20 May, 2019   By: Vanessa Pogorelic

While it’s no surprise that most victims of home burglary step up their household security following a break-in, what is surprising is that one in two householders with a home alarm don’t always activate it when they leave the house.

As an ex-Police officer, Scott Drage has never taken home security for granted - he even locks his backyard. Despite that, Drage was one of the many RAC members who experienced a break-in this year. 

“My wife and I had been out. I dropped her off in the driveway and then left again. I suspect someone was watching from over the park and maybe didn’t see my wife go inside," says Drage.

“About 20 minutes later she rang and said, ‘Someone’s just stolen our bikes'. I told her to make sure she was safe and call the police. Then I rang a neighbour who raced over to see if my wife was okay.”

Drage's wife Michelle had seen the theft in action, after going outside to investigate a noise.

“She saw what she described as a kid about 16 years old. He was riding one bike and wheeling another one. She yelled out to him and he fell off would you believe! But then he proceeded to get back on the bike and, how cheeky is this, ride away with the bikes.

"[The kid] had jumped the fence and thrown the bikes over the fence - he took our road bike and our mountain bike."

Drage says their dog, who was outside, slept through the whole incident.

Scott and Michelle Drage
Scott and Michelle Drage had bicycles stolen from their yard despite it being locked up

Just five minutes to break in

It can take a burglar as little as five minutes to enter a home, according to a 2014 Australian Institute of Criminology report. So even during a short absence from your home, it could still be targeted.

Many people with home alarms often don't turn them on. A recent RAC Security survey found that 20 per cent of householders rarely or only sometimes turned on their alarm when away from home for shorter periods, while 16 per cent never did.

One common security strategy employed by those  surveyed was giving the ‘appearance’ of being at home when they were out, particularly when they were out in the evening, with 44 per cent saying they leave lights on, and a radio or TV. However it may not be much of a deterrent with four in 10 reporting being at home when they were burgled. Having items from backyards was the most common theft-type.

Experiencing a break-in did motivate householders to increase their home security, with almost 90 per cent of those who had been burgled implementing additional security measures following the event.

Key findings from the 2018 RAC Security survey:

RAC Security survey results

Targeted at Christmas

Julie Catherall had left her home late one afternoon to make a quick trip to her sister’s house. When she returned just 20 minutes later there were police officers in her driveway. In the short time she had been away, Catherall's home had been broken into.

It was just two days before Christmas and many gifts, along with jewellery, had been stolen.

“There were two of them. They’d trashed the bedroom, took all the drawers out and trashed one of my daughter’s rooms. My neighbour heard some banging which he knew wasn’t normal. He saw a girl run out the front door with a bag of things and chased her.”

Julie's neighbour alerted the police and then rang her.

“It was just heartbreaking. They’d taken wrapped Christmas presents. I was absolutely gutted. I felt so violated that someone had been in my house.

“I didn’t turn the alarm on because I was only going out for 20 minutes. Now I always turn it on whenever I leave the house. We also now have a security camera, and a digital doorbell that records video. It alerts me on my phone when someone’s at the door, so I can answer it even if I’m not home.”

Julie Catherall at her home
Since the break-in Julie has stepped up security at her family's home

Image credit: Richard Ashord-Hatherly

Easy home security fixes

Simple home security measures employed consistently can keep a home from being targeted.

  • Keep trees and shrubs on your property trimmed to reduce places where burglars may hide while breaking in, and to leave all windows and doors visible from the street.
  • Don’t leave spare house keys hidden outside your home – leave them with a trusted neighbour, relative or friend.
  • Keep valuable items out of sight and ideally locked away overnight and whenever you’re away from home.
  • Install motion sensor lights around the exterior of your home.
  • Don’t advertise that you’re away on holiday on social media. Wait until you’re back to share stories and photos.
  • Install a security alarm and always activate it when you leave home – even if you’re only away for a short period

How secure is your home?

Is your home an open book for opportunistic burglars? RAC Security has a checklist that can help you assess how secure you home is with suggestions of how to improve it.

Security checklist