"Burglary involves a theft from a home or other building," explains Brady McAninch, partner at the Hipskind & McAninch law firm in Belleville, IL. "It is the act of improperly entering a home without permission with the intent to steal or damage the home or items within it."
However, he explains that robbery is the forceful taking directly from an individual. "Think your classic 'stick em up' in an old western movie."
According to the FBI, in 2017 (the latest year with data available), there were 1.4 million burglaries in the U.S. Victims of these offenses sustained property losses estimated at $3.4 billion. There were roughly 319 000 robberies in the same year, accounting for $438 million in losses.
Obviously, no one wants to be a victim of either. However, Jon Knight, CSO at Fortified Estate, a high-end residential fortification company, believes that robberies are a much more frightening prospect. "It's sad to lose valuables, but in a robbery, an injury or even the loss of life is an actual possibility."
Fortunately, robbery is rare, and Knight says that most of the time, it is accidental -- a criminal assumed a house was empty. "However, it does happen, and it can be more common with our higher-net-worth clients where criminals plan an attack rather than the typical opportunistic burglary."
How to protect yourself from a burglary
Even though Knight works for a home fortification company, he says your home doesn't need to be a fortress to avoid being burglarized. "For the most part, you just need to make sure you're not the most attractive burglary opportunity on the block."
But what does that entail? "Burglars naturally love being hidden, so anything that blocks visibility to entry points of your home adds risk," he explains. "This often includes foliage, home layout, or even fences -- ones that block visibility yet can be physically bypassed." If you can't remove the areas to provide coverage to burglars, he recommends using motion-activated bright lights and obvious security cameras in those areas."
Also, a KTVB report of anecdotal evidence generated by 86 burglars reveals that they overwhelmingly agreed that if a television or radio was playing in the home, "they would immediately leave the scene rather than risk finding a homeowner," he says. "They seemed more concerned about this than even an alarm system -- which they might be able to tamper with."
"For the most part, you just need to make sure you're not the most attractive burglary opportunity on the block."
Jon Knight, CSO at Fortified Estate
Knight also offers advice to minimize the loss of valuables if a burglary does take place. "Assuming you do have a proper alarm system installed, the criminal knows they have just a few minutes to steal what they want." You should keep your most important items in a safe. "However, the safe should be in a harder to find area, and it should be bolted down -- otherwise, the burglar may just carry it off." In terms of hiding the safe, Knight says this could be as simple as putting a few heavy boxes in front and on top of it since every second counts. "Likewise, even bulky valuable items -- such as artwork -- could be moved to an out-of-the-way room before a long trip."
How to protect yourself from a robbery
A busy house could help to deter a robbery. "The easiest 'soft' security solution is to ensure there are frequent visitors in and out of your house -- but this obviously is often impractical," says Knight. So, he recommends protecting outside entry points as much as you can. "Typical doors can be kicked right in, and glass broken easily," Knight explains. "A door that prevents forced entry and strong glass -- whether impact-resistant or ideally, ballistic glass -- can be the difference between having time to call the police before the intruder gains entry and it being too late." A home security system can also make a difference, especially if it's monitored since the company can call the police directly.
A safe room or panic room can also provide a defense against a robbery. While this may sound like an option reserved for million-dollar homes, Knight says it doesn't have to be elaborate and can be discreetly built into a usable room, such as a bedroom. "A secure door can be used, and walls can be reinforced with the right material even to stop a bullet," he explains. "Some of our higher-end clients will even store a few bullet-resistant blankets that they can grab in an emergency and protect themselves or drape over a door or exposed window for ad hoc protection."
He admits that no defense is completely impenetrable but says you can buy time until the police arrive. And that's another area that you need to shore up. Make sure that you can quickly communicate with 911. "This can be as simple as keeping landlines in most rooms of the home or even installing simple panic buttons through the house that can be set up to alert authorities," Knight says. "As with burglary crimes, your best defense is always deterring and delaying the criminal until those who are expert at stopping criminals -- the police -- can arrive."
What to do if you're a victim of a burglary or robbery
After calling the police, you should contact your insurance agent soon after. "Burglaries are going to be covered under your homeowner's insurance policy, up to the limits of the policy," says John Espenschied, owner of Insurance Brokers Group in Chesterfield, MO. "Most insurance policies will specify dollar limits for certain items like jewelry, computers, or sporting goods -- and you can request increased limits or schedule a particular item of higher value."
Those "higher value" items can often be covered under what's called "scheduled personal property" -- a policy add-on that offers greater coverage for specific items.
Robbery would also be covered under the home policy up to the same limits, according to Espenschied.
"If a robber 'requests' you remove your jewelry, it would have been a good idea to have had those items added as a rider or scheduled with an appraised value amount," he says. Espenschied adds that scheduled items are covered worldwide, so you should be sure to add any individual jewelry valued over $1500 each. "The cost is generally less than 1% of the insured amount."
Also, you should understand how any type of theft can impact your future home insurance premium renewals, Espenschied says. "Make sure that you are exceeding your deductible limits before filing a claim," he advises. "If a burglar steals an amount below your deductible, you will not receive any money for the loss because you have a minimum deductible amount like $1000 or $1500, depending on how your policy was set up."
This is also a good place to mention the link between your security system and your insurance premium. "I recommend taking advantage of the discount for having a monitored security system, which can save you 5% to 10% off your annual homeowner's insurance premium," Espenschied says.
You should also read your fine print. "Many coverages require any items worth more than $1,000 -- like a wedding ring -- to be disclosed to the insurance company," says McAninch. "Take pictures, keep the receipt -- with electronic storing of data, these things are easy to do now." And this advice isn't just for jewelry. "That Jordan sneaker collection that you take pictures of for Instagram? Make sure you have records of those shoes: Where did you buy them, for how much -- keep track of this," he says.
The bottom line
Burglaries and robberies can be traumatizing. While there are no guarantees that you can avoid them, taking every precaution can make you an unattractive target. If a crime does occur, be sure that you have sufficient insurance to cover your losses. It also helps to know, in advance, how to file an insurance claim. Insurance for break-in prone areas may be different, so you should research this topic as well. Finally, there are a number of online apps and services to help you track your neighborhood if you're concerned about safety or, perhaps, considering a move to a new community.