Keeping Your Stuff Safe

The other day, I stepped outside and found my neighbor lugging a broken door out of his garage and into the back of his pickup truck. It turns out he had locked himself out of his house. His wife was away and he had no spare keys. To make matters worse, their new puppy was inside the house.

burglar-main

He simply kicked the door in, got his keys and then went and purchased an identical door, which I helped him install.

Later on that day, I was talking with some other neighbors who are both police officers. They were staring at the mangled door next to the curb and wondering what happened. They commented that the doors and locks on our houses don’t really keep our possessions safe. For the most part, we rely on the good parts of human nature to protect our stuff. As my other neighbor illustrated, it isn’t hard to get into someone’s house without a key.

Here are several suggestions for keeping your house secure:

  1. When you are going to be gone, let your neighbors know what to expect. If you are going to have someone house sitting, describe what the house sitter looks like. Better yet, introduce them. (I’ve got it pretty good where I live. There are three cops living within paper airplane throwing distance of our front door.)
  2. Don’t leave a key under the mat. I know a family who came home to meet the plumber and discovered he had already found their hidden key and let himself into their house. He said “I thought you left it there for me to get in.” If the plumber can find it, so can anyone else.
  3. Keep Off site Backups. If your computer is stolen, it can be replaced. However, 10 years of family photos on the hard drive and backed up to an external drive cannot be replaced. I try to put backups of important pictures and files in a safety deposit box two or three times per year.
  4. Get a Safety Deposit Box. Where I live, you can get a mid sized safety deposit box for about $16 per year. This is the ideal place to keep car titles, social security cards, computer backups, jewelry and other valuable items. At that price, it is some of the cheapest insurance you can buy.
  5. Don’t Advertise What You Have. If you can avoid it, don’t put a huge television or computer setup right in front of a window facing a street. If someone is looking to rob someone, they want an easy target. Don’t advertise your valuables.
  6. vault.gifBolt Your Safe to the Floor. Safety deposit boxes are generally a much better option than a safe in your house. But if you do have a safe, make sure that a thief can’t just run off with it to open at their leisure. Even if you only keep documents in it to protect against fire, a thief won’t know that and it will look pretty valuable.
  7. Make It Look Like Someone is Home. If you are gone overnight or late in the evening, putting a light on a timer and leaving your second car in view will help make it look like someone is home. A running radio will also provide some sound that has the potential to make it sound as if someone is home.
  8. Security System. The most valuable part of a security system is the sign saying that there is a security system. If you want to save money, just buy the signs to put on the windows.
  9. Dogs. Some insurance companies will give you a lower price on home owner’s insurance if you have a dog. Statistically, burglars are less likely to rob a house with a dog at home. Like the security system, you might be able to get by with just a beware of dog sign.
  10. Information.  Sophisticated criminals realize that the information in the house may be much more valuable than the possessions.  If they can get your birthdate, mother’s maiden name, and your SSN, it won’t take much for them to get some credit cards (or even a mortgage) in your name.  While you may not be liable for the debt they incur, it can be a big hassle to get it taken off your credit report.

So, let’s say that you have some important papers or money that you need to keep at your house. Here are some ideas of places to hide valuables that a thief is likely to overlook. (A safety deposit box is still a much better option.)

  1. Taped Under Furniture. An envelope taped under your dining room table is probably going to be overlooked. At the very least, they will check your desk drawers before looking under the table. Taped to the bottom of a trash can (outside the bag) or the bottom of the lowest shelf on a bookshelf are some other ideas.
  2. In Books. You can easily hide bills in a book if you don’t have too many of them. You can also create a “book safe” by taking an old book and cutting a compartment in the middle of the pages. You can secure the pages with glue or nails. Just make sure the book doesn’t seem out of place with the rest of your home library.
  3. Cold Air Return — Many cold air returns are great hiding places because they are fairly easy to get to, but an unlikely place for a thief to look.
  4. Back of the Toilet – You’ll need a water proof container, but hiding something under the water in the back of the toilet can be a fairly safe place. Update: This is a bad idea if the thief is looking for drugs.
  5. Refrigerator — You can easily hide an envelope in the back of the freezer under the frozen pizzas. Update: Also a bad idea if they are looking for drugs.
  6. Furnace Air Filter — The furnace air filter is a good hiding spot, just make sure you don’t put in anything that could be sucked into the blower. It is better to put something on the cold air return side of things.
  7. Suit or Coat Pocket — The pockets on clothes in the back of a closet can provide a good hiding place for valuables.
  8. Behind Picture Frames — This works as long as the thief doesn’t try to steal the picture or take it down to look for a wall safe. Putting something between the picture and the frame backing is less likely to be noticed and a family picture is less likely to look valuable than something that looks like it might be a piece of expensive art.

Obviously, anywhere you leave valuables in your house can be found. You are probably best off coming up with your own unique place to hide things. Just make sure you don’t hide valuables in something that is likely to be stolen. For example, hiding an envelope inside of your desktop computer might sound like a great idea until you consider that the computer, itself, is a likely target.

Update: An ex-burglar says that hiding something anywhere in the bathroom or refrigerator is a bad idea. Evidently these are common places to hide drugs so they often get extra attention.

Originally published July 15, 2007.

Comments

  1. says

    Mark,
    Those are all really good safety tips! And yes, it’s important to keep your “stuff” and your home as secure as possible. But your LIFE and the lives of your family are worth infinitely more than your stuff. Not to mention that many criminals these days are wacked out on drugs or are just SO brazen that they’ll bust through your door knowing full well that you’re AT HOME. To be prepared for that horrible (and hopefully unlikely) event, here’s my favorite safety tip: a good 20 or 12-gauge shotgun. Your life is worth the $250.

    • Brad says

      I would have to agree with you about the shot gun or you could spend the money and learn to shot a pistol so that when you do have to use it you’ll be remembered as the person or lady in your case that not only has a gun but nows how to use it, because as much as a shot is easy to use, the barrel on the gun might be long and thats time away from raising it, cocking it, and pulling the triger but its alittle easyer with a hand gun.

  2. Michael says

    Don’t hide papers & money, fire will destroy things even in the best hiding places. Buy a good quality fireproof safe & bolt it down!

    Stay away from the junk safes at department stores & office supply stores. While they might have a good fire rating, it will only slow down a thief a few extra minutes it takes to pry one open.

    For good fire & theft protection get something from a safe dealer or a gun store. $500 will get you one that will do the job for most people.

  3. says

    Great info here! I don’t really think about hiding my things all that often, but you’ve got me thinking! The only things I really care much about are things that I’ve written which I try to keep updated on a USB key that’s locked in a fireproof safe hiden in my closet… Now that I think about it though, isn’t a safe the first thing a theif would take… ?? Hmmmm… I doubt s/he would be too happy though when it was discovered that all I had to offer was a bunch of half-ass stories and a passport…haha.

  4. Marc says

    Just a thought – lesson from the squirrels and stories of contractors finding fortunes barricaded away in walls.

    Remember where you hide stuff!

    Might be a good idea to thing up some standard hiding places, then make a list of all the various hiding places and place the list in the off-site bank lock-box or other location.

    Also, for Pete’s sake, tell your wife/husband/significant other where your hiding places are so they don’t sell/throw away the useless piece of junk you have $10,000 hidden in.

  5. Caleb says

    The one problem with the shotgun idea is that you would have to have it nearby at the time of break in because if the thief is strung out or just a senseless killer they are going to start shooting at the first thing that moves. From you or your spouse, child, etc.
    And besides if the thief is in your home unarmed and you pull a shotgun and kill the intruder. You will face a manslaughter charge. The whole self defense thing only applies to texas.
    So think about it before you all go and buy a shotgun.

  6. Doyle Thelen says

    Did it not occur to anyone of you that are reading about where to hide your important stuff that if you found this site then so can anyone else, including the people that could rob you? If you had a lot of books then that would be a good place to hide important papers but I wouldn’t hide any valuables in the places listed above because if you found this site, then so can robbers. Keep this in mind when you go to hide your valuables. If you have found a safe place to hide your valuables…DON’T POST IT ONLINE!!! Thank you.

  7. says

    I prescribe to the old fashioned, “look I am at home approach”. Far too often our modern homes appear that there is never anyone at home. I have doors opened, I have bits and pieces laying around the yard. I am taking a risk, yes, but the risk is negligent when you consider most break ins do not occur when it appears that there is coming and goings in the house. Yes, there is a risk of an intruder whilst I am sitting at my computer, however, the likelihood is minimal.

    • says

      This is one of the things I don’t get about people announcing their where abouts on Twitter or their blogs all the time. It seems like it would be too easy to find out someone isn’t home and then rob their house.

  8. Suspect says

    Be the most leery of your neighbors. Break ins generally occur by people who can watch your coming and goings. It may not be your friendly peer, but his son or daughter, or their friends. I had the personal experience of being pilfered by the brother of a friend who left his sneaker print on the window sill of a side window upon egress. Never tell even your closest friend or relative about your home safe or share great hiding areas, if you have them. People can unwittingly blab about what a great and creative idea so and so used for protecting their valuables to a friend who tells a friend, who……

    Oh, and most psychopaths and are quite charming people, so if you think you can trust them , don’t. If you need to trust someone, you are probably better off finding yourself a cantankerous, ornery, curmudgeon of a neighbor with high ethics that likely doesn’t give a hoot about your “stuff”.

    Trust no one.

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