Anti-theft: How do I make grabbable stuff less grabbable?

Our house was broken into last month. For a burglary, we got off pretty light. The thief was obviously in a hurry, and made off with mostly stuff that was easy to carry: my laptop, a digital camera, jewelry in a jewelry box, mantle clock from IKEA (really). We had insurance. We’re getting new stuff.

We subsequently activated the alarm system that had been installed in the house by a previous resident. But I’m not foolish – an alarm system won’t stop someone from breaking in if they really want to. It’ll at best ensure they don’t stay long.

My question: how do you make items like a laptop or a digital camera or a jewelry box less grabbable? It seems impractical to lock my MacBook, digital camera, and other small items (video camera, etc.) in a safe every time I’m done with it – but is that really the kind of effort it takes to frustrate a smash-and-grab thief?

What do you do with valuable, easily portable items in your house? Hide them? Keep them away from windows? Lock 'em up whenever you’re not using them?

(Note: I’m not looking for foolproof solutions here. I realize that a determined thief can make off with just about anything, if they want to invest the time. I want to deter the people who won’t invest the time.)

Things like a laptop or digital camera could be ‘put away’ rather then being left out. For example, when we go on vactaion, my laptop is simply pushed under a couch. I would put small things under a couch, buried in a closet, put in a drawer. If the theif has time, they’ll look everywhere, but if they are in a hurry, like you said they where, I would think out of sight is about the best you can do.

Do you have a desk with a lock on it? Or a file cabinet? If you’re really worried about another theft, you’re going to have to lock stuff up. There are also cables you can attach to your stuff (we used to do it at the last office I worked at. Dozens of laptops were walking away) to keep them safe.

When we were burgled (twice in one week) we installed an alarm system. No, it’s not foolproof, but it’s enough bother to bypass it that most theives won’t take the time. Also, make sure your insurance is updated so you can be reimbursed for stuff if someone walks away with it.

I try not to keep stuff in “plain sight” from a window - I shove my laptop under the couch when I think about it, etc.

I keep some valuable stuff in my kitchen cabinet. That’s where I plug the charger in, so it just made sense to keep the camera with it. Since that’s there, I added a few other expensive toys.
I doubt a thief is going to try the kitchen…unless he reads the Dope.

I’m definitely considering a cable for the laptop – as I said to my wife, I’d rather have someone break the laptop trying to get it off the chain than actually take the laptop with them.

The “plain sight” note is a good one. All of this is decent advice, actually; I mostly want to make sure I’m not overlooking a reasonable precaution.

Kalhoun, one reason I’m slightly skeptical about the alarm system is that, since the system had already been installed in the house, there were window stickers and “protected” signs up already. The thief wouldn’t have known it wasn’t connected until after he broke in, when it didn’t pierce his eardrums with a shrill alarm.

That said, I’m sure a functioning alarm motivates them to reconsider their course of action even if they do choose to jimmy a window.

I use a cable lock to secure my laptop to my computer desk.

Nothing else is really secured though, although it might be hidden. My stereo is in plain sight, as is my jewelry box (although I don’t have anything really expensive).

I tend to hide other expensive things away somewhere - I have a couple large rubber containers in my closet to hold off-season clothing, and I’ll put my electronics in there if I’m going to be away from my apartment for a while.

One effective tactic I’ve heard is to make the articles difficult to pawn/sell.

Distinctive (and often ugly) modifications make the identification of the object much more likely, and reduces the value for the thief, who is taking things for the cash he or she can get.

If you can stomach the idea - paint things the worst colors you can imagine. (I’d always heard the trick being done with some variation of a high quality International or Safety Orange enamel.)

Someone stole my nice lawn mower. I bought a new one…and a can of neon glow orange spray paint. Painted the ENTIRE mower, and even painted the word “stolen” in a few places. I also used an engraver to engrave my telephone number all over it.

I still have that mower, but I never did spray paint my digital camera, stereo, computer…:slight_smile:

I had two break-ins in one year. The first time the alarm went off after they removed the back door and its frame. The second time the thief came in through a window, so the alarm wasn’t tripped until he left my bedroom and entered the hall. He had taken some jewelry at that point, but skedaddled once the ear-piercingly loud alarm went off.

So don’t discount the effectiveness of an alarm, but it’s VERY important to have a sign in front and back announcing the alarm, and also to make sure every door and window has an alarm company sticker. What you want is for the thief to move on.

Looking at the crime stats in my 'hood (these are available on-line from our police department…you should try to find yours), it appears that most burglaries around here happen in the day time, although my two break-ins were both at 8:00 at night (a year apart).

Make sure you have indoor lights on timers, even if you aren’t on vacation. Outdoor security lights are a great idea, too, although mine are low, and the second thief just unscrewed them. Still, it slowed him down.

When on vacation, make sure someone stops by your house to clear it of free newspapers and other flyers. Mail and newspapers should be put on hold. See if you can get a neighbor to park a car in front of your house.

As far as your original question…the combination of an alarm and putting them away should help a lot. I have to admit, though, that as we speak my expensive digital camera is on the floor of my living room, and I have three guitars in plain view all around the house. When I’m on vacation, I put stuff away in closets, but generally, day to day, I leave stuff out. Not a good idea, but, hell, I’m not going to run around the house hiding stuff just to go to the grocery store.

Someone else posted about making the stuff unattractive for pawn shops. There are some things I can’t engrave, like the guitars, but at the minimum I have written down the serial numbers of expensive items. I’ve photographed them, too. All this info is in a safe deposit box at my bank.

Speaking of which, where is your backup for your computer? Mine is in the safety deposit box, as well, and I back up at least once a month. More if I’ve just taken a lot of pictures and/or downloaded a lot of new music.

When I was younger, my grandparents had a rash of burglaries in their house. They started storing their jewelry in the crisper in the refrigerator.

The thing about your alarm system, and other security measures is that they are a deterrant. When you are thinking of protecting yourself what you have to do is put the cost higher than the benefit. If it is harder for them to break into your house than it is to break into someone else’s house or make their money some other way, they’ll live your house alone.

Try getting a motion sensor that triggers audio of a barking dog.

Wired Magazine ran a blurb on some company that was offering software that you automate after the theft. As long as the computer is plugged into a viable line, it receives a prompt from the security software company that makes the computer answer back with a string of code that can be used to identify location. I’m not clear on the technology or how current the company is.

I’ve thought about this a lot ever since I had a near break-in at my previous apartment a couple of years ago. Small items get locked away in my file cabinet when not in use. I hide the bigger items when I leave my apartment for a substantial amount of time (work, grocery shopping, etc.).

My current apartment has an intrusion alarm. Even though it’s not monitored, it lets out an ear-piercing screech when it goes off (I know this for a fact because every alarm in the complex went off simultaneously a few weeks ago during a bad thunderstorm). I figure that a would-be thief will have 30 seconds to steal something and get out unnoticed. The most obvious target is the stereo. Since it hasn’t worked in two years, however, I won’t lose much sleep over it.

Many years ago, I had a room mate that would come home needing cash and having the munchies. (Hi Brother!) I was waitressing at the time and always had cash around and I had these great cookies called Hit! that I would buy many, many packages of at a time. I’d wake up, wiped out of cash and cookies.

So the cookies went into my underwear drawer and my cash went into an empty tampax box. I’m not sure if your thieves are like most men, but tampax boxes are made of some sort of testosterone repelling kryptonite. My brother packed up our apartment and was PISSED when he found my stashes, but at least I still had them.

Think about what a thief doesn’t want, heck, a lady on the show Big Love hides her cash in canned peas. There is a reason they make safes out of Barbasol cans. I bet your laptop would fit in a Monopoly box, everyone already has a copy of that.

Absolutely! I had a boss who had his sounder hooked up with no connection to the police. Sometimes the noise is all you need. And if it’s hooked up, you might be lucky and get a quick response from the cops (though my experience is counter to that).

Put your valuable stuff in the oven. Thieves never look there!

Just don’t forget that they’re in there