Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and spring is in the air. It’s 7:50 a.m. and you know that the hours from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. are the best time for you to go about your work. Since it’s spring, it’s even more likely that families will be out and about in the city. You place your work shirt on—a replica of landscaping attire—and you head off for your days business. You’re a burglar, and you want to blend in with the neighborhood as much as possible.

Burglars look at the world differently than law-abiding citizens. They look at details in homes, buildings, offices, and take notice of cracks, crevices, or even materials in architecture that would allow them to climb a building. In Geoff Manaugh’s book, “A Burglar’s Guide to the City,” he takes readers through 2,000 years of heists, tunnel jobs, break-ins and escapes. The book draws insight from FBI Special Agents, reformed bank robbers, private security consultants, the L.A.P.D. Air Support Division, and architects. It goes as far as uncovering ancient home invasion tips in Rome and summarized by saying, “You’ll never see the city the same way.”

But how do burglars look at a city or home? What do they see differently, or look for that law-abiding citizens aren’t paying attention to? And how you can you begin to see your home the way a burglar does, so you can beat them at their own game?

How the Burglar Targets a Home

A burglar(s) starts by targeting the entire neighborhood, then dropping his scope to a single home. They’ll be on foot walking around the area wearing normal clothes or dressed like cable, electric, or phone repairman. They’ll carry equipment like a rake or tool box to add detail to their costume. Burglars will even place fliers on doors to get a closer look at a home.

When they’re patrolling a neighborhood they’re looking for a few things: home security equipment, neighborhood watches, dogs, large fences and foliage that conceals them, and they’re surveying activity. A burglar does not want to target a home where he thinks people, a dog, or security system is present. But he doesn’t want to target a home where he can read details into what kind of person lives there.

If a burglar sees children toys or playground equipment in the front yard, it’s safe to assume a family lives there. If a family lives there, that means there’s a mother with expensive jewelry, clothing, and accessories. Additionally, that means the home has a father that likely has expensive firearms, watches, and other items. Maybe the family even has a secret stash of cash or credit cards.

Some burglars stalk a home for long-extended periods. They follow a homeowners schedule and attack whenever they have an opening. Other burglaries are simply crimes of opportunity. A burglar saw an opening and he took it. This occurs when doors are left unlocked in a home, car, shed, or place of business. Always lock your property, no matter how short of a time you’ll be away.

If you’re moving to a new home, consider the following: burglars are less likely to target a home that is within close proximity to people. This includes traffic, businesses, police, and less escape routes. Homes with alarm systems and deterrents like dogs and outdoor cameras are less likely to be burglarized.

How They Break-In

Every 18 seconds a burglary occurs in the United States. This adds up to over $4 billion lost in property annually. An average burglary nets $2,000 worth in property loss. Most burglaries take place during the day, because a thief wants the home and neighborhood to be empty. He does not want to run into any problems or be caught off guard. Out of every four burglars, only one of them works alone (25%), meaning there’s usually a pair or team that’s making the break-in happen.

Burglars knock on doors to see if anyone’s home. If there’s an answer, they may make up a story. “I’m looking for John, I must have the wrong home.” But with no answer, a burglar has the perfect opportunity to head inside. If the front door isn’t open or preferred, they’ll check every other door and window of a home, followed by searching for a spare key which is often left in obvious places, like under mats, inside pots and pans, by window seals, et cetera. If all else fails, many burglars have a crowbar to get in doors or simply break a window.

Once access is gained, the master bedroom is the first target. Money, jewelry, and anything of value is what’s targeted. These items are often left in obvious places like underneath beds, in closets and dressers. Burglars keep an ear out for any hum of activity or noise outside. They’re hyper-aware of all outside activity to make sure they get out of the home before they’re caught. The bathroom, living room, and kitchen are checked for prescription medicine and valuables. Once the items wanted are found, or time is up, the burglar escapes, often with a getaway driver or maybe in a stolen car.

What You Need to Know

If you have workers in the home for repair or technology setup, always put away valuables and never discuss vacation and other plans. Many of these workers are honest and hardworking people, but some have part-time gigs as crooks. Don’t provide them any unnecessary information or spark their curiosity.

Always keep your doors and windows locked no matter how short of a time you’ll be away. Keep the home clean. An unkempt yard signals that a homeowner is on vacation or that he doesn’t have security. If he doesn’t care about his property enough for upkeep, why would he care about security? Remember to take out trash, pick-up newspapers, and mow the lawn. If you’re leaving town for the weekend, or stepping outside, leave a television or radio on. Provide an illusion that you are home.

Never leave a second floor or small window locked. Some burglars hire their kids to crawl into spaces where they don’t fit. Incredibly, some burglaries actually take place while a homeowner is there, because the front door was left unlocked and the family was in the backyard. 

A burglar will seek an alternative home if they spot cameras or security equipment. This means your best bet to stay burglar free—or catch one in the act—is to be well equipped with the proper security measures. Install monitored home security equipment, never leave any property unlocked, and take proper safety precautions like advertising home security, dogs, neighborhood watches, and placing cameras outside with other deterrents.