Tips from a former burglar on how to keep your home safe over the holidays

Xmas thief
Christmas is the best time of year - for burglars, too. Photo credit: Getty

Thousands of Kiwis are about to head off on their summer holidays, leaving their homes unattended.

While you're soaking up the sun, drinking fruity cocktails and staying blissfully unaware of whatever Donald Trump is tweeting, someone could be eyeing up your home and evaluating how easy it would be to break in.

This year saw a 34 percent increase in reported break-ins and burglary attempts from 2015. Despite the increase in crime, almost half of all Kiwis still leave a spare key outside their house, and leave their garage and shed unlocked, according to the National Burglary Report commissioned by Nest.

So how can you avoid making your home an easy target? Newshub spoke to reformed burglar Adrian Pritchard about the best home security tips for over the holidays.

Mr Pritchard was a well-known and experienced burglar, who would often steal from two or three premises per night during his criminal career. After a long prison sentence he changed his ways, and is now an author, community worker and motivational speaker.

The 'best time to burgle'

Mr Pritchard says the Christmas and New Year period is always "the best time to burgle", thanks to many people leaving their houses unattended for weeks on end.

"A lot of burglars start at the end of November, breaking into sheds and houses."

He says most home burglaries are either spur-of-the-moment crimes or well-planned heists, carried out by someone known to the occupants.

Your best bet to minimise your chances of being chosen by a spontaneous burglar over the holidays is not to make it obvious no one's home, he says.

"Leave the house the way you would normally, if you were just going to work."

This means leaving the curtains open, getting a neighbour to empty your letterbox and organising another car to be parked in your driveway.

Don't do this. Photo credit: Getty

If you'll be away for several weeks, it's not a bad idea to get someone to mow the lawns to keep your property from looking too derelict. Not coming home to overgrown grass is an added bonus.

Tips for creating the illusion of an occupied home

  1. Leave the curtains open.
  2. Have your letterbox emptied.
  3. Get another car to park in your driveway.
  4. Have your lawn mowed.

While Christmas might be the most wonderful time of the year, it's also a wonderful time for enterprising thieves. The festive combination of expensive new items and unattended homes is a burglar's paradise.

After you've unwrapped your presents, Mr Pritchard recommends taking all the packaging straight to the dump, rather than leaving it in your outside bin for potential burglars to see.

"If you've just bought yourself a new TV or something brand new, don't put the boxes out on the street, so people can see you've bought a new entertainment system."

Christmas decorations, if visible through your windows, can be a tip-off to burglars that your home is ripe for the picking.

Thieves love Christmas time.
Thieves love Christmas time. Photo credit: Getty

Mr Pritchard says you should avoid putting presents underneath the tree until Christmas Eve (those with cats, dogs or impatient children probably don't need to be told this).

"If a burglar walks past a driveway, and they see Christmas lights everywhere and the house is all lit up, they'll look through the window and there's all these presents underneath the tree."

While it might seem a touch Grinch-like, he also says all Christmas decorations - including the tree - should come down on Boxing Day, especially if you're heading out of town.

Tips for avoiding a festive fright

  1. No presents under the tree before Christmas Eve.
  2. Take packaging to the dump, not the bin.
  3. Make sure your home is decoration-free after Boxing Day.

Leaving your house unoccupied for the length of your holiday can seem like a big risk, so Mr Pritchard recommends investing in gadgets, like a timer, to automatically turn lights on in the evening.

"You can even buy little sensors for the TV, so if someone picks it up a noise will go off," he says. "You can buy so much stuff today."

Mr Pritchard recommends anything that produces light and sound, which are a burglar's worst fears.

"Most burglars operate in the dark. If there's any noise or any lights, they don't want to be around.

"It's like, 'Hey, someone might be noticing me here.'"

Laptops, TVs and jewellery are usually the first things burglars go for. If you're leaving valuables behind when you leave town, Mr Pritchard says investing in a safe is your best bet.

If a safe isn't within your budget, try to get your most valuable items out of the house while you're away. Give them to a trusted friend or relative to keep secure at their home, or you could even store them in your shed or garage.

"A lot of people do burgle sheds, but they're looking for car tools or food, fridges, freezers," says Mr Pritchard. "They don't expect a thousand-dollar ring to be stashed there."

He advises Kiwis to "think out of the box" when it comes to hiding places, especially for house keys.

"Burglars think logically, like the house key will be under the doormat. They don't think the key could be under a lemon tree out the back."

Tips for ensuring peace of mind while on holiday

  1. Consider timers for lights and sensors for the TV.
  2. Keep valuables in a safe;
  3. or give them to a trusted friend
  4. or store them in the shed.
  5. Hide keys and other important items in unusual places.

Summer is party season which, if you have teenagers, often means a lot of people you don't know traipsing through your house.

Allowing unknown party guests to freely roam around your home gives them the opportunity to swipe your belongings - or to case the joint to plan a full burglary a few days later.

Mr Pritchard says when his daughters host parties he has one simple rule - keep it outside.

"No one needs to go inside. If we're going to have a few drinks, we're going to do it outside and put up a marquee."

This is also an effective way to keep vomit out of your carpet.

Better safe than sorry

Mr Pritchard says others are often bemused by his "obsession" with security, but he believes the effort is well worth it.

"People say, 'why would you want to go to that extreme?' For me, it's not just about getting your stuff stolen, it's the fact that someone's coming into your house who you didn't invite.

"They've just walked through your house, they could have gone through anything.

"You can replace your stuff, but you can't replace that integrity, that invasion of privacy."

There's also the risk of your home being damaged during a burglary. Mr Pritchard recalls that once during his burgling career he stole a dishwasher, which meant unplugging the water supply.

"Water just went everywhere. We got the dishwasher, but the house would have been flooded with water - the carpet, the floorboards and all of that.

"Things like that can happen to your place."

To keep your Christmas from ending in heartbreak, go the extra mile to make sure your house isn't the target of any festive filching.