The complete guide: Break-in + theft prevention

Written by the Square One team

Updated June 12, 2024 | Published July 16, 2011

Having your home or vehicle broken into is no laughing matter.

On top of the monetary loss, there are the feelings of stress and worry. After a break-in, can you ever feel like you (and your stuff) will be safe again?

The best way to deal with break-ins and thefts is to stop them from ever happening. Thieves and burglars prefer low-hanging fruit—that is, easy targets. So what do you do? Make sure you’re not an easy target, with this guide to break-in and theft prevention.

A thief breaking in

Break-in and theft prevention for your home

Your home is supposed to be your castle. And like most castles, yours should have strong defences. In this section, learn the steps you should take to make your home an unattractive target for thieves.

Conduct a home security audit

Before you know what you need to do, you need to take stock of what’s already been done.

Whether you do it yourself or ask for help from a professional, a home security audit will point out the weaknesses in your home’s defences and allow you to sleep more soundly at night (or while on vacation).

In some cities (for example, Ottawa), the local police offer courtesy home security audits as a public service. If not, you can hire a security professional to do an audit for you, or you can perform a home security audit yourself.

Essentially, your security audit will involve looking at the following items and deciding whether your home is up to standard for each one. If it falls short anywhere, at least you’ll have a focused security to-do list.

Address blind spots

Walk the perimeter of your home, assessing it through a burglar’s eyes. Ideally, you’d like to have very few places for an intruder to hide while observing your home.

Look at the landscaping first; bushes, shrubs and fences are ideal for providing cover. Ensure that they are properly trimmed so that doors and windows aren’t hidden from view. If you’re concerned about privacy, add some new drapes, blinds and curtains as necessary.

Evaluate your fencing material and height, too. Tall fences provide privacy, but they also prevent neighbors or passerby from keeping an eye on your house. Solid fences can also shelter thieves, so try to balance privacy with security.

Pay attention to doors, locks, and keys

Shut the door on burglary by keeping your home secure. Install good, solid doors. If the doors have glass inserts, make sure they’re out of the reach of the door locks. If your door doesn’t have a window, insert a peephole so that you can see who is ringing the bell before answering.

If your home has exterior sliding glass doors, there is a danger that a burglar can simply lift the doors off the frame to enter. You can prevent this by:

  • Inserting a piece of wood or a hockey stick into the frame to prevent the door from sliding open
  • Attaching a pin lock to the door that goes into the frame
  • Fastening screws into the track above the door when it’s closed

Pair your solid doors with solid locks. Place deadbolt locks on all doors that have outside access. High-security locks should have the following characteristics:

  • pick-resistant
  • drill-resistant
  • saw resistant
  • made with heavy-duty hardware, like stainless steel and heavy-gauge steel mechanisms

Don’t get deadbolts that require keys on both sides because they won’t allow for a quick exit in case of fire.

And remember, even the best locks are useless if an intruder has the key. Be very careful about how many copies of your keys you have, and to whom you give them. If you lose your keys, you should strongly consider changing your locks. It’s an abundance of caution, but it’s a relatively small expense for peace of mind. In the same vein, don’t hide keys around the property—thieves know all the usual hiding places.

Technology also makes locking and unlocking easier for homeowners; smart locks can be unlocked using your smartphone as a key. You can also invest in a digital monitoring system for your doors so you can see who is ringing the bell whether or not you are home.

Check your windows

Windows can be easy points of entry for burglars, so make sure they’re not easy to open when you’re not home. Secure sliding windows with a piece of wood in the same way you’d secure sliding glass doors. Double hung windows can be forced open by putting pressure on the lock, so add a second lock or install a metal security pin that prevents the window from being opened.

Pay attention to security lighting

Security lighting is also very important in fending off burglars.

Motion-sensitive outdoor lights are an excellent deterrent, both because they illuminate people moving outside and they indicate to potential intruders that you are security conscious. Your outdoor lights should illuminate the full perimeter of your house.

On the inside of your house, consider buying a timing system so you can program your interior lights to switch on and off automatically at certain times of day. A house that looks unoccupied is a prime target for thieves, so it’s particularly important to make the house looked lived in if you’ll be a way for a while.

Buy a fireproof safe

A heavy, secure safe is the best way to protect certain irreplaceable items, even if someone does break into your home. Things like passports, birth certificates, cash, jewellery, title deeds, and other small-but-invaluable stuff is best kept in a safe.

Get the right home alarm system

Home security system parts with a computer tablet

Home alarm systems are useful, both as a deterrent and for peace of mind. In many cases, the simple presence of an alarm system is enough to warn off a burglar.

The window stickers announcing that the premises are monitored are a deterrent on their own. If they aren’t enough, hearing an alarm go off should scare a thief away. Why risk getting caught when there are easier targets?

As a bonus, you may see a reduction in your homeowner’s insurance rate if your property is protected— no one should dismiss the chance to have a few extra dollars in their pocket.

There are several factors to consider in choosing the right alarm system for your home:

  • Wireless or wired? Alarm systems consist of a central control panel and many sensors places around the property. In a wireless system, the sensors communicate with the control panel with radio transmitters; a wired system uses (obviously) wires. As well, the control panel has to communicate with an external monitoring centre. This can happen via cellular networks (wireless), or over landlines or ethernet connections (wired). Many systems are partially wired and partially wireless, but a mostly-wireless system is generally recommended.
  • DIY or installation? Wireless systems also have the benefit of being relatively easy to install yourself. If you opt for a wired system, you’ll probably need the help of a technician from the alarm company.
  • What about service? You’re making a long-term investment when you install a home alarm system, so be sure you’ll get responsive customer service. Check websites such as Consumer Reports for evaluations of various systems and their features, including service, and call the companies yourself to see how their representatives treat you and how they handle calls.
  • What’s the price? Money is always a consideration when buying a product or choosing a service. When it comes to home alarm systems, your equation should take into account monthly fees, activation fees, service fees, relocation fees, and cancellation fees.

Take precautions while you’re on vacation

If you’re leaving your home for a weekend or a month, you need to take a few steps to ensure it’s safe while you’re gone.

Remember, an unoccupied home is a vulnerable home, so do what you can to make your home look occupied while you’re gone. If you’ve got the aforementioned interior light timers, use them—you’ll want the lights to come on in the evening as they would if you were home.

Don’t let mail pile up in your mailbox, either. You can temporarily halt mail delivery, or ask a friend or neighbour to come by a couple times a week to bring the mail in.

Speaking of which, it’s best to have someone come by every few days regardless, just to check on the place. During the summer, you’ll need to have someone mow your lawn—a jungle in the front yard sends thieves a strong signal that the residents are away.

In fact, many home insurance providers mandate that someone checks in on the house every so often. Other providers at least require notice that you’ll be away. Make sure you’re clear on the requirements set forth by your own home insurance policy.

And finally, refrain from posting about your absence on social media. All it takes is one thief to connect your profile with your address to make your home a slam-dunk burglary target. There’s nothing wrong with posting photos after you’ve returned home.

Be safe during the holiday season

Common wisdom dictates that burglaries increase around Christmas. Regardless of whether stats back that up, being away from home (at any time of year) does make your home an easier target. Plus, during the winter holiday season, there are packages left on doorsteps and valuable gifts sitting in easy-to-carry boxes.

For that reason, it’s important to take a few extra security precautions during the holiday season. If you’ve used a ladder to put up your Christmas lights, make sure you take it down and stow it away. When it comes to gifts, be careful about how you dispose boxes and packages—they’re a clear advertisement for new, valuable items in the home.

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Break-in and theft prevention for your car

Cars are a lot smaller than houses, so there are fewer things to worry about when it comes to break-ins and thefts. But there are still plenty of ways to ensure your vehicle isn’t an easy target for thieves.

There are basically two reasons that someone breaks into a car: to steal the car, or to steal the items inside.

Preventing vehicle theft

Much like protecting your house, protecting your vehicle involves making it a less-attractive target than other vehicles. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Lock the doors and roll up the windows. It may seem obvious, but the simplest solution is one of the best. Even if you’re away from the vehicle for a couple of minutes, lock it down.
  • Use your alarm system. If your vehicle has an alarm, use it! It won’t do any good if you don’t engage it. If your vehicle doesn’t have an alarm, consider having one installed.
  • Add other anti-theft devices. There are myriad anti-theft devices available for vehicles. Everything from kill switches to gearshift locks to GPS trackers can help protect your car. You don’t need to have everything, but each security feature you add makes your vehicle that much less attractive to thieves.
  • Park in a secured location whenever possible. That can be a gated parking garage, a fenced lot, or your garage at home. The more secure the location, the better—a gated garage with a security guard is a reasonable bet to be safe, for example. At home, if you can’t park in a garage, make sure your driveway has security lighting and (if you’ve got such a system) has a security camera pointed at it.
  • Get a steering wheel locking device. While not infallible, steering wheel locks make it much harder to steal the vehicle, and having one might be enough that a thief passes your vehicle by for an easier target.
  • Keep your keys and fobs secure. Never keep a spare key hidden on the vehicle itself, nor hidden around your home’s exterior somewhere.

Preventing vehicle break-ins and property theft

Sometimes, burglars have no interest in stealing the vehicle itself—they’re after the goods inside. In addition to following the advice above, follow these tips to protect your car (and your possessions) from smash-and-grab attempts:

  • Don’t leave anything visible inside the cabin of the vehicle. Of course, that applies to valuables like your phone, purse, or laptop bag, but even small things like charging cables can signal to thieves that there might be more things hidden away inside. Keep the vehicle clean and tidy.
  • While you’re shopping, put your purchases in the trunk of your car as often as possible. Avoid multiple trips to and from the car to drop things off while you continue shopping.
  • If you don’t have a car trunk (or your trunk is full), keep things hidden under a blanket if you have to keep them in the cabin.
  • New vehicles have stereos that are much harder to steal than they used to be. But, if you have an older vehicle, try to make the stereo look unappealing—many have a removeable faceplate, for example.

Insurance considerations

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the worst happens anyway. If you’re a victim of a theft or break-in, what can you do?

You may need to put in a claim with your insurance provider. Most of the time, that’s going to be your home insurance provider. All of your personal property is covered by your home insurance; the major exception is your car, which has its own insurance policy. That coverage applies whether property is stolen from your house, your car, or anywhere else.

If the burglars caused a lot of residual damage to your house in the process, those repairs would also fall under your home insurance coverage. Coverage for theft, break-in, and vandalism is standard on most every home insurance policy.

But what about your car? Even if your phone or laptop is stolen from your car, it’s still your home insurance policy that would cover the loss. However, smashed windows or busted car door locks would fall under your auto insurance coverage. Vehicle equipment, like tires or the stereo, may be covered by the car insurance policy as well. Of course, it’s important to note that coverage for theft is not included in most auto insurance policies by default—you’ll need to have purchased comprehensive, all perils, or specified perils coverage beforehand.

Ultimately, the major insurance consideration following a theft is whether to make a claim or not. Even if the loss is covered, you’ll still need to pay your policy deductible, and your premiums may increase as a result.

If the value of the stolen goods isn’t much higher than your deductible, you may decide that it’s not worth it to start a claim. Same thing with repairs—if you don’t mind paying the cost to buy and install a new door, you might consider handling the cost yourself to keep any claims-free discounts you’ve accrued.

Commonly asked questions

When are homes most likely to be broken into?

Most home break-ins take place between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and can be accomplished in as little as 10 minutes.

What are the most commonly stolen items?

The most commonly stolen items are those that are highly valuable, easy to carry, or both.

Jewellery, watches, electronics, and cash are among the most common things to steal. Prescription drugs are also a common target in home burglaries.

What are the most common ways burglars enter a home?

Not surprisingly, burglars enter houses as simply as possible: through the doors and windows. Approximately one-third simply enter through the front door.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.


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