On Friday, about noon, while my friend Lisa was at work, a man and woman drove their car into her driveway, walked around the back of the house, kicked the door in, and stole everything of value.
Lisa had just moved into the house about two months ago and hadn’t met many of her neighbors. As the burglars got out of the car, one neighbor was suspicious and watched from his car for a few minutes, but when they waved at him, like they belonged there, the neighbor drove away.
Once inside the house, the burglars opened the garage door, pulled the car in, and started loading it up. They stole two computers, a printer, scanner, cameras, a brand new flat screen tv, a box of bank checks, and her late husband’s social security card and coin collection. They went through the house and emptied drawers, exposing anything she might have hidden. They dumped the jewelry box and took the contents. Some of it was costume jewelry, and some of it can be replaced, but not the wedding ring given to her by her late husband. The one she was saving for her daughter.
When the burglars had loaded all they could into the car, they left. And then they returned for a second load. These people were professionals who knew that she wouldn’t be home until after work.
Lisa got home about 4:30 to find the garage door open. At first, she thought her teenage daughter had left it open when she went to school that day, but when she got inside the garage and saw things out of order, she had the sinking feeling that someone else had been inside her house.
Lisa was very grateful that her daughter had gone on a band trip that weekend. Otherwise, she might have walked in on the thieves when she got home from school that day.
She called the police and they dusted for fingerprints. They found some prints that didn’t look quite human, and then realized the print was that of rubber dishwashing gloves. There was a cigarette butt in her backyard, but that’s all the evidence they could find. There was another burglary in the neighborhood that day, and the police did find a fingerprint on a window. Hopefully they’ll be able to match that print to the DNA on the cigarette and connect the cries.
Overwhelmed with what had happened, Lisa called a friend and he came over to board up her back door. The door jamb was split from the illegal entry and the door wouldn’t close. Not wanting to stay there alone, she packed a bag and went to a hotel for the weekend.
Now it’s time to clean up the mess.
1. Lisa has insurance, but now she’s going to have to find receipts to prove ownership. Fortunately, she keeps all of her important paperwork at work. The police told her that was one of the smartest things she could have done, because these two crooks would have found them. Then she would have had no receipts to prove ownership, and she might even be dealing with identity theft.
2. Hopefully, the receipts for the electronics will contain the serial numbers. She has started calling pawn shops in the area and checking www.craigslist.org to see if any of her items are being listed.
3. It’s a good idea to keep receipts for the seven years required by the IRS, but before throwing any records out, go through and make sure you keep anything of importance. Unfortunately, most electronics don’t have much value after seven years, but if you have serial numbers and can identify the item, you might help put those crooks in jail.
4. Lisa’s home had been wired for a security system, but she just hadn’t had the system hooked up yet. With an alarm system, the police might not have gotten there in time to catch them, but it might have scared off the burglars earlier, or might have alerted neighbors who could have been more helpful.
5. Actually cleaning up the mess! Her house is covered with black, powdery ink from the fingerprint dusting and everything she owns has been thrown on the floor. I brought her a bottle of some magic stuff I use for removing ink and permanent marker, and it did the trick. www.familyfirst.fourpointwellness.com
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to prevent a burglary, but there are some steps we can take to be prepared.
1. Meet your neighbors! Let them know a little bit about you. Exchange phone numbers. Agree to watch out for each other. If her neighbor had known more about her, he might have been more suspicious when these two people pulled into her driveway. He might have written down the license plate, or even taken a picture of them with his cell phone.
2. Get a security system. Some of them have alarms that go off outside, but sometimes the crooks can’t hear it. Other companies believe it’s more effective if the alarm goes off inside because it scares the intruders. Either way, the police have been notified and they’re on their way. If the neighbors hear anything, you know they’ll be peeking out their windows to see what’s going on. That’s what you want.
3. Have a system for keeping receipts. When I purchase anything, I record it on my computer in MS Money. If I spend $100 at Wal-Mart, and $10 of it is for a shirt, I will itemize it to say “red shirt” or something that will trigger my memory. The reason for this is that if my house should burn down, I will at least be able to recreate a list of what I’ve purchased for my home – including my clothes. An even better idea is to also videotape or take a photo with a digital camera of your home frequently. Open all doors and drawers to get a photo of the contents. When purchasing electronics, or items that have serial numbers, make sure the serial number is on that receipt. If it’s not included, then this is a good time to write it down yourself.
4. If you’re like me and your entire life is documented on your computer, be sure you have a backup, and then keep it in another location. Fortunately, Lisa had taken her laptop to work with her that day, and her records were all in her desk at work. If you keep the backup on your desk, it’ll get stolen along with the computer.
5. Teach your children what to do if they come home and see something suspicious. If Lisa’s daughter had come home that day and seen an unfamiliar car in their garage, she would have known to go to a neighbor’s house and call the police.
6. Have enough insurance. If you have valuables like a coin collection or jewelry, you will only get replacement value for it unless you have a floater policy. Lisa’s old wedding ring, given to her by her husband twenty years ago, might only have a replacement value of $200. But Lisa could have had it insured for any amount she wanted on a floater – providing she was willing to pay the premium on that amount. We all know that there are just some things that mean so much that they can never be replaced.
7. Get a safe deposit box. If Lisa would have put the heirloom ring and coin collection in a safe deposit box, she wouldn’t have needed to have insurance on either of them. If you have anything in a safe deposit box that could be damaged by water (papers, or even watches) put them in a waterproof bag. This can be something as simple as a Ziploc bag. Years ago, my bank was flooded and one man lost a valuable baseball card collection he had stored in his safe deposit box.
Most burglaries take place during the day when the homeowners are at work. You can’t possibly know if you’re being targeted for a burglary, but if you are prepared, it will be much easier to deal with the police and the insurance company to either recover or replace your property.
Copyright 2008. Joyce Moseley Pierce. Joyce is the owner of Emerson Publications and creator of All They’ll Need to Know. She’s a freelance author and has been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.