The Window of Opportunity: How Criminals Get Inside Your House

burglar at the door

It is said that no matter how secure something is, it is rarely, if ever, impregnable. From the Wild West-style baddies that tunnel under a bank to burglars that furtively creep in when a door is ajar, there is almost an infinite variety of ways for criminals to get in unwanted places.

If we’re looking at a single person attempting to gain access to a residential dwelling, however, their options are significantly more limited. Here, we’re taking a closer glimpse at how intruders enter houses and flats by force (with some common-sense recommendations on how to prevent this from happening to you).


Profiling the average intruder

With a few key exceptions, the average burglar is likely to be someone who is fairly desperate: in short, they might be desperate to fund their drug addiction, get a loan shark off their back, or fund a criminal lifestyle. This profile — though perhaps overly simplistic — remains tremendously useful, because it means that your typical burglar is an opportunist, and is also ill-equipped to deal with any proper security measures. Due to their circumstances, they will be forced to use improvised tools and a desperate (and therefore sloppy) approach may leave excellent forensic evidence, which of course, is useful to us.


Entry and egress: taking the easy way out and in

To ensure that we take adequate precautions against this activity, it’s quite helpful to take a very close look at how criminals force themselves into private residences.


1. By the back door: europrofile locks technique, bump keys and more

An increasingly common modus operandi (MO) for domestic burglary is the europrofile lock technique. The use of this has drastically risen in Britain over the last five years, principally due to the manufacturers of new housing using cheap locks in their doors. The suspect takes a set of mole grips and places them over the lock barrel. With a turn, a bump and a snap, the bolt in the door lock shatters, rendering it inoperative. The door, handle and lock appear undamaged on a cursory inspection. The suspect then can gain access. This is a fantastic reason to make sure your home security is adequate: an experienced thief can get in this way, leaving minimal mess, in less than thirty seconds.

A more uncommon, but still utilised method is a bump key. A bump key is a special key that has been filed down to allow it to penetrate most of the pins in any particular lock, if it is whacked in to place. These have to be specially made, and won’t work on highly-secure locks. Nonetheless, it affords a thief a means of rapid access. Watching them in action is very worrying indeed.

Forced entry is next on the list. Operational police officers have told us they’ve seen examples of thieves kicking through a thin external wall down between a shed mounted to the exterior of a building to gain access. But more common is attacking the front door itself, usually with a jemmy or crowbar. This technique literally uses physical force to prise the door open, but leaves a lot of mess, is noisy and attracts unwanted attention. Tell-tale marks that a jemmy has been used includes bent locks, a splintered or warped door-frame, and lots of debris.

The final, and crudest method for getting in the door, is brute force. It is surprisingly easy to kick a wooden door with a flimsy lock down, but again — it’s messy and noisy. Less so is a modern UPVC door, most of which have a steel core. In this case it is easier for a thief to kick a panel through in the bottom or top half of the door, and crawl through, rather than attacking the lock or frame directly. The most uncommon technique here would be the use of a battering ram. Operational officers report that this MO is extremity rare.


2. Shattering the pane: crawling through windows

Windows too can be attacked in a variety of ways. The most common MO here, after the sneak in, is to use some sort of tool to prise them open. Here, we’re looking at a crowbar or jemmy again. Thieves also use screwdrivers, to remove the beading from the frame, and literally pull the window out of its mounting. Sometimes, although more rarely, a glass cutting tool can also be used. These methods are fairly quiet and discreet as they cause minimal damage and aren’t immediately obvious on a casual inspection.

More brute force methods include the obvious brick through the window. The advantage for the thief here is that he doesn’t have to carry anything to the crime scene; a rock from the victim’s own patio is commonly used. The disadvantage is of course the noise made. It’s useful for forensic investigators, as using smashed windows as a point of entry usually means there is lots of nice jagged glass lying around that the thief might cut themselves on. If they do, they’ve incidentally left some fairly irrefutable trace evidence, in the form of their DNA at the crime scene. The destroyed window may even retain a few fingerprints, or tear a few fibres from the suspect’s clothes.


3. Tin cans on the roof or something more sinister

The final category here in our forced entry section encompasses every other way a thief could force access to your dwelling. Don’t worry about locking or shutting your first floor windows? Well you should, because thieves can and often do drag your wheelie bin to the side of your kitchen, climb onto your flat roof, and gain access that way.

Other ways burglars enter using less obvious methods include the removal of roof tiles, attacking masonry from a secluded spot with a hammer, chisel or industrial tools, or even digging elaborate tunnels! Determined thieves have even been known to dismantle chimneys to gain access to attic spaces or the body of houses.

As we said earlier, the possibilities for a determined thief are almost infinite. Although uncommon for residential houses, commercial premises are often ram raided, which involves driving a vehicle through a wall or shutter to gain access to a building. Again, it has even been known for minor explosives or welding equipment to be used to gain access.


Walling it up: the take-away lessons

Unless a house has been specifically targeted for some high value jewellery or your fancy vehicles, it’s most likely, when looking at household burglary, that it’s been carried out by an opportunist. They won’t have been careful, and are likely to have been rushed, so there’s some fantastic potential to lift trace evidence and catch a suspect.

The second thing is to make sure every lock in your house has been upgraded. Make sure you’re safe in your own home and keep windows and doors secured at all times. Remember: the single most common MO for domestic burglary remains the sneak in, where no force at all is used.


Your Turn: Think we’ve missed out a few more significant methods of gaining entry? Know a few home security tips you’re happy to share with others? Do us a favour and leave them in the comments. We might even be able to add them to future articles.




  • Lucas says:

    It is quite scary when you say that there are an infinite variety of ways for criminals to get in unwanted places. Alarm systems and security measures are there for that reason. If they do get in, they are caught. There are different types of thieves (let’s hope not buglers because they are defined as using force and violence) and some may be opportunists and others. Back doors and garage doors are easy entry points and you’ve just described simple ways that they can get in. Crowbars and screwdrivers are tools that are so easy to use to break in. Is there anything to be done to protect against this?

    • Hello Lucas, while there are always possibilities for a criminal to break into a house if they really want to, the odds are against it. But there are things you can do to dissuade a potential intruder from selecting your home. Many products can be installed to enhance an alarm system, including a motion sensor at entry points that triggers a barking dog sound, alarm company notifications, lights on timers when you are away, a TV or radio left on to imply people are in the house. Steel deadlocks in your doors thwart screwdrivers and credit cards from breaking your doors, and steel plates at the door jamb prevent crowbars from getting a grip. We hope you are able to find and install protective strategies like these to provide peace of mind.

  • Mike says:

    For the people who have someone leaving in their attic, hire a security company to put cameras in your attic.

  • bcs says:

    Sorry, but I smell trolls here. There’s no way so many people can be stalked by attic-dwelling criminals.

    • Maybe. But with populations of 320 million in the US and 65 million in the UK, trends can happen, and like circumstances attract like experiences. Without investigating each incident, who knows?

  • Cory says:

    These problems are to me all so easily solved I cannot help but to think of anything else being the real culprit besides an over active imagination, extreme paranoia, ghosts, or unfortunately and most likely for lack of a better term crazy. There is any number of solutions that I can think of just off the top of my head to create proof if there is in fact anyone doing this. Such as hidden cameras, motion sensor lights, vibration activated alarms. Even less sophisticated solutions are easy enough to think up. Such as tie fishing line across where the intruders may or may not be crossing. Attach bells and or cans to. Either end. Or attach nothing at all but later check to see if it’s been broken or cut. Amother simpler more juraStic solution: simply poor a bucket of paint on the ground preferablly the same color as the floor. This should take hours before it drys depending on how much you use and will create an impossible to cover up evidence if anyone steps in it. My ideas are endless to coming up with solutions for this, unfortunately you guys probably live to far away from Oregon to make it feasible for me to just come over and handle the problem or I would.

  • Ken says:

    Unbeknownst to many people especially here, burglars or assassins are not magical creatures. They have one rule: do not get caught or injured. If you suspect a crime, find out when they occur. Look for suspicious characters loitering during this time. Make your home impervious. Anti climb paint for the gutters and drain pipes. Have a contractor repair your roof that most likely has been pried open. Check for chimney flashing missing. Get cameras to cover possible entries.

  • Marc says:

    Great. very knowledgeable post.

  • sheila says:

    You know that what goes around comes around, we can only hope that when they are old and vulnerable they experience our pain. Karma!

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