18:01 12 November 2012
You wake up as normal, yawn, haul yourself out of bed and trudge downstairs. But things don't look right. You are sure you didn't leave the living room light on the night before and you can feel a slight breeze blowing through the house.
As you step into the kitchen, the sight that greets you soon confirms your worst fears. Drawers are pulled out, the contents scattered, and the back door and kitchen window are wide open. You've been burgled.
As anyone who has been broken into (including myself) will be aware, that initial sick feeling you experience on making this discovery stays with you long after the event. And the emotional impact of a burglary is often far greater than the infliction caused by having your possessions stolen.
But unfortunately, with the shorter days and longer nights, winter is a prime time for break-ins. And with many of us already stock-piling Christmas gifts, burglars are well aware that this time of year can potentially bring rich pickings.
But there are a number of ways you can protect your home against unscrupulous thieves. Here, we take a look.
Could YOU get in?
No one wants their home to feel like Fort Knox but getting into the mind-set of burglars and knowing what makes a house an attractive target can help you take the necessary precautions.
Start by looking at the front of your house through their eyes. A sturdy, secure door with a cylinder lock and mortise (available from any DIY store) will be a lot more hassle for them to get into than a flimsy door with just one lock. Time is of the essence so the harder it is to get in, the more likely they are to steer clear.
Next, scrutinise your windows. If they aren't double-glazed, do they have secure, visible locks on them? And do you have blinds up or is your front room proudly showcasing a 48-inch flat screen, iPad, and camera?
It sounds obvious, but when you are going out, make sure you are vigilant and don't take any chances. Crimestoppers states that, in one-in-three burglaries, force doesn't need to be used and these well-seasoned pros know every trick in the book.
Whether this is putting a coat-hanger through your letterbox and unlocking the door, or using a long implement to hook your keys off a nearby table, don't give them an easy ride.
Alarm your property
Having a burglar alarm fitted is an essential way of giving your home added security - and giving you peace of mind.
Systems range in price and ability, from basic models through to alarms that call your mobile phone to let you know there is a break-in happening.
Whichever level of security you go for, make sure you choose a reputable company. Don't be tempted to go for a dummy alarm, as burglars know what to look for and can spot them a mile off.
Similarly, putting up a 'beware of the dog' signs is unlikely to be much of a deterrent and more of a clear signal that an animal in the house will mean the alarm is less likely to be on.
Don't let your holiday end sourly
There's little worse than returning from a relaxing holiday only to find that your home has been ransacked. However, there are classic mistakes that can advertise your home as being unoccupied. Wide open curtains in the evenings, no lights on and mounting post inside the doors are an open invitation to thieves.
So if you are concerned about leaving your home empty, it could be worth investing in timers for lights, curtains and your radio. Ask a neighbour or friend to regularly check on the property and remove post from where it falls.
On the other hand, there are burglars who have the audacity to enter your home when people are inside and up and about.
This happened to my sister who is a university student. Her friends left the kitchen for five minutes at a party and in that time thieves who had been lying in wait ran in and snatched a number of handbags. So even when you're in - and even in daylight - keep your doors locked!
Don't forget the garden
Your garden can be a treasure trove of handy tools for a burglar. Wheelie bins, chairs and tables can all become useful implements to gain access into a property.
So make sure sheds and outhouses are securely locked and there is nothing in your garden that could be 'creatively' used to implement a break in. Our own break in was made possible by old stilts that had been taken from the shed then used to prise open the window.
Another thing to bear in mind is whether your garden could actually be acting as a screen. High bushes, hedges, tress and fences offer a great disguise to burglars. Put up security lights around your house to ensure that they can't hide and are caught in the act and frightened off.
Beware of return visits!
Sometimes burglars will return to a property after an initial break-in. Once they know the lay-out of the property and what its contents are, it makes it easier to plan their route.
So make sure you don't leave a calendar hanging in a conspicuous place as this is an ideal way for them to work out when you're out, away or on holiday.
Fight back with the right insurance cover
Despite taking numerous measures, unfortunately you may still fall prey to burglars. If this is the case, you'll still need to make sure you have a sound home insurance policy in place. Although this will come at a cost - especially if you have made previous claims - it's the only way to financially protect yourself for the future.
But taking some of the mentioned home security measures will secure attractive discounts on your policy - as will taking out buildings and contents insurance with the same provider and buying the policy online.
However, shopping around for the best quote for the cover you need, is the most foolhardy way of bagging the best deal. Check out MoneySupermarket's home insurance channel to compare deals and see how much you can save.
Don't rob yourself!
But make sure you don't try and lower your premium by under-insuring your contents, either by underestimating their total cost or by deliberately declaring less in a bid to keep down your quoted premium.
Go around each room in the house and make a note of every item that is in there from the kids' toys, to your clothes, to kitchen appliances. Then work out how much they would cost to replace, so you can be sure that if you do need to put in a claim, there wouldn't be a shortfall. Use our contents insurance calculator to help work this out.
Some home policies will offer blanket cover up to a certain limit so check the small print for what this is to make sure you don't exceed it. Other insurers will quote 'unlimited cover' for contents but bear in mind this is collective - there will be limits imposed for each single item you claim for.
While you're at it, it's also worth checking to see if there is an automatic increase in your level of cover during the Christmas period - a service which some insurers offer free of charge. Not all though so, again, read through the policy wording with care.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing
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