Help! My House Was Broken Into. What Do I Do Now?
Arriving home and discovering a break-in is unsettling and confusing. Knowing what to do if your house was broken into can make the situation feel safer and less stressful.
Q: I came home from work last week and could see from the driveway that my front door was kicked in. I ran to my neighbor’s house for help and they had me call the police, but I’m not sure that was the right thing to do. I lost a lot of valuables, and maybe I should have gone in to try to protect my home. What should you do after your house is broken into?
A: It sounds like your first instinct was the correct one. Entering a home that’s been broken into when you’re not certain that the intruder has left is unsafe, so leaving the scene and getting help was a smart call. It’s unnerving to find that someone has been in your home, but there are steps you can take in the aftermath of a break-in that can keep you and your family safe, make it easier for the police to catch the perpetrator, and help you replace your belongings and get back to feeling secure. This is what to do if your house is broken into.
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Leave the scene and call the police.
The first thing to do when someone sees that their home has been broken into is simple: Leave. If the resident is still outside the home and sees a broken door, smashed window, or jimmied garage door, it’s imperative that they do not enter the house. The robber could still be inside, and while part of the resident may want to go in and defend their turf, most robbers really don’t want to meet the residents of the home they’re burglarizing—and panicking criminals can become violent. In addition, residents don’t want to contaminate any evidence the police might be able to use. If the resident has already entered the house when they discover the break-in, they’ll want to leave as quickly as they can without touching anything.
Residents then have several options. If applicable, they can return to their car and call the police from there. A break-in is an emergency, so residents shouldn’t be afraid to call 911. Alternatively, they can go to a neighbor’s house—in fact, getting to know the neighbors is an easy way to protect a home from break-ins since there will be trusted people keeping an eye on things when the residents are away. After discovering a break-in, residents will probably feel on edge and panicked from the adrenaline rush, so having someone else nearby to help them call the police can be helpful, especially if children are present.
When a resident calls 911 to report the break-in, they’ll want to calmly convey their name, phone number, and address, and let the dispatcher know if they think the break-in may still be in progress.
According to Michael Silva of Silva Consultants, “In most jurisdictions, calls of this type are given priority and an officer should arrive quickly.”
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File a police report.
While police will likely come to the home immediately to clear the scene, there will be some follow-up steps residents will need to take. Police will enter the home and make sure that nobody is still inside. They will then have to process the scene by taking photographs, collecting evidence, and possibly taking fingerprints. During this time, the resident will need to wait somewhere else. After the police have finished their work, the resident will have to file a formal police report, describing how they left the house, what they saw when they arrived home, what they touched if they went inside, and anything immediately obvious that is missing. Filing the report might seem like an inconvenience, but the resident won’t be able to make insurance claims for stolen items without one.
Create a list of missing belongings and take photos of the scene.
When the resident is allowed back inside their home, they’ll need to get to work. First, they’ll want to take photographs of everything, regardless of whether or not it seems important. Even though the police will have photographs (and the insurance company will take even more), residents should have their own records, especially as they’re more likely to notice small things that are out of place. Then, the resident will want to begin making a list of everything that is missing or damaged. It’s important that they look carefully and think hard. Residents can add to this list if they discover more items missing later, but it’s best to make the list as comprehensive as possible from the start.
Electronics, jewelry, and other valuables are obvious targets, but consider other items that are potentially valuable to a thief: medications. If any of the residents in the home need medicine that was stolen in a burglary, one of the first steps they’ll want to take is calling the prescribing doctor to get a refill. It’s important for residents to check their medicine cabinet thoroughly.
In addition, residents will want to check their files. Has the thief rifled through any bills? Are passports or old credit cards missing? Birth certificates or social security cards? The thief may have taken items that will give them access to the resident’s identity. Many people no longer use checks but still have them in a drawer—residents will want to see if those have been taken. If there are children in the house, residents will want to check for their identifying documents as well to protect their identities from theft.
Finally, residents will want to think about what files were on any electronics that are missing. While they may be heartbroken over the loss of years of family photos, the tax returns stored on their laptop pose a bigger immediate threat in the hands of a skilled thief, and if there’s a list of passwords stored on the computer (everyone knows there shouldn’t be, but many people still have one), residents will need to get to work remembering and changing as many as they can.
Contact your homeowners or renters insurance company.
After filing a police report, a resident’s next phone call should be to their homeowners or renters insurance company. A resident’s first instinct may be to start cleaning up, securing doors, and taking stock of what is missing, but their insurance adjuster will need to see the damage before it’s fixed (with the exception of securing the entry point if it’ll be left overnight; the police can often help with that). Starting the claim with the insurance company right away serves several purposes for the resident: Allowing the adjuster to see the damage firsthand will more clearly convey the damage to the home, but also, many insurance companies provide benefits that will cover immediate repair of doors and windows, guidance on steps policyholders can take to prevent identity theft as a result of lost documents, and a caseworker who can help guide policyholders through the rest of the claims and recovery process. It’s good to make that connection promptly.
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Contact your bank.
Regardless of whether actual bank cards, credit cards, or checks were stolen, savvy thieves can use statements and other identifying documents to access the resident’s accounts, especially if a laptop that the resident uses to log on to their bank account has been taken. Residents will want to let their bank and credit card companies know there’s been a robbery, provide them with the police report as soon as it’s available, and protect their accounts.
In addition, it would be wise for residents to call all three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and put a red flag on their credit reports. Depending on what state someone lives in, they may be able to place an immediate freeze on their credit, which will prevent any new credit accounts from being opened in their name. Some states allow the credit bureaus to charge for this service, but the charge is usually waived if a police report is available.
Locate proof of ownership for missing big-ticket items.
A resident’s insurance company will conduct an investigation, consult the police report and the resident’s list, and provide them with a benefit summary that explains what will be covered, how it will be covered, and how much the policyholder will have to pay as part of their deductible. The company will base the coverage on the list the policyholder provided of what is missing, so there’s a certain amount of trust they’re placing in this list. Policyholders can make it easier for the company to cover items that are expensive or recently purchased at close to replacement cost if they can provide receipts or invoices proving that they purchased each item and how much it cost. Policyholders will want to check their files for paper copies of receipts, and check credit card statements and their email to find copies of order confirmations or shipping notices.
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Providing receipts will certainly help policyholders get the best coverage possible for obvious items like televisions and computers, but they won’t want to overlook other big-ticket items; if they just bought a new sofa and loveseat for the living room and they were destroyed by a thief breaking a window onto them and then stepping on the glass, the receipt that identifies the purchase date and cost can be the difference between replacing the furniture with something of similar value or bargain shopping.
View footage of the break-in and talk to neighbors.
The police may help with this step, but if not, it’s time for the residents to check in with their neighbors again. Neighbors will probably be anxious to talk with the resident, because a break-in nearby means their homes are also vulnerable. Residents will want to ask if anybody saw an unfamiliar car or person in the neighborhood earlier in the day (or week), and check to see if any of them have security cameras—the resident may be surprised to know how many neighbors have cameras that record their yard. They’ll want to provide any footage they find to the police so they can use it in their investigation.
In the event that a neighbor does have footage of the actual break-in, it may be difficult for the resident to watch, and it may be distressing to rewatch it more than a few times. But once they know the footage is relevant, they can hand it over to the police.
Repair broken points of entry, such as windows and doors.
When the insurance company has cleared residents to move back in, repairs to damaged entry points need to be completed before they can stay in the home. The insurance company may recommend a company to assist with this, or the resident can choose their own contractor. Residents will want to make sure they let anyone they hire know that the job is a front door security repair after a break-in so they’ll prioritize the project.
As the resident will be purchasing new locks and possibly new doors or windows that were entry points for the break-in, they may want to consider upgrading the quality of the replaced items for security and peace of mind.
Eliminate any sign that a break-in occurred.
Eventually, the residents will need to start putting their home back together. This can be a large task, especially if the house and its belongings were extensively damaged. Homeowners insurance may cover a cleaning or restoration service in some cases. Residents will want to consider asking a friend to help if they’re doing it on their own—the moral support can be very helpful. Some people like to completely revamp the home by cleaning, repainting, and freshening the rooms so that it looks like a whole new space; others simply want it to feel like home again. Regardless of what the resident prefers, removing the signs of the break-in can help them get back to normal sooner.
If residents find any items that do not belong to them during the course of the cleanup, they’ll want to call the police. It’s possible the robber left something behind, and the item may be a piece of evidence.
Invest in better home security to prevent future burglaries.
It takes time for residents to feel safe and comfortable in their home after a break-in. Children and pets can be particularly affected by the fear and disruption that comes from having their space invaded, but nobody is immune. Taking some steps to shore up the home’s security going forward can help residents feel safer and prevent home invasion in the future.
They may want to consider upgrading doors, locks, and deadbolts to secure the entry points to the home. They’ll want to remember the garage door and doors leading from the garage to the home. They’ll also want to build relationships with their neighbors (or even consider starting a neighborhood watch), as the two months after a break-in can be a time of increased risk for the whole neighborhood. If the thieves got a good haul from the home, it stands to reason that the neighbors’ homes may be equally rich targets, and the robbers may even try the resident’s home again, anticipating that they’ll have replaced the items they stole with new ones. The more secure all of the houses on the block are, the less attractive they are to criminals, and good neighbors can help residents feel more secure as well.
Outdoor lighting can deter criminals from targeting a house, as motion sensors can alert residents and neighbors to their presence. Home security cameras or systems are also effective deterrents, and in many cases can drastically reduce the chances of a break-in occurring, making them well worth the cost. Experts advise that residents invest in a home security system with an alarm; even a security sign can deter crime as would-be burglars may choose to skip a house with an alarm and instead choose an unprotected home.
Installing one of the best home security systems, like a custom Vivint home security system or a system from ADT, can go a long way in deterring a would-be criminal from targeting a home. The best provider for each home will depend on the residents’ needs, budget, and desired level of security.