Old rules, new tech: how to keep your home safe
It’s not every day you willingly invite a burglar to poke about your house. But after someone managed to break into my car which was on my drive and had a rummage around, I felt vulnerable. Data from the Office for National Statistics show this is part of a growing trend: there was a nine per cent rise in reported burglaries in 2017 compared to the year before.
Michael Fraser, an ex-offender turned security expert on the BBC show Beat the Burglar, agrees to give my house the once over. I’m feeling quite smug: I have an alarm and a side gate, along with lockable windows. Leaning on my front door, he says that the bottom lock is not on. Even double locking at night isn’t good enough. “A cylinder lock isn’t really a lock,” he says. “If the second lock isn’t engaged, I’d be in there in seconds.”
My big old fashioned sash windows are a danger, says Fraser. “They mean I can see straight through the windows. You won’t do it, but you should pull your blinds down, even when you’re at home, so that no one knows if you’re in or out, and can’t see what you’ve got in there.” My window locks, which are basically a giant screw, are not the right kind. “You can see they’re the old-type windows. You just push a screwdriver up there and get in.”
I’m left reeling, but it’s valuable information. Fraser learnt his tricks while growing up in care as a teenager: “There was a little gang that would go out and do burglaries and I joined it when I was 14. We’d do schools, flats and houses. But when I was 17, I was due in court for receiving stolen goods. The social worker told me the next time this happened, as I would be 18, it would be prison. I was terrified. I went out, got a job and stuck at it.” He worked at an aluminium company where the owner took a chance on him, and Fraser evi- dently shone. He was paid by the hour to cut out locks and started making them so fast that the owner incentivised him to stay with him rather than moving on. Soon he realised that by working for himself he could earn even more, and by the age of 21 he was a millionaire. To honour the second chance he was given, he set out to employ other ex-offenders.
Despite this, he says a sense of guilt is the reason he is now passionate about spreading advice on home security, through TV shows, his book and through consultations with home owners. “I’ve got a lot of guilt from my past,” he says. “It’s not an excuse but I didn’t fully realise what I was doing and the harm I was causing. Now I do and, because it’s so easy to outwit a burglar, I feel that it’s important I help people now.”
Along with the more lo-fi techniques, Fraser says the best security addition I should make is buying a wireless security camera. “It won’t surprise you to learn that my house is very secure. I’ve got one outside and a few inside,” he says.
Research by Co-op Insurance last year found that 89 per cent of burglars said they would avoid a property if they saw a security camera.
But it hasn’t yet filtered down to the consumer: a survey by Which? last year found that just 10 per cent of its members have a security camera in their home. They are quickly getting more hi-tech, cheaper and easier to use. Nest, the tech company which also sells thermostats and smoke alarms (both of which connect to and can be controlled by your smartphone) launched an outdoor security camera last month. The company’s indoor camera can send out alerts about any movement in the house when you are away – and you can even shout at a potential intruder via the camera.
Following Fraser’s advice, I set up the latest Nest Cam IQ outdoor (£329; nest.com). It’s easy to do, although you will need to use a masonry drill bit to connect the camera into the mains if you don’t have an outdoor power socket.
It sends alerts to my phone when someone approaches the property, it knows the difference between a person and an animal, and it automatically records everything. You do, however, need to be cautious that cameras do not point into neighbouring properties, or the street, to comply with the Data Protection Act. An investigation by BBC’s Panorama this week also warned of the possible dangers of the hacking of internet-enabled cameras due to pass- words that weren’t updated. Swann, the home security company, has also recently launched a new range of outdoor cameras, including one targeted at renters, such as the Smart Security camera (£119.99; swann.com), which is a no-drill, wireless device that you glue on to a wall, and which has night vision.
There’s also a bigger beast, the Swann True Detect (£329.99; swann.com), with a thermal sensing CCTV system equipped with passive infrared motion sensors, night vision and hard drive space that allows recordings for up to a year. I put this one up at the back of the house; Fraser says if the front looks too secure, thieves often take a look there.
Home security is on the cusp of getting even more hi-tech. Both Swann and Nest are due to launch video doorbells later this year, while Ring, a start-up that Amazon purchased in February, already has a version on the market (£89; amazon.co.uk).
“We are seeing the rise of ‘porch pirates’, those thieves who swipe packages from doorsteps,” says Lionel GuicherdCallin, head of product marketing at Nest. “Video doorbells offer a solution for online shoppers, providing the ability to be alerted when deliveries arrive, communicate with drivers and stop potential thieves with visual and audio deterrents.” The Nest Hello video doorbell, which will be coming to the UK later this year, can even differentiate between friends and family and use your Google Home smart speaker to announce who is at the door.
Fraser is excited by the new products coming to market, but says that we still need to be aware of basics. “Double lock the door, lock any gates you have, and shred things with your name and address in the wheelie bin,” he says. “It’s simple stuff but most of us don’t do it, and thieves know it.”
Be sure to lock the gate and windows and watch out for ‘porch pirates’
Michael Fraser, an ex-offender who offers security advice
Nest indoor camera, £159 (nest.com)
Swann thermal camera, £129.99 for two (swann.com)