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Burglars’ ‘code of conduct’ revealed

Burglars won’t steal on their own doorstep but they will on yours, time and time again.

Posted on 31 Jul 2014

  • One burglar said “within the ½ mile radius of our home we wouldn’t burgle, we wouldn’t do anything like that ”
  • Criminologist report reveals that burglars are targeting affluent, quiet areas for their crimes
  • A quarter (26%) of Brits have been burgled, with more than one in six (15%) falling victim three times or more.
  • One burglar said “I recall going back to the same house a few times, the person just wasn’t learning.”
  • Of those people who have been burgled a quarter (25%) didn’t have home insurance

Burglars live by an unwritten rule – to respect thy neighbour and not burgle in their neighbourhood, according to a new criminologist report published by Confused.com.

The findings from the leading price comparison site’s study revealed that most burglars would never commit a crime in their own neighbourhood, whatever the property type or location. One burglar admitted: “No, you never would do it in your own neighbourhood”, while another burglar confirmed that “within the ½ mile radius of our home we wouldn’t burgle, we wouldn’t do anything like that.” This appears to illustrate a bizarre ‘code of conduct’ among thieves.

The in-depth study questioned ex-burglars on their burgling experiences, looking at the key triggers and barriers to understand the motives behind their crimes, and how they targeted their victims. The study also questioned burglary victims to reveal the impact of the crime committed.

The findings of the study revealed that burglars demonstrated a suprising loyalty to their neighbours, but had no qualms about hitting properties that were out of their neighbourhood boundaries. In fact, the preference for most burglars were affluent, quiet areas as they believed houses in these surroundings were a safe bet to find expensive valuables, and car keys to nice motors. 

Conversely, the least desirable type of property to burgle were flats. Flats were seen as a barrier to the burglars due to the close proximity of people. One burglar said: “There are too many people living close together in flats. And you can’t really gauge if anyone has seen or heard you.” And for more than one in 10 (12%) Brits that live in flats, they will be counting themselves lucky knowing their property isn’t on a burglar’s hit list.  

A burglar’s ideal perfect property checklist would be:

- An easily-accessible property: a corner house; a house situated by an alley or a field; a house with a small driveway; or a house with no high gates and with a window open. One burglar said: “If there was a window open then that was a bonus. You’d walk past and think, oh god they’re just asking for it!”

- A posh, well-looked-after house with a nice car outside. One burglar confirmed this: “Corner house, fence not bushes, nice and tidy; a really nice brand-new car outside, well looked after and taken care of.”

- A house situated on a quiet road, on a backstreet that is not situated too close together with other houses. One burglar commented: “You don’t want a house on the main road; you want a house on the back streets.”

A property with no security, no dogs, no sign of anyone in the house and no sign of a high quality alarm system. One burglar said “You need to make sure no lights are on.”

Burglaries are often considered 'crimes of opportunity' because the criminal is looking for the easy way to get into a home - the unlocked door, open garage door or open window, and if opportunity knocks these burglars don’t decline. And this appears to be true, as the study revealed that spontaneity was the key to many of these burglars’ successes. 

One burglar said: “More often than not we’d just go to area and then pick a house, depending on what opportunities we saw.”  And with over a third (36%) of people admitting to living on a quiet road, life has been made a little easier for these opportunist burglars. 

For many thieves the items of enticement included cash, electronic goods and gold; primarily due to their high resale value on the streets, and ease with which they could get rid of them. In many cases, the criminal simply looked through the front window of a home in order to discover whether such desirable items were within.

In a search for such valuables, it’s shocking to reveal that more than a quarter (26%) of people have been burgled, with more than one in six (15%) burglary victims having fallen prey to being burgled three times or more. And worryingly, of those that have been burgled a quarter (25%) didn’t have home insurance.

In fact, the research shows that, worryingly, nearly two thirds (65%) of those that have been burgled were burgled in the same property. This isn’t a surprise to the burglars we spoke to, as they freely admitted to repeat offending, blaming ease and familiarity as their motivation. One burglar said: “I recall going back to the same house a few times, the person just wasn’t learning.” And of those burgled nearly a quarter (24%) live in a detached house, which appears to be an ideal target for thieves

In an attempt to deter these thieves, nearly two thirds (61%) of Brits believe that having an alarm system installed could be a measure to help stop their house from being burgled. However, the study reveals that this might not be the case if they system is old and battered, as nothing goes unnoticed by burglars. In fact, this type of security measure could actually entice a burglar to that property. One burglar said: “If they’ve got an old battered alarm system it shows that they don’t use it, so you’re all good to go.”

A third (33%) of people thought that having Neighbourhood Watch stickers displayed throughout their neighbourhood could also prevent burglary. However, the burglars in the study were not convinced by these stickers. One burglar questioned the existence of these schemes, saying: “I just think they’re a sticker, I don’t think Neighbourhood Watch exists any more does it?”

Another burglar stated: “I think most of the time it’s just a sticker that someone puts on their door. I don’t think most people really have time to neighbourhood watch. At the time that sticker didn’t mean anything to me at all.” 

Yet ironically a sign that does act as a deterrent is a ‘burglars operating in this area’ sign. One burglar stated: “If there’s a sign that says ‘burglars operating in this area’, that would put me off as people and police would be on the lookout for burglars.”

A burglar may select a target because it offers them the best opportunity to carry out their crime undetected and with the fewest obstacles in his way. A building that looks unoccupied and not secure is far more likely to be targeted than a property which is secured.

Key deterrents to a burglar include:
- A busy area
- A flat
- When a property has lights on or music playing, which indicates the property is occupied
- Having a dog
- Having a heavy amount of security including CCTV; high-quality and new alarm systems; high gates and a long driveway

One burglar said: “Houses that I’d completely avoid are blocks of flats, that’s just asking for trouble… Also houses where there’s lights on, houses where there’s lots of activity, not even necessarily inside the house but outside around the streets.”

Gareth Lane, head of home insurance at Confused.com says: “The study clearly shows that burglars have some type of unwritten rule amongst thieves to not burgle on their doorstep. However, the same moral code isn’t shared by everyone. 

“Worryingly more than one in six (15%) burglary victims have fallen prey to being burgled three times or more. Therefore, if burglars think a house and its belongings are worthwhile, they are willing to come back and repeat offend.”

“While we can’t predict exactly what makes a burglar target victims, we can take steps to protect our valuables should the worst happen.  Most burglaries are opportunistic, so homeowners can protect themselves against this type of crime by keeping ‘desirable’ items, like car keys, out of sight from the front windows.  Carrying out simple security measures, such as keeping doors and windows locked and having a well maintained alarm system, can help ensure householders and their possessions are kept safe.”

"It is also important to make sure you have adequate home insurance in place, so that your valuables are protected should the worst happen." 


- Ends -

Notes to Editors 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from One Poll and commissioned by Confused.com. Total sample size was 2,000 UK adults aged 18+, 500 of which had previously been burgled Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 16th July 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). And a sample size of 510 UK adults aged 18+ who had previously been burgled was undertaken between 23rd – 28th July 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).


The study was carried out by ICM Research in June 2014. 
The data were elicited by means of three face-to face interviews and two telephone interviews lasting up to an half an hour with a range of individuals who had been involved with acquiring and disposing of stolen property.

The face-to-face interviews were conducted at a public location in the UK and participants generally spoke openly about their involvement in the acquisition and disposal of stolen property. All participants were reminded of the importance of drawing on their experience only of offences for which they had been convicted or which had been taken into consideration at the time of conviction and they were specifically asked not to comment on their plans for future offending. 
After the interviews, the recordings and the notes were transcribed and analysed with qualitative data analysis software. The findings draw upon recurrent themes encountered in the interviews themselves.


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