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The Post-Burglary Guide: What to Do After a Thief Strikes Your Home

The Post-Burglary Guide: What to Do After a Thief Strikes Your Home

When your home is burglarized, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. The place that normally makes you feel the safest has been violated without warning, and on top of that you’ve lost valuable, sometimes priceless, possessions. It can be a confusing, frightening experience to bounce back from and it isn’t always easy to know where to start. This guide aims to help you get back on your feet by outlining what to do in the days and weeks following a home burglary, from filing a police report, working with your insurance company, steps you can take to prevent future theft, and ways to help your entire family move past the trauma. The loss you feel doesn’t have to permanently scar you — there are ways you can make recovery quicker, easier, and more productive.

At-a-Glance Steps for Recovery

This comprehensive guide provides detailed information on what actions to take following a home burglary. If you are in a live emergency or don’t have time to read the full guide, here is a quick-reference list to help you take action quickly:

Immediate Action

  • If there are any signs of a break-in when you arrive home, get yourself to a safe and secure location to call the police.
  • Give the emergency operator as much information as possible about your home, including why you suspect there may be an intruder and any information about dangerous objects or weapons that may be inside your home.
  • Wait for police officers to arrive and tell you the site is safe before entering your home.
  • Cooperate with police interviews, and find out how to obtain a copy of the police report.
  • Begin taking stock of what appears to be missing or damaged only after the police have told you it’s OK to do so and won’t interfere with their collection of evidence. Take photos and videos of any areas the intruder was in.
  • Call your insurance company to find out what they need to process your claim.

What to Do in the Weeks that Follow

  • Update and potentially upgrade your home security, including window and door locks, alarm systems, and security cameras.
  • Follow up with your insurance company to ensure your claim is being processed.
  • Keep an open discussion with your family members about their emotional well-being. If anyone — including yourself — feels unsettled by the event, discuss what needs to be done to move on emotionally.
  • Look for signs of emotional distress in your pets, especially if they were home during the invasion.
  • Talk to your neighbors about what happened in your home and what actions your community can take to prevent future break-ins.

Immediate Recovery: What to Do Right Away

Stay Safe by Identifying a Potential Break-In

An important part of recovering from a burglary is acting as quickly as possible while still maintaining your own safety. If you come home and notice that a door or window is inexplicably ajar or broken and suspect your home has been broken into, either stay in your car with the doors locked or get to a neighbor’s immediately and call the police. Don’t investigate on your own and risk spooking a potentially armed intruder.

Give as much information as possible to the emergency operator about what you observed and what may have happened, such as if you heard anyone still inside, noticed suspicious tire tracks leading to a main road, or are aware of back alleys or wooded areas that may have provided a quick or hidden getaway. Also alert emergency services if you keep any firearms within the home so police know the burglar could be armed. With the right information and timing, police could have a chance at catching the burglar as he’s making his getaway.

What to Expect After the Police Have Arrived

Don’t attempt to enter your home until police have arrived and let you know it’s safe to do so. As soon as you are on your property — even before you have entered your home — don’t touch or move anything so as much evidence as possible can be collected.

Police officers will interview you and may ask questions about any previous tenants (former roommates or spouses) or anyone who may have had access to a key. Try to be mindful of any strangers who may have been in your home recently; a salesperson, repairman, or delivery person could have taken the opportunity to case your home or give tips to an interested party. You also may have had someone come to the door claiming to need directions or to use the restroom, but this is a common tactic used by individuals who want to ensure no one is home before they break in. Be as descriptive as possible, noting age, hair color, height, weight, and clothing.

After you’ve answered their questions, ask the officers if it’s OK for you to look around and figure out what’s missing. You can use these inventory lists to help jog your memory of what to look for in each room. Take note of anything that’s missing, even if it’s not something of significant monetary value — you never know what items could help catch the thief or prosecute him later on. Include descriptions of your items like color, age, and any distinguishing marks (like chips or cracks).

Include damaged items on your list, as well. As you’re looking around, immediately point out to investigators anything that’s been moved so they can check for fingerprints. Don’t forget to check areas you may not use as often, including the garage, closets, and the shed. Take photos and video of the aftermath, including any damage to your home or property, that will show overall context to an insurance claims adjuster.

Before the police leave, be sure to find out how you can get a copy of the police report. Get the case number, the names and badge numbers of the officers who investigated, and contact information for the lead detective. Give them a copy of your inventory list and let them know you’ll keep them updated if you discover anything else is missing (they may give you an additional loss form to turn in).

bodyworn-794111_1920Contact Your Insurance Agency

As soon as the police leave, you’ll want to handle the insurance side of things. First, read over your policy so you understand it as much as possible. Then call your insurance company to let them know what’s happened and find out how to proceed. Provide the police case number and ask how to send a copy of your inventory list — they may want to know what is missing or damaged so far, or want a complete list after you’re done looking around. Find out what other information or documentation they may need from you as well as how the recovery process will work. Document every action you take and every conversation you have with your agent or company representatives, including the date and time of the call or meeting, who you spoke with, what you discussed (including any specific lost or damaged items), and any resolutions or conclusions you came to.

Keep all documentation, records, a copy of your policy, and any other records of correspondence in a devoted folder, and store it somewhere safe. You should also maintain an expense book to track all related recovery, replacement, and repair expenses, and keep it with your folder. If you’re a renter but don’t have renter’s insurance, still take detailed photos and documentation of anything lost or damaged. You may be eligible for a tax deduction for your loss, so it’s important to keep detailed records.

Let the property owner know about any damage to the property, especially any locks, windows, or doors that need replaced or changing. If there is a clear security concern that caused the break in, speak to the owner about fixing it as quickly as possible.

Begin the Process of Emotional Recovery

Once you’ve taken a complete inventory, detailed photos and video, and the police have given you the go-ahead, you’re ready to start the task of cleaning up. It’s important to get it done as soon as possible to start the emotional healing process; putting it off will only keep the wound open and leave a constant feeling of uneasiness. The paperwork will be enough to keep the incident on your mind for the next few weeks, so eliminate any other visual reminders: cover any damaged property and remove any unusable furniture or appliances.

You may even want to rearrange your furniture to create a new look and help you feel like you’re getting a positive, fresh start. If it feels too emotionally difficult to clean up yourself, consider hiring a cleaning service to come out instead. It could do your spirit good to step away and come back after things are looking more like they used to.

Take the necessary steps to help your family start recovering emotionally. If you don’t feel safe staying in your home for a night or two, stay at a trusted loved one’s place or at a hotel. Talk to each other about how you’re feeling — reinforcing the fact that you’re in it together can only bond you and put your minds at ease. If you feel any member or the entire family may benefit from trauma counseling, don’t hesitate to book an appointment.

Gradual Recovery: How to Move on in the Following Weeks

Evaluate Your Current Home Security Features

The first step in your road to recovery will be reestablishing your sense of home security. Change all the locks on your doors and windows, making any necessary upgrades to old or outdated models. Deadbolts provide the best security and should have at least a one-inch throw. You should have at least one deadbolt lock on each exterior door to your home. Privacy glass on windows can also give you an extra layer of protection, or metal bars or grilles to take it a step further.

window-1105992_1920If you don’t have one already, you may also want to consider installing a home security system.  Be strategic with how it’s set up, with alarms activated by the window over the kitchen sink and any upstairs windows. If you have decorative glass as part of your front entrance, don’t put the control pad where it’s easily visible from the outside. Make sure the entire family gets a thorough walkthrough on how to work it and gets into the habit of using it regularly. It’s important to do what you can to avoid false alarms: if your neighbors start to view your house as the one with a faulty security system, they’ll likely write off a true emergency as an accidental trigger. Walk around your property with the eye of a burglar to look for opportunities.

You can use this home security checklist to help you identify potential problem areas, or even call your local police department to have them send an officer who will help you find your home’s vulnerabilities. The garage tends to be an overlooked area, so take special care to secure it. You can have a deadbolt or special padlock installed on the door, and if it’s electric, be sure it’s protected by a rolling code system that prevents technologically-savvy intruders from hacking it. Any other garage windows or doors should be secured with locks as well. Remember, even if you don’t have anything of great value (or items that could be stolen easily) in your garage, you likely store tools and ladders there that may help a thief make his way into your house.

Be Aware of Your Family’s Emotional Response

Talk to your family about the home security changes you make and how they feel about them. Is there anything else that would make them feel more secure? If you have an elderly parent living with you, does he or she still feel safe in your home? Adding more secure locks to the bedroom window or door, or even leaving a panic button on a bedside table may be options to put an anxious mind at ease. Even a move to another bedroom could help the healing process. If the problem can’t be fixed with physical alterations alone, speaking with a counselor may help your loved one move forward.

A home burglary may also have a significant impact on your child. Older children (usually past the ages of about 8-10) tend to understand the concept of what has happened and often feel angry, especially if any of their own possessions were taken. Younger children, however, often respond with prolonged fear. They may refuse to go to bed, especially if they have their own room, afraid the intruders will return. Sometimes there’s a regression to bedwetting. The best way to handle your child’s fears is to be calm and assuring — if your daughter feels better keeping her closet or bedroom light on for a week after the burglary, that’s OK. Constantly remind her that she is safe and you will always protect her from danger. Check in with her regularly to find out how she’s feeling, and if you think it will help, seek the guidance of a children’s psychologist.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on your pet’s behavior. Animal posttraumatic stress disorder is still not yet fully understood, since it’s impossible for an owner, veterinarian, or behaviorist to know exactly what an animal is experiencing mentally. But in general, it seems that they tend to display similar signs as humans. Your pet may act fearful, guarded, or submissive in the days and weeks following the burglary. After all, it was his home that was invaded, too, and it’s frightening to imagine having to watch your home get torn apart for seemingly no reason. Be as calm and patient with him as possible, even if he has accidents in the house. If the problem seems to worsen or simply doesn’t get better with time, seek the advice of your vet or a veterinary behaviorist.

dog-691641_1280Replace Damaged or Stolen Items

As you begin to replace your stolen or damaged items, recognize that it will be an emotional process. Purchase replacements in order of priority, keeping your resources (including insurance claim money) in close consideration and copies of your receipts for both you and the insurance company. Keep a list of what you need and avoid the temptation of impulse buys — too many extra purchases could further hurt your wallet, and it will be an uncomfortable conversation with an insurance agent looking at your receipts. When it comes to replacing heirlooms, keep in mind that sometimes having a close knock-off of the real thing can only be a painful reminder of what you lost; it might be better to substitute something completely new and different to give yourself a fresh start.

Mark your new items in a clearly identifiable way. Some choose to engrave their house number or driver’s license number (never use your Social Security number) with an electric engraving pen or permanent marker. This will make an item more difficult to sell if it is stolen, and if recovered, much easier to prosecute the thief. You can also log your items in the national register that can act as a backup catalogue of your possessions and help recover any lost or stolen items in the future.

Work with Your Neighbors to Create a Safer Community

Get proactive in your community about preventing future crime. Talk to your neighbors about what happened so they can be on increased alert. You can even start a neighborhood watch group if there isn’t one already. Neighbors in tightly-knit communities are more likely to call the police if they see suspicious behavior, so at the very least make friends with your neighbors to create a more unified sense of community. Recovering from a burglary takes time, patience, and compassion. Turn to your family and friends for support, do what you can to help your insurance company speed up the process, and seek counseling as needed. Eventually, your wounds will heal and you’ll once again feel safe and confident in your home.