While the cat's away...
As many of us prepare to jet off to sunnier shores this summer no doubt weâre more concerned with packing the right swim-suit than tying up loose ends at home. The problem is, while youâre having fun in the sun your house is left unoccupied and consequently is at greater risk of burglary.
Reformed burglar Michael Fraser joins us in the studio for a live webchat to explain just how much your home is at risk whilst youâre away. Burglary is not a new risk but because of the current economic downturn there may be an increased chance of it happening to you.
According to research conducted by AlertMe.Com over half of Brits are fearful that the credit crunch will mean a rise in crime as people increasingly struggle to keep up with the cost of living. Three quarters of people claim they would never turn to crime under any circumstances. This still leaves 1 in 4 people, however, who would turn to crime if their situation became dire enough.
If you have any questions about tightening your home security you can submit them to Michael by logging on to our live webchat.
Reformed burglar Michael Fraser and security expert Pilgrim Beart join us live online on Tuesday 24th June at 2pm to discuss tightening your home security.
H: Victoria Letch, host
M: Michael Fraser, reformed burglar
P: Pilgrim Beart, security expert
H: Hello and welcome to the Homes and Gardens Show, I’m Victoria Letch. As many of us prepare to jet off to sunnier shores this summer, no doubt we’re more concerned with packing the right swim suit than tying up those loose ends at home. The problem is, while you’re having fun in the sun, your house is left unoccupied and consequently is at greater risk of burglary. I’m joined today by security expert Pilgrim Beart and reformed burglar, Michael Fraser – guys welcome to the webchats TV studio!
H: Very nice, thank you so much for joining us. Pilgrim, I want to start with you because I understand you conducted a rather interesting survey that can be found on your website?
P: Yes well Alert Me has just conducted a survey of 1000 people around the UK looking into attitudes to crime, particularly at the moment with the credit crunch, we were looking to see whether the credit crunch is likely to increase crime. And just over half of the people we surveyed felt that in their local area it was likely to increase crime, mainly as a result of earnings not keeping up with the cost of living, and therefore there is an increase in gap which will cause some people to turn to crime
H: Right. I can imagine that you discovered some quite interesting / entertaining titbits from the public?
P: Yes we asked people all sorts of things actually, partly to understand if anyone would turn to crime, and about ¾ of the people we surveyed said that under no circumstances would they turn to crime, which was quite reassuring. However, 11% of people said that they would steal a sweet from the pic ‘n’ mix – so maybe that’s not too criminal, 25% said that they would take towels and dressing gowns from hotels, which maybe is getting a bit more serious
P: 40% said that they would steal office stationery from work to use for their own purposes. So that doesn’t quite jive really because ¾ of people saying they’re not going to be criminals, and yet 40% are saying that they would take office stationery. So obviously different people’s boundaries are in different places to what actually constitutes a crime
H: Ok. Now talking of crime, Michael, over to you now. I understand you have – shall I say colourful past?
M: Yes I grew up in care, I think it was more peer pressure really but I ended up with a group of lads who – we would go out and actually burgle properties. We did quite a few and that was it really, I sort of got involved in the crime element as such
H: Right, so now obviously this gets me thinking how on earth did your paths cross, the two of you?
P: Well shall I tell the story or do you really want to?
M: Yes – no –
P: The first I knew of it was that Channel 5’s gadget show, which I watch avidly, decided to do a feature on alarm systems, and one of the alarm systems that they wanted to test was Alert Me, so the first I knew of this was seeing a Gadget Show episode which featured Michael actually breaking into homes. Do you want to tell a little bit more about the story?
M: I did a program called Beat the Burglar for the BBC and it really was about testing home security. The Gadget Show came up with this idea of fitting two different show homes with alarm systems and what I had to do is break in with each presenter and try and get in, get the chocolates and get back out. Which was quite interesting because as I actually got there, I went into the first house, looked at the alarm system, asked questions about it, and it was actually Alert Me alarm but I was trying to find out what I could about the alarm beforehand
H: Ah, to try and beat the system presumably?
M: I wanted to beat the system, I wanted to prove I could bypass it, which – I broke in with the presenter, and the alarm went off. It actually worked. It alerted the other presenter, she came in and we dived out the window and got away
H: Now I understand as well that the other home involved had quite a fandangled, very sophisticated system, and you thought that actually that was going to be the alarm system that gets the better of you
M: Well I was quite confident of bypassing Alert Me
M: I was very confident so I wasn’t too concerned about that system. The house, the next house had a fantastic, sophisticated alarm, and I thought there’s no way of getting past that because it actually supposed to pick you up as you go around to the back of the house. Well it didn’t, the system went down, I bypassed it and managed to get the chocolates
H: The chocolates! I must admit if I was ever going to turn to crime it probably would be for some sort of sweet treat, I won’t lie to you! Now I want to go back to summer very briefly, because of course it is the summer when we’re all super concerned about our homes, because perhaps we are away for two, three weeks at a time. Michael, what are the very simple things we can do to help combat burglary?
M: Well simple things are double locks on the front door, that – not just one cylinder lock, have a dead lock on it as well. Visual window locks so you can see there’s window locks there. Sticker saying you’re part of Neighbourhood Watch, it’s just about simple things to secure your property, because the opportunist is looking for a really easy way of getting in, and it won’t necessarily go for the front, if he sees a weakness there he’ll go around the back and he’ll enter the property, maybe on a wheelie bin or whatever, but he’ll get in
H: And I suppose that’s the worrying thing is, these aren’t necessarily people who are thinking “I will burgle a house today” – they’re walking past and they’re seeing an open window and they’re thinking ah this is my chance
M: Opportunists work like that, they’ll go to walk along a street and they call it shopping because they’re looking in the windows, they’re looking to see what they can get, can they get in there, looking for signs saying Beware of the Dog because that’s a giveaway – have you an alarm system if you’ve got a dog, or do you have a hatch in the back door big enough for an elephant to get through? Because a burglar can get through quite small spaces
H: Yes. Now listen I just want to give you all a little reminder at home of course we are live today, so if you do have any questions pop them in the box and then submit them to us and we will try and get them answered. Do you know what, I will prove my point, I’m going to take the first one of these live questions coming through, and this is from Shirley, and she says “I often hear alarms going off in car parks, but people seem to ignore them. How can we get people to take more of an interest?”
P: I think that’s a very good question, I think there is a problem in modern life that we have become completely immune to alarms. That was actually one of the things we asked people about in the survey, is whether they would respond to an alarm if they heard it
P: And more than half the people said they wouldn’t, just because you know 9 times out of 10 it is a false alarm and it just wakes you up at night, and ignores you. So Alert Me is part of a new breed of alarm systems which instead of having a bell ringing on your wall, in which case you’re really the last to find out that there’s been a problem, you might come home several hours later to find out that you’ve been burgled, your front door’s been kicked open – with a system like Alert Me you can actually, be notified as soon as something happens in your home, so essentially you’re in touch with your home all the time, so it’s using something we all now have on us, our mobile phone
P: To keep you in touch with your home, so if something happens in your home, it might be a burglary, it might be a fire, or even some happier event like your daughter coming home or something else you might want to know about, then the system can actually tell you immediately by sending you a text message, and giving you very specific information, and it’s not just telling you, it can tell the other people who live in your house, maybe your neighbour, your friends who live nearby, your family – so you know if you’re on holiday, the community of people who care about you and your property can help look after it
H: Which is just great as well, I suppose it goes back to the good old days when your neighbours would draw your curtains for you so it looked like you were there, I mean this is really taking it into 2008 in style isn’t it?
P: Well I think so, and we really believe in community actually, I think there’s a strong feeling that there’s been a loss of community in British society and we really want to help bring that back, and we think that everybody does have a community of friends and neighbours who can act to help them. Michael I was interested, I think you said in the guide that you’ve prepared that the Neighbourhood Watch stickers are quite a deterrent to burglars because they show that there’s some sense of awareness?
M: I think anything that is a deterrent, window locks, the sticker in the window, it shows you understand you could be burgled, that the thing is, people that don’t bother doing anything that is positive about securing their property, they’re the targets, you know on the web page I’ve actually put about cars as well, when you parallel park. Now if you turn the wheels into the kerb when you park, it takes a few more seconds for that car to be removed, but you’ll find people will not pinch that car, they’ll move on to the next one because there’s something not quite right that they can’t probably realise about the wheels, they just know something’s not right and they’ll move on to the next car.
H: Now I have to say gents as you’re having your little chat over there, Angela I think that covered your question, thank you very much for asking the question, I do believe that the gentlemen have just answered it for you so I’m going to go to Josh Harvey, Josh thank you very much, Josh says “I’ve never been burgled but think I would not be able to move back to my house. How do people get over being burgled?” Who wants to take that one?
M: This is the frustrating side of burglary, people don’t realise how serious it is, and a lot of people, victims or you know people who’ve had attempted burglaries, they live with it for the rest of their lives, because it’s just the intrusion into your house, and I used to do it, and I look back and I – you know – I really do feel bad about what I was like, that’s why I’m on the other side now, trying to get it over to people, protect your home, because you don’t get over it, you really don’t, it stays with you for a very long time
H: I’ve had first hand experience, I actually found a man in my flat, and it really did change the way I felt in my home, I felt quite violated and really quite uncomfortable, you know to even be in that environment. What would you say – what would your message be to people who had that kind of “it won’t happen to me” attitude?
P: Well I sincerely hope that they’re right. The statistics – the government publish something called the British Crime Survey every year, and it’s just full of statistics, it’s a most amazing collection of facts and figures about crime in Britain, all sorts of crime, and the statistics on burglary make quite interesting reading. In some parts of the country your chances of being burgled every year are roughly one in ten, which is very high
H: Very high
P: It’s not that bad everywhere, but you know there are areas where burglary is really very prevalent indeed, and the chances – I’m not sure, I can’t remember the exact figures, I think the number of burglaries a year, it’s something like 1.6 million burglaries a year so it’s –
H: My gosh
P: It’s very high numbers, there’s a lot of it going on and as Michael says a lot of it is opportunistic theft rather than sort of planned sort of casing the joint and stealing the safe or whatever
M: But also the statistics don’t actually, you don’t get all burglary reported. Some people just don’t tell the police or authorities, they just don’t bother
H: Yes. Now Sarah has sent us a question, thank you very much Sarah, and this one really – do you know what Sarah, kindred spirits. “I’m a bit of a technophobe so I’m not sure about using alarms and stuff” – that’s the language I would have used as well Sarah, believe you me. And I believe you’ve got some examples, show us just how simple this is
P: Well yes actually something else that we uncovered in the survey really is that about 70% of people were worried about the security of their home and their family, but only about 34% of people have actually got alarms, so there’s a big gap there, and even worse than that, about half of the people who have alarms don’t use them regularly, and when we asked why not, the reasons were often that they’re just too complicated to use, or they forgotten the pin code or they’re worried about false alarms
P: So there are lots of reasons why people don’t use traditional burglar alarms, so what Alert Me is part of is a new wave of alarm systems which hopefully are very, very simple to use, where extra work’s been put in to make them very simple to use. So if I could just show you some parts of the system – so when you get Alert me, one of the simple things you get is just a key fob which you use like a car alarm to blip and unblip your house when you come and go, it’s very easy to use, there are no pin codes, nothing to forget, and in fact if you forget to use your key fob and leave the house without setting the alarm you can very easily send a text message to set the alarm, or even when you get to work you can just log on using the web, and set your alarm that way, so the system uses all the things we’re familiar with already like the car blipper, your mobile phone and the web, so it’s just very simple to use
H: And you’re really covered as well because I know lots of people out there will be thinking well when I’m leaving in the morning I’m thinking about everything I have to take to work and take in my lunch, and making my lunch, but if you forget you can then do it at work at your computer which is great
H: We’ve had lots of questions coming through actually about people who live in flats rather than houses. Do you think they have to be just as concerned about the safety of their home? Because I suppose people high up think well I’m four floors up, do I really have to worry?
M: The biggest thing – again, we proved this on the program, if you’ve got a block of flats or 5 or 6 different rooms in a house, all you do, the opportunist again, presses every bell and as people answer, says is John in, or Paul in or whatever, and you usually find people will open the front door – you’re in. Then you check every single flat. Now they are just as likely to be robbed as a house or anywhere else, so yes we should be taking care anyway – I – if you – once you’re in the outer building, once you’re inside you can go from every flat, and that’s been known to be done as well
H: Yes. I think that happened where I’m living actually. Not while I was there thank goodness. Now I know lots of people – and certainly I’ve had experience of this as well from a family that I know in Maidenhead – animals can set of alarms, so some people are a little bit worried about having them. We’ve had a question in from Lindsay, thank you Lindsay, and she says “I have a home security system, and at the moment which is mainly used at night, but I’m finding the foxes that visit my garden keep setting it off. Is there anything I can do?”
P: That’s interesting, yes it makes me wonder what kind of system she’s got, because in theory most burglar alarms just protect what’s in the house and they don’t – you might have security lights outside, maybe that’s what she’s talking about, but in terms of the alarm itself that shouldn’t be triggered by events outside the house. Now what can sometimes happen is if you take a motion sensor, so this is an example of a motion sensor so it just gets triggered by any movement by a burglar walking in front of it. One of the important things about those is not to point them at windows, because if you do they can be set off by things outside the window, so put them up in a corner somewhere in your house that’s pointing away from the windows but still has a good line of sight across the room, so it will catch any burglars walking in but it won’t be triggered by animals in your garden
H: Ok. Ok we have another question, we are running out of time now so I’m going to try and squeeze in another question – is this one from Mark? “Michael from your experience and talking to people who have broken into houses, does a siren set off make the intruder run or still try and run through house to grab something of value before leaving?”
M: Usually even though people don’t take notice of alarms going off, you’ll find the opportunist will be gone as soon as that alarm goes, he’ll run, he won’t hang around because he doesn’t want to take a risk. Today I mean a lot of – you’ve got DNA so they don’t want to get tripping over things and hitting things, you know burglary is a horrible crime but you don’t usually find that they will hang around, or confront the householder
H: And as you were saying probably what helped you turn that corner was looking at the human experience and thinking what am I doing to these people, I am burgling, what’s their experience?
M: Yes I looked at it – I think as I grew up a little bit older I started to look at things totally different, and you know sometimes people will say, you know look what you’ve done, or somebody will tell me about a bad experience they’ve had and that really does hit home. At 16, 17 I suddenly stopped and said that’s it. And a leopard can change its spots – I would never do one now unless it’s for a test
H: Unless it’s on telly!
H: Only do it if it’s on telly, is that right?
M: That’s right, that’s right
H: Thank you both so much, this has been really very eye opening
M: Thank you
H: Thank you both for your time
P: Thank you
H: Pilgrim where can we direct the public to get further information?
P: Ok well what we’ve done is we’ve taken some top tips from Michael, we’ve put them together in a guide with some tips about choosing an alarm system, and also some of our survey results, and they’re available online at alertme.com
H: Great thank you very much. The rest of you, you now know when you go on those summer holidays make sure you are thinking about your little house that you’re leaving behind, and keep safe, we’ll see you next time. Thank you, bye bye