Alarm bells ring about home security as burglaries increase

 

Homeowners are realising that alarms are an effective deterrent and reduce the likelihood of a home being targeted, writes Caroline Madden

DESPITE THE Government deposit protection scheme announced last September, there are still “shoebox savers” out there – people who have lost faith in the financial sector and stashed cash under the mattress or in a shoebox. This was never a sensible strategy but it is now riskier than ever because as the recession takes hold, burglaries are becoming more common.

According to Eircom PhoneWatch’s 2008 Burglary Report, residential burglaries shot up by 32 per cent between June 2007 and June 2008, and €100 million worth of valuables were stolen from Irish homes during that period. Dublin was the worst-affected county, while the rest of the State saw a 36.2 per cent rise in burglaries.

Homeowners need to be particularly vigilant at this time of the year as the “cover of darkness in the winter months can be a strong motivating factor in opportunistic and planned burglaries”, the report said.

Particularly disturbing was the report’s finding that eight out of 10 burglaries take place while the occupants were at home. “The statistics strongly suggest that residents are not adequately securing their property while they are at home, and that burglars in turn are not deterred by home occupancy,” the report said.

According to the Garda Crime Prevention Unit, alarms are an effective deterrent. Fewer than half of all households surveyed for the report had an alarm fitted at the time of the burglary. However, it seems consumers are taking home security more seriously.

“Our members certainly have noticed an increase in the number of enquiries with regard to home alarm systems and upgrades on existing systems which appears to be prompted by an increase in the levels of burglaries,” says Sharon Doran of the Irish Security Industry Association.

“Unfortunately, recessionary times do seem to push levels of crime up.”

Essentially, intruder alarm systems fall into two types: “audible only” which means that when the alarm is activated, a bell or siren operates to draw attention to the building, and “remotely monitored”, which means that in addition to a siren sounding, a signal is sent to a central monitoring station which can inform the homeowner, a chosen keyholder or the Garda that the alarm has been triggered.

An “auto-dialler” can also be used with an alarm system. When the alarm is activated, an auto-dialler will ring predetermined phone numbers, although it must not be programmed to call the Garda.

Deciding on the most suitable alarm for your home can be difficult as there are a number of factors to consider, including price. The cost of alarms can vary, depending on the size and layout of the property and the occupants’ requirements.

Eircom PhoneWatch’s monitored security systems start at just over €600 for a pre-wired alarm. A wire-free system is more expensive – the average Eircom PhoneWatch price is just under €1,000. The cost of monitoring and maintenance is €6 a week.

Before making a decision, it’s a good idea to talk to friends and neighbours about the systems they installed, and your local crime prevention officer in the Garda can also provide advice.

As well as deterring burglars, installing an alarm can reduce your home insurance premium. Many insurers will give a discount of 10 per cent for an alarm that meets the European EN50131 standard. If the alarm is monitored, the discount often increases to 15 per cent.

In certain cases, the insurer may insist that a customer’s house is fitted with an alarm, and that the alarm is switched on when the house in unoccupied – if this isn’t done, a claim made in the event of a burglary may not be valid.

“We generally apply an alarm warranty when the contents sum insured exceeds €70,000,” explains a spokeswoman for Axa insurance. “This means the alarm must be in working order and maintained regularly. The client must put the alarm on when they leave the home.”

In addition to selecting the most suitable alarm, it is also important to choose the installation company carefully.

“The first thing someone should look for is that the company and the installer are licensed,” advises Doran. “The Private Security Authority regulates the security industry and all alarm system providers and installers must be licensed.”

If a security company is licensed, it means that it has complied with relevant European and international standards. A list of licensed installers is available on www.psa.gov.ie

It may save you money in the short term, but don’t be tempted if a friend (who doesn’t have a licence) offers to fit an alarm as a favour. Doran explains that, under the Private Security Act 2004, it is an offence for anyone to supply or fit an alarm system without a licence.

More importantly from the purchaser’s point of view, it is an offence to hire an unlicensed alarm company or installer which means that the purchaser could find themselves being prosecuted under the Act, she warns.

“We would also recommend getting quotes from three companies,” she adds. “Ask them to detail in the quote exactly what they are providing for the money. It is also advisable to get references where possible.”

In the event of a burglary, standard home insurance policies will cover the cost of replacing stolen items and repairing damage done to the property.

However, a common mistake made by householders is to underestimate the value of the contents of their home when taking out or renewing their home insurance policy.

“Work out the amount of insurance cover you need by estimating how much it would cost to replace your contents at today’s prices because most household policies are on a new-for-old basis,” advises Michael Horan of the Irish Insurance Federation. “If something is stolen, the policy will pay the cost of replacing that item with a new item, or if something is damaged they’ll pay the cost of replacing it or repairing it.”

Householders should be aware that insurance policies generally only cover cash kept in the home up to a maximum of €300 or €400. Some policies may not cover cash at all.

Householders should itemise the contents of their home, room by room, and calculate the cost of replacing all of their belongings. They should review this amount periodically, Horan advises. If you return home to find that your home has been burgled, Eircom PhoneWatch’s advice is not to touch anything, immediately leave the premises and call the Garda from the nearest phone.

It’s also important to inform your insurer or broker soon after the robbery has occurred. “Your [insurance] policy documents generally have a phone number in there for you to ring,” advises Horan. “Let them take you through the process.”

The insurer may request information and documents to support a burglary-related claim, and in most cases the claim will be processed quickly. In the event of a large claim, the insurer may send out a loss assessor.

Houses that have been burgled once are more likely to be broken into a second time. If intruders have already targeted your home, be extra vigilant. Don’t tempt burglars back by leaving packaging for new electronic devices for all to see in your recycling bin.

Protecting your home

If you’re going on holidays, don’t make it obvious. Have your mail held by An Post’s MailMinder service. MailMinder suspends delivery of mail to your home while you’re away, for up to 12 weeks. This service costs €30 for up to four weeks, €50 for four to eight weeks, and €75 for eight to 12 weeks, but is free with some insurance policies.

All outside doors should be protected by at least one three-lever mortise deadlock.

If you have a patio door, fit locks to the top and bottom of the door to prevent it from being lifted off its tracks.

All windows should be locked. All window locks should be key-operated.

Install security lights that are activated when they detect movement at the front, back and side of the house.

Your alarm system should include sensors and switches fitted on doors, windows, hallways and landings.

Don’t keep your house keys or car keys in the hallway. A burglar may steal them by reaching through the letterbox or breaking the glass in the front door.

Fit a spy-hole, door chain or limiter (which helps to stop the door being forced open from the outside) to your front door so you can check a caller’s identity before you decide to let them in.

Always lock doors and windows if you’re leaving the house.

Lock away garden tools or ladders so a burglar cannot use them to break into your house.

Don’t write alarm codes on the instruction manual, or on walls near the control unit.

Notify your home security provider if you are going to be away for longer than a week.

Try to create the impression your house is occupied. Use timers to switch lights and radios on and off when youre not at home.