Gnome alert: how to protect your home from burglars

Mystery gnomes could be the work of burglars, say police. So how can you keep your home safe?

Beware if you find a stray gnome in your garden: police in Wales are warning that burglars are using them to earmark potential new targets.

The South Flintshire force has advised people to be wary of Christmas gnomes popping up in their gardens, as criminals use them as a “calling card”. If residents don’t remove them, criminals assume the property is empty and could be an easy target for burglaries.

Police issued the warning in a Facebook post this week, advising people to be vigilant and make sure their home is secure.

Garden gnomeCredit: Shutterstock / anela.k

Security consultant Michael Fraser from BBC’s Beat the Burglar told Saga Exceptional to watch out for the humble gonks.

“Burglars are casing the joint and are looking to see if people move the gnomes,” he said. “Don’t move them: what people should do is contact the police. If burglars are just dropping them into the garden, they’re probably not wearing gloves so I wouldn’t move the gnome because the police can check them for fingerprints.”

Keep your gnome and garden safe

Gnomes may be grabbing the headlines, but criminals using signs to mark houses is nothing new. “They’ll put a piece of paper half in and half out of your letterbox to see if it’s taken or they’ll put markings on the floor if they’ve burgled the place. The problem is people don’t think about security until a neighbour or friend gets burgled,” said Fraser.

“As a burglar, they’re looking at the property for tell-tale signs that the person doesn’t have any security. Even if you have a cylinder lock and a second lock you don’t use, they’ll be able to tell by pushing their foot up against the door. If it moves more than two millimetres, they know it’s not engaged.

“If you haven’t got a cage inside your letterbox, burglars can go ‘letterbox fishing’ – they put a long stick through and pick up objects such as bags.”

Fraser also advises not to use a “Beware of the dog” sign. “A dog senses fear and if you’re not scared, they won’t be so aggressive. If that sign’s there, it means the burglar is prepared and only needs to feed the dog, talk to them softly and make friends with them,” he said. And his top tip? “Look at your own property: if you lost your keys, how would you get in? If it’s easy, you need to look at your home security.”

Diane IvoryCredit: Belinda Buxton
Crime expert Diane Ivory

10 easy ways to deter burglars while you’re on holiday

Diane Ivory, a former Scotland Yard fingerprint expert and crime scene examiner – who worked for three decades helping police to solve crimes across London, Norfolk and Suffolk – also knows how criminals work. She told Saga Exceptional how you can keep your home safe if you’re going away.

1 Don’t leave the house tidy

It’s great to get home to a clean and tidy house after your holiday, but spotless surfaces are a sign there’s no-one around. “When I went away recently, I left the ironing board up with a pile of ironing that needed to be done,” said Ivory. “Leave a couple of things in the sink. Make it look like you’ve just popped out, rather than you’re going to be away for two weeks.”

2 Ask your neighbours to check on your house

Friendly neighbours are your crime prevention tool because they show burglars that there’s someone who could pop in at any moment. “Ask your neighbour to bring your mail in – and don’t just leave it in a pile. Put it somewhere safe. If someone breaks in and sees a pile of unopened mail, that’s a really good advert that you’re away,” said Ivory.

3 Don’t write your holiday dates on your calendar

Bragging about your holiday on social media is an invitation to burglars, but Ivory goes one step further and never writes that she’s away on her calendar. You also shouldn’t, leave your calendar near a window where someone can see it – as it will show when you’re out – and definitely don’t write your holiday dates on there. “If the dates are there on your wall and a burglar gets in, they’ll know how long they’ve got to do the crime and they might revisit because they know they’ve got the time to,” she said.

4 Don’t leave your driveway empty

If you can’t leave your car at home, perhaps a friend can park on your drive. “Neighbours usually like it if you ask if they want to park their car on your drive while you’re away, and it gives the impression that there’s someone at home,” said Ivory.

5 Make some noise

“You’re going to laugh at this, but whenever I leave the house, I shout: ‘Bye!’” said Ivory. “You could also leave the radio on loud.” (But not loud enough to annoy those helpful neighbours.)

6 Use smart timers

If you don’t have helpful neighbours, use technology to control what goes on in your house while you’re away. “I have smart plugs and lightbulbs and my Alexa (or any other smart home device) will turn those on while I’m away,” said Ivory. “I’ve got my lights set to come on 18 minutes before sunset, which obviously changes slightly every day. An old-fashioned timer switch works too. Make sure your lights are switched off at the time you’d normally be going to bed.”

7 Mimic your home routine

It’s important to make your home look as if you’re there while you’re on holiday. “Get someone to close your curtains for you. Where I live, I always keep my blind down because I’m quite close to where people walk and I don’t want them looking in, so it would be unusual for my blind to be up. But if you’d usually close the curtains, ask someone else to pop round and do it,” said Ivory.

8 Get rid of the evidence

Remove all clues that you’re sunning yourself on a beach miles away with some crafty tricks. “Last time I went away, my holiday money had come in a paper envelope marked ‘holiday money’, so I shredded it because I didn’t want that in my bin. If you just leave that on the side, it makes it really obvious that you’re away,” said Ivory. “If you do have a friend or neighbour who can come in the house to check on things, maybe they could move things around to let people know there’s someone there. If you can, ask someone to hang some washing in the garden – and then to take it in again.”

9 Cancel your deliveries

Expecting your milk, newspapers or a fresh veg box? Don’t forget to pause them while you’re away. “Cancel your deliveries so that there’s nothing waiting for you outside the door,” said Ivory.

10 Look out for elderly relatives

If you know someone who’s in hospital or moving into residential care, pop round and look after their house. “It’s a good idea to mow the lawn, move the post and still do the bins so it looks like someone’s around – put a bag of your own rubbish in so that criminals know there’s someone there,” said Ivory. “Faded curtains or an untidy front garden could be a sign that a less able person lives in the house, so look at updating what people see.”

Diane Ivory uses her experience as a crime scene examiner to run corporate, education and social events at Forensic Minds. You can also see her on TV as she is a contributor on the crime documentary series Murder by the Sea, which airs on CBS Reality.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier

Updated:

Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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