Yes, Burglars Read Your Social Media to Learn When You're Away

Note to social media users: When you share your whereabouts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or what have you, it may not be just your friends who are paying attention. If you let it be known that you are away on that fabulous holiday in Mexico, Hawaii, or the South of France, you may be doing more than inspiring envy among your friends and followers. There may be lurking among them people whose only interest in your holiday is the distance it takes you away from your home and for how long.

Earlier this month, the Hollywood Reporter told of a wave of Southern California burglaries targeting the homes of celebrities. “In recent weeks,” says the Reporter, “the homes of Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Lakers guard Nick Young and singers Nicki Minaj and Alanis Morissette have been hit (a safe stolen from Morissette contained items valued at $2 million).” And, just in the few days since that story was published, homes belonging to Kendall Jenner and Jaime Pressly were also burglarized.

Yes, it is possible that some of these celebrities have made the burglars’ work that much easier through social media. Most burglars prefer to target homes when the occupants are away, and if you can consult Instagram and discover that some actor or athlete is away on some foreign frolic, so much the better.

But the truth is that many non-celebrities have been victimized as well.

Though reported burglaries in Los Angeles as a whole are down slightly from last year at this time (pdf), in the tony neighborhoods of West L.A., where many of the rich and famous make their homes, burglaries are up 24 percent this year (pdf).

And it’s not just happening in Los Angeles. Some suburban neighborhoods are seeing increases in what are known as “knock-knock” burglaries, in which thieves, sometimes after surveilling a house, knock on the door to verify that no one is home. Once satisfied that this is so, they make their way to the side or back of the house, where they can break in without being spotted by neighbors or passersby. Even if a home is equipped with a security system, the crooks know they have several minutes to ransack the place before even the most prompt police response.

The knock-knock modus operandi is hardly a new one, but for some time it has been popular with gang members from some of L.A.’s rougher precincts, who, aware that the picking is richer in West L.A. and the Hollywood Hills, venture far beyond their traditional turf in search of targets. Things did no go well for one such team last June. When their caper was interrupted by police in Simi Valley, the archetypal Southern California car chase ensued, at the end of which two men jumped from their car on the Santa Monica Freeway and scrambled down the embankment. They were both quickly arrested. As bad as it turned out for these two, it could have been much, much worse. I’m reliably informed that the home they had selected was that of a police officer who happened to be home at the time, and who armed himself with a shotgun as the crooks broke in. Blessed with more restraint than I might have had under the circumstances, he scared the hoods away with a shout rather than settling things on the spot with his shotgun.

Home burglary is considered a non-violent crime, but its effects on victims can be as traumatizing as a robbery or an assault. The thought that someone selected your home and then broke in to rummage through your belongings can be unsettling, most especially if the thief is not caught (as few of them are). I’m often asked about the best ways to prevent burglaries, and there a few steps I recommend. But first, remember that no home can be made impregnable to a committed burglar. Even most elaborate security measures can be defeated, and some burglars pride themselves on selecting the most forbidding targets. But most do not, and it behooves any homeowner to make his house uninviting to those looking for a place to break in. Perhaps the best tool I’ve heard of is a video doorbell that connects to your smartphone. (No product endorsements here, but you can find them easily enough). With this device, you can be anywhere with an internet connection and still create the impression that you’re at home.

Try to have an arrangement with your neighbors that you will watch out for each other. Last week, KTLA in Los Angeles reported on the arrest of three burglars who were spotted by a neighbor using a video system. But even the most dedicated neighbors can’t keep watch constantly, so harden the target by locking all doors and windows, even those on upper floors.

A big dog, or even a small, noisy one, can cause a burglar to think twice about breaking into a home, but some thieves have gone so far as to poison dogs if they are determined to hit a particular home. Security systems are fine, but as I said, there is a considerable delay in getting police response to a burglar alarm (the great majority of which are false activations). But having such a system with cameras may help in capturing the perpetrators should you find yourself a victim.

Finally, though this is not for everyone, certainly, there is no substitute for a shotgun in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. I’ve got mine.