are known to the victim and the crime is committed in their presence. These burglars are overwhelmingly male and are usually known to the victim, who turn out to be usually females.

The perps might not have any criminal records but the ones that do would likely be reported for domestic violence, stalking, voyeurism or rape.

These burglaries don’t hurt the victim financially because the items stolen usually have sentimental value. But these burglaries are more dangerous as they can easily escalate into serious crimes like molestation, rape or even murder.

How do burglars use Social Media?

According to a survey of 500 convicted burglars in New York and New Jersey, 57 respondents admitted that they used social media to plan their burglaries.

Social Media Use in Burglaries statistics

While older burglars follow the traditional method of observing the victim’s routines before making their move younger and tech-savvy thieves use Facebook, Twitter, Swarm, Instagram and Google Maps not only to determine items worth stealing but also to track the movements of the victims through check-ins and status updates.

One of the highest profile cases where social media allegedly might have played a part was the heist at Kim Kardashian’s luxury Paris penthouse where robbers tied her up and stole her 20 carat diamond engagement ring worth $4 million and a jewelry box containing 12 items.

Kim Kardashian Stolen 20 Carat Diamond Ring
Kim Kardashian showing off her diamond ring on Instagram a few days before the Paris burglary

It has been speculated that Kardashian’s habit of oversharing on social media gave robbers the information about her schedule.

How do burglars case a house?

Burglars like to break and enter without being seen. Therefore, in general burglars look for the following while selecting a target location:

How do burglars get in?

Once the burglar has determined that the house is unoccupied they will first check to see if the doors are locked.

Many people often forget to lock their doors, making the burglar’s job easy. If the door is locked, the burglar will try to search for a spare key often hidden underneath the welcome mat or a potted plant.

If the key isn’t found the burglar will force the door open with a crowbar, unlatch or force the lock on the window, or in a worst case scenario, break a windowpane.

According to FBI data, 57.9 % burglaries in 2015 involved forced entry door.

Burglaries with Forceable Entry

If a burglar cannot enter the house within a minute they will move on to a softer target.

Thieves also use creepers like ivy or trees with overhanging branches to climb in through the second story.

Secondary doors and entrances like a garage door, side door, skylight and more are also often unsecured and are a prime target for burglars.

This video from Houston Police Department lays out how burglars can enter your house, and what homeowners can do to reduce the chances of burglary.

When are burglars most likely to break in?

Most burglars will target houses between 10 am and 3 pm on weekdays, when adults are likely to be out at work or running errands and children would still be at school.

The summer months also see a spike in burglaries when many homeowners go on vacation, leaving houses empty.

Where do burglaries occur most?

According to data from FBI, Lake Charles in Louisiana is the most burglary-prone city, followed by Vallejo in California and Pueblo in Colorado.

City, State
Burglaries (per capita)
U.S. Rank
Lake Charles, LA 42.03 1
Vallejo, CA 38.79 2
Pueblo, CO 37.86 3
Youngstown, OH 35.41 4
Springfield, OH 34.95 5
Dayton, OH 34.29 6
Canton, OH 33.12 7
Santa Fe, NM 32.41 8
Memphis, TN 31.22 9
Albany, GA 30.18 10
Albany, GA

However, if you lived in Palatine, Illinois, the chances of your home being burgled are the lowest. Check out this list of ten cities with the lowest incident of burglary on a per capita basis.

City, State
Burglaries (per capita)
U.S. Rank
Palatine, IL 0.52 1
Orland Park, IL 1.08 2
Peabody, MA 1.22 3
Fishers, IN 1.31 4
Leesburg, VA 1.40 5
Ramapo Town, NY 1.43 6
Novi, MI 1.45 7
Carmel, IN 1.49 8
Rochester Hills, MI 1.60 9
Johns Creek, GA 1.68 10
Albany, GA

All cities in these lists have populations of more than 50,000.

How many burglaries occur where nothing is taken?

An average of 28% for all the reported cases of burglary falls under this category.

Where do burglars first look for valuables?

Most burglars work within a window of 10 minutes and their modus operandi is very similar. A burglar is likely to:

Most burglars tend to avoid kid’s rooms and will haul away safes if they aren’t too heavy or bolted down.

What are the most common items stolen in burglaries?

Burglars are most likely to steal household appliances and portable electronics (TV, DVD players, game consoles etc.) followed by personal items (clothing, furs, jewelry, luggage, watches) and then cash/credit cards etc.

This chart shows the types of items stolen during burglaries.

Most Common Stolen Items in Home Burglaries

Who experiences the most burglaries?

Burglars chose a particular type of target depending on several factors.

Here’s what the data from a Bureau of Justice Statistics report says about burglary targets based on the type of households.

Data from 2004-11

In terms of annual income, the analysis found that households with income of $14,999 or less were more vulnerable than higher income households, probably because of weaker security measures.

Here’s the data for burglary rate for 2011.

In terms of location, rural areas are slightly more susceptible to burglaries than urban ones while suburban households are the safest.

States of Most and Least Burglaries

Rented houses are more vulnerable to burglars: Data states that 18.3 owned households per thousand were robbed in 2011, versus 32.7 rented households per thousand.

Why do burglars ring the doorbell?

Burglars ring the doorbell to check whether the house has any occupants.

Most burglars would pose as a surveyor or a door-to-door salesperson or would merely ask for directions in the event that someone opens the door.

A significant percentage of burglaries are committed under the influence of drugs. Many burglars also look for drugs, especially prescription drugs in homes and pharmacies.

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in 2005 55% of jail inmates convicted of burglary were using drugs during the time of the crime.

Drug Related Burglaries

The number of inmates in local jails in 2002 who had committed a property crime, under which burglary is also included, to obtain money for drugs numbered 8%.

Drug money was the motive behind 9.8% prisoners in state prisons and 14.8% prisoners in federal prisons incarcerated for property crimes in 2004.

Are burglars violent?

The overwhelming majority of burglaries don’t result in violence and bodily harm.

Throughout the country, only 100 cases of burglary-homicide were recorded in 2011.

Burglary is considered to be a crime against property and is classified as such by the National Crime Report and National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

But there’s a rub:

Many state laws and the federal Armed Career Criminal Act consider burglaries to be violent crimes and the perps are prosecuted as such under the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The United States Supreme Court has considered burglary to be both violent and nonviolent crimes on a case-by-case basis.

According to National Incident Based Reporting System data from 1998-2007, only 0.9% of rural burglaries result in violence, while NCVS data suggest that 7.6% burglaries in dense urban areas can turn violent.

Are burglars deterred by alarm signs?

Security signs aren’t a surefire method of deterring burglars. While casual burglars may give your house a pass, determined thieves will ignore the signs if they feel that the returns outweigh the risks.

Home Security Yard Sign
Example of an alarm sign

Using alarm signs from companies have another disadvantage in that they can give burglars information about your alarm system. On the other hand, unmarked signs can come off as fake.

Many burglars will also stay away from neighborhoods which have “Burglars active in the area” signs.

Do home alarm systems help prevent burglaries?


A survey of convicted burglars found that a security alarm going off would scare away most, though some might also try to disarm the alarm.

Do visible security camera systems help prevent burglaries?

Burglars are wary of security cameras, and will usually give a wide berth to houses under camera surveillance.

And even if they don’t know about a camera, they will usually run when they find out they have been caught on tape: check out how these burglars escaped when they found out they were seen.

However, not all cameras are the same.

If you use a smart camera from Google Nest which uses Bluetooth and WiFi you should have a backup. Burglars can get within Bluetooth range (usually 15 feet) and take advantage of software vulnerabilities to shut down the system.

On the flip side, the presence of a camera sometimes can also be a sign that the house is worth robbing and might encourage determined burglars.

How do burglars disable alarms?

Your alarm systems have several vulnerabilities which burglars can easily exploit.

1) Lack of electric power
Alarm systems are either plugged into an electric socket or have hardwired connections. If there are power outages, alarm systems are useless.

While many homeowners have backup batteries, most of these batteries are not properly maintained and deliver standby power only for 12 hours.

Houses in areas with prolonged power cuts, often during natural disasters like blizzards, floods, storms etc. can be vulnerable to burglaries.

This news clip highlights a typical burglary in the aftermath of natural disaster.

2) Exposed phone lines
Most alarm systems use wired phone connections to alert alarm companies or authorities in the event of a break in.

Professional burglars make it a point to survey the target for phone lines which can be easily snipped off with a pair of pliers before the burglary.

3) Default codes on alarm systems
When an installer first sets up the alarm a default code (typically 1,2,3,4) is used to program the system.

When alarms are installed, a homeowner is supposed to change the default code to something specific and harder to remember and ensure that the older code doesn’t work.

But most people don’t change their codes.

This makes it easy for a burglar to enter your house through a door or a window, take advantage of the 30-60 second delay most alarms have before going off and disarm the system from the alarm panel without alerting anyone.

4) Alarms which can be remotely disarmed
Many alarms can be remotely armed or disarmed using a key fob.

While these models are more convenient for homeowners, the key fob remote can be easily stolen, making it simple for burglars to disarm the system before walking into your home.

How do burglars get past dogs?

Burglars hate dogs.

More specifically, they hate dogs not for their bite but for their bark.

A furiously barking dog can draw the attention of neighbors or other people, and make it impossible for the burglar to make a quiet entrance or a getaway.

While the size of the dog doesn’t really matter, burglars are particularly wary of smaller dogs who tend to bark more than bigger ones.

Do burglars come back?

Odds are, yes!

If burglars have already gotten away with loot once, they are more likely to return and target your house because they are familiar with the target.

They will already know the security measures they have to contend with, the response time of police, a general idea of the layout of the house, the schedules of the inhabitants, and the valuables they might be able to steal.

Arrested Burglars

Even if you are fortunate or careful enough for burglars to avoid you, chances are high that they will target another house in the same neighborhood.

One study found that 15% of burglary victims have been robbed more than 3 times.

How many burglaries occur in the United States?

According to FBI data, 1,579,527 burglaries were reported in the US in 2015.

Burglary Stats in The United States

Are burglaries on the rise?

FBI’s Crime in the United States 2015 report released in 2016 states that burglaries dropped by 7.8% from the past year. In 2014, there was one burglary every 18.2 seconds.

On the flip side, the financial losses incurred by victims are significant: the FBI estimates that the average dollar value loss per burglary was $2,251 in 2014, up from $2,120 in 2011.

Most burglars target personal items like clothing, furs, jewelry, luggage, watches and electronic items like TVs, DVD players, laptops etc.

How many burglaries are cleared with arrests?

According to FBI statistics, burglaries have the second lowest clearance rate at 13.6% in 2014 (motor vehicle theft at 12.8% was the lowest cleared crime).

How much of stolen properties are recovered?

While chances of stolen properties being recovered from burglars are low there are some things you can do to tip the scales in your favor.

The following table lists out the items stolen and recovered in 2015.

Type of property
Currency, notes, etc. $1,134,705,216 $35,597,500
Jewelry and precious metals $1,408,801,054 $70,292,897
Clothing and furs $335,822,063 $60,416,228
Locally stolen motor vehicles $4,550,267,741 $2,646,912,427
Office equipment $525,327,094 $28,697,932
Televisions, radios, stereos, etc. $512,934,655 $25,130,139
Firearms $164,428,081 $14,190,402
Household goods $261,072,326 $10,374,714
Consumable goods $121,698,954 $15,541,571
Livestock $19,735,289 $2,291,803
Miscellaneous $3,385,571,981 $333,092,150
$12,420,364,454 $3,242,537,763

Source: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hb9411.pdf

How fast do the Police respond to an alarm?

According to security experts, police response to an alarm will depend on the priority level.

Burglaries verified by audio and video or calls to 911 made while a break-in is in progress are accorded the highest priority by police, and the average response time nationwide is 7 minutes.

Police Response Time to Burglaries

However, police response times will increase for unverified triggered alarms (94-98% alarms are false) and also for alarms raised after the burglary is over.

Response times for alarms triggered in isolated locations are also higher than those triggered in cities under the jurisdiction of local police departments. For the former, response times can be up to 1 hour or more.

According to media reports, the average response time for alarms is around 30 minutes.

In many cases, burglars trigger alarms intentionally to check out the police response time, and then plan the robbery so that they would be long gone before the police arrive.

While these stats aren’t comforting there is a bright spot: 60% of convicted burglars avoided a home with a security system and targeted other locations.

Harry Mehserdjian Harry Mehserdjian
Home Security Consultant

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