Here today, Gone tomorrow

Nobody tells you what to do when your world turns upside down.

You are going to have to forgive any formatting problems with this page as I have been forced to use my iPad.

Also, this is a long post. I hope you’ll understand why. If you find any of this useful, why not buy one of my books as an ebook as a thank you. If you know it already, well, it bears repeating.

The Set-up

Last Tuesday, some x?!*&!? decided our house would be their target. Lots of valuables were taken. Many had no financial value but immeasurable sentimental value. Of course, the computers all went. Fortunately, the iPad was with me at work otherwise I would have been totally, erm, stuffed. Much worse, each room was wrecked. All of the clothes ransacked and the swag taken away in pillowcases we had slept on the previous evening.

Yes, I know, we should have gotten a better intruder alarm. (BTW, if you are that x?!*&!?, that’s been sorted now, move along), and we could own a dog…but we both work and I think leaving a dog home alone all day is unfair. I could also wax lyrical about CCTV and motion detecting lights, state-of-the-art locks and conning towers and machine guns but where there is a will there is a way and the ?!*&!? would still have taken our stuff.

Now anyone who knows me also knows that I despise the victim culture that is prevalent in today’s society so, although I can justifiable claim to be one, I would rather try and find a positive spin, however deeply buried. So I thought I would go through some of the issues we faced, the steps we took and lessons we learned. Heaven forbid any of you should suffer the same fate but if some of it sticks and the ordeal is less arduous then all to the good.

Don’t panic…too much.

There are no instructions for what you should do when you open the door and say “Where’s the TV…sh*t, we’ve been burgled!” My wife and I panicked. Instead, we could have followed these steps I drew up after the event:

  1. Window Stay out of the building if possible, at least to start with. Until you know the extent of the situation, you could be contaminating evidence. Worse still, the burglar could still be inside. Get to know a neighbour. Have a cup of tea or coffee. Ask if they saw anything.
  2. Phone the police. Be calm even though you are angry. Showing anger to the police, even their call-takers, will delay their response. Even the slightest bit of annoyance will be taken as threatening behaviour.
    The police will take some time to respond. Nobody is dying, there is no danger, so inevitably it will be a lower priority call. This is no slight on you, just that the world is full of priorities.
  3. MAKE A JUDGEMENT CALL. Is there a safe room in the house, perhaps not too badly damaged, where there is little chance of destroying evidence? If so, make it your base – leave the rest of the house alone, even if tempted to look for missing passports, etc. DON’T TOUCH WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Once the Scenes of Crime Officers have been, the house will be yours again.
    Our bathroom (toilet) was not touched, so we could use it. If burglars had sought relief, then wait until evidence has been processed. Call on neighbours for a call of nature.
  4. Contact a reliable friend or relative. Someone with a calm head, who can help you through. You will be in pieces.
  5. Phone the insurance company to start the claim. This is particularly important where external doors or windows are damaged as the property is insecure.
    Insurance policies provide for rapid response remedial work to secure your house. The sooner you call, the sooner they come out.
  6. MAKE ANOTHER JUDGEMENT CALL. If someone were to repair the damage, would they corrupt vital evidence? Would it be better to delay the temporary repair until after the Scenes of Crime Officers have been? If so, unfortunately you need to stay with your house.
  7. Write stuff down – times, dates, cars, dog-walkers, as they occur to you or your neighbours. Look for CCTV in the area. They may be of use to the police, who see a bigger picture of crime in your area.
  8. Let you neighbours know what has happened. x?!*&!? may come back and choose a different house on a different day. Forewarned is forearmed. One of my neighbours lent us a television; another made tea for us. Neighbourhoods aren’t as close these days as they should be. Be careful only to tell the ones you can trust.
  9. Don’t underestimate the psychological trauma. Psychologically, this has hit us hard. We have moved bedrooms and discarded and replaced a good many clothes, worst of all, though, is the feeling that our house is no longer our own, that our safe places are no longer safe. We can hear them moving about our space. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Here are links for Victim Support in the UK and in the US.

I worked all of this out for myself. There are many pages of advice on the Net. Here is one.

Prevention is better than cure

x?!*&!? is choosy. Make it difficult and they move next door. If your neighbours are warned, it’s the next street, and so on.

1. Don’t make it easy for them.

Whilst a lot was taken, a lot of equal or higher value items were left. The reason? The thieving x?!*&!? only had ten or fifteen minutes. They probably had a stopwatch or phone alarm. Once that went off, they were off. Items which are less than obvious will be left. They won’t waste time searching. So if you are a laptop user, put it away, under the bed, at the back of a cupboard. Hide cash, bank details and jewellery. Make them work for it.

Better still, get a safe. I bought one the other day for 65GBP, now bolted to a wall in a hidden place. They are easy to fit and use. Additionally for 25GBP, I bought a key safe. The same applies…just don’t leave the keys to the key safe next to the key-safe!

Also, if it’s awkward to remove, it will be left. A TV bolted to a wall mount will probably be left. Sitting on a unit (ahem) they can just take it.

There are also a myriad tips to make it more difficult or to make your house less attractive to x?!*&!?. Rather than repeat them, here is a good site.

 

Make items easier to recover

1. Log your stuff on a property register site

For the UK, it’s immobilise.com. In the US that’s imobiliZe.net (two nations separated by a common language!). Other sites are available. Once registered you can added precious items, valuable items, unusual items, along with details. Various agencies will have access and if an item goes missing and is recovered, there is a hope it can be returned to you. Items of jewellery often have a distinctive box. Thieves can often overlook disposing of the box.

I have done this after the event…and marked the items as stolen, but why not get ahead of the game?

2. Make an inventory

Yeah, I know. It’s a faff. Taking details of everything, logging it down. So much stuff! Then the insurance assessor arrives and it’s like, what? Why didn’t I keep a record?

I used a simple spreadsheet. I listed the items that were missing or damaged, along with a description, including any notable features, then approximate value (or actual if you have the receipt), purchase date, serial number and Supplier. Here is mine as an Excel sheet. I have included sample entries which you can delete. There are probably others on the Net.

An additional step is to take a photo, or several, including the serial number. Our Scenes of Crime Officer suggested a walking talking video of the house too. That way you can spot what is missing. A picture paints a thousand words:

There are software packages for this too. It depends upon you budget. Attic Manager is the one I am thinking of getting when I have a computer to run it on.. The key for me is the ability to work on Windows and Macs. YMMV. Also it is simply and straightforward. I am not affiliated to nor remunerated by this company.

3. Keep Receipts and Serial numbers separate from the items.

These days, serial numbers are only stuck onto equipment, so you may need to copy them onto documents or into software…or photograph them. Keep the receipts. A shoe-box will do, placed somewhere less obvious.

If you don’t have receipts, get on to the Supplier. Apple were brilliant, sourcing a receipt from 2012. So were Currys PC World, a UK electrical retailer.

4. Mark your property using a UV pen.

Law enforcement agencies still carry UV lights. Marking kit with a Postal Code or ZIP code still works.

5. Backup your data…then backup again

Ok, squit will happen. It may not be a x?!*&!? with designs on your kit and anyhow, he will probably never read or steal your work. He will be too eager to sell it on. But once it’s gone, it’s gone. Period.

Fortunately I have a robust backup system.

  1. I use Dropbox and iCloud. Any important data, such as my Work in Progress is stored in the Dropbox folders on my computer. In turn they are synced to a cloud server somewhere.
  2. I have a separate hard drive attached to the computer. No data is (was) stored on the computer itself.
  3. There is an Apple Time capsule syncing the data drive and the Mac an hour after I start using it and every hour.
  4. I have a NAS drive in my garage with twin RAIDed disks backing up everything too. This also acts as an archive, gradually filling with memories.

    To explain, NAS means Network attached Storage, basically a hard disk on my home network. I use (er…used) it to stream films to the TV and store photos. Additionally is stores data. The RAID bit means, it’s actually 2 identical hard drive, continually syncing to each other. If one goes down, the other is an exact copy.
    The garage is a less obvious place to look for IT kit and was overlooked.

Additionally, for my published books, I have burnt them to DVD and placed them in the safe.

Now if this seems extreme, it probably is. Most people can manage with a cloud solution and occasional security copies to external devices like USB pen-sticks.

Copying your work to a USB pen-stick and putting it away is easy…so go and do it now! Have you done it yet?… I’m waiting…

I use Macs. All of the above is available in some form for Windows. Here’s how to use Windows 10 built in Backup features.

Any backup systems stands or falls by a few things:

  • Unless it restores, it ain’t a backup. I once travelled 200 miles with a backup of software on a floppy disk (ask your granddad) to find that the car speaker had erased the disk on the way. Long before the internet or modems, it was an embarrassing, wasted trip. If saving files to an external source, make sure you can read them and that you store them safely. Better still, use cloud storage, like Dropbox or OneDrive…but still check the data can be read back.
  • Your backup is no use at all if the x?!*&!? that steals your stuff, steals that too. This might sound silly but when I found my computer missing, several USB pen sticks from the drawer next to it were taken too. Fortunately, I don’t use them for backups. In the same way you would not leave a safe key next to the safe, put the backups somewhere else, somewhere less obvious.
  • Applications save their data in specific formats. Unless the ‘restore’ computer runs the same software, the backup is useless. Choose you applications carefully so that you can read the data on many machines – its called software portability. MS Word and Excel are examples. Scrivener has a full version for Mac but only a beta version for Windows.

6. Keep important details where you can reach them easily

What if you can’t get into your house? What if it was flooded or destroyed by fire? Sincerely I hope it never happens but as I write floods in the Indian State of Kerala mean that 725,000 people are taking refuge in the 5,645 relief camps set up by the Government. There but for the grace of God…

Keep a list of important details in a secure place outside your house. I am an IT guy. I have a data file of all important contact details, bank account details, Web password, etc. This is synced between my phone and my computers.

BUT…if you are going to store these details, make sure they are absolutely safe. Paper documents need to be stored with a reliable friend who has a safe place to put them. If you use IT, then use strong passwords. Here is advice on passwords.

7. Check your insurance cover

Ensure you have adequate cover. It is important not to be under-insured. If the assessor assesses the entirety of your assets and feels that, if it all went, your cover would not be enough, he/ she may reduce your claim proportionally.

Also ensure any valuable items can be covered on your policy. Some expensive items may blow the single item limit. Some valuable items may need to be specified. Others may need a specialist policy.

I am not an expert, so seek professional advice.

In Conclusion…

This whole event is going to take some time to get over but I am sure we will. We have toughed it out without too many knee-jerk responses. Also we are seeking help to process the way we feel.

I am just a guy who was burgled. Above is my two cents worth. If any of it is useful, please let me know…or buy one of my books as an ebook (God loves a trier).

Finally, don’t worry. It’s important to remember that, although irreplaceable items were lost, nobody died. It’s just stuff. Burglary is on the decrease. The world isn’t as dangerous as the media would have us believe.

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