What We Can Learn from a Jewel Thief

Written by | Updated March 28, 2013

Reformed master jewel thief Walter T. Shaw has been all over the media lately. With his newly published book, A License to Steal, Shaw has been interviewed by everyone from Oprah to Rachael Ray to Inside Edition. Shaw was one of the most prolific jewel thieves in history, stealing valuables worth over $70 million from the rich and famous from Long Island to Florida. After spending 11 years in prison, Shaw is a reformed thief who has plenty of tips to share about how to help secure your home. Here is some of the master jewel thief’s best advice.

Don’t Tell Strangers Travel Plans

“Americans tend to tell everyone they’re going on vacation, a weekend getaway, or a business trip,” Says the infamous thief Walter T. Shaw. His advice is simple: “Stop treating strangers like they’re you’re best friend.” Of course it’s all well and good to be friendly, but you should hesitate to tell strangers personal information or plans. Shaw says some of his best tips were from hairstylists, bank tellers, and carpet installers, making it very easy for him to plan a ‘visits’ to different homes while residents were gone.

Protect Your Back Door

Shaw says. “The No. 1 way into a home is through the French doors or sliding doors in the back.” While it’s common to put a security system decal or yard sign in the front yard, it’s less common in the backyard. Shaw suggests, “Adding those decals and signs to rear flower beds, doors and windows might make a thief think twice about finding out whether there really is an alarm or not.” Back doors or side doors are often neglected and left unlocked or unprotected, but Shaw says he almost always would break into a back door, so make sure to treat all the doors around your home as potential targets for intruders.

Turn on Your Alarm

Turning on your alarm system may sound like basic stuff, but you’d be surprised. Shaw says, “90% of the homes we went into had alarm systems that weren’t on.” If you’re going to spend the money on an alarm system, make sure to use it. Don’t kick yourself for forgetting to turn on your system. In fact, nowadays many security systems let you check from your smartphone to double-check that you armed your home before you left. But Shaw says you shouldn’t only arm your home when you’re not there. “Homeowners don’t turn their alarms on when they’re at home, which is nuts. Why wouldn’t you want that safety?” says Shaw.

Realize Daylight Isn’t a Deterrent

“Thieves are doing more and more day jobs than ever before, because that’s when homes are empty. Usually men are at work, and if a woman isn’t also working outside the home, she’s at the grocery store, running kids around town, doing errands and other things that take her away from the home,” says Shaw. With a greater chance of residents being gone during the day, Shaw says a thief will prefer trying to rob a home during the day, rather than at night. Even if you’re just running a quick errand or if you’re in a hurry, make sure to lock your doors and secure your home before you go. Shaw says a thief can break into your home in less than 30 seconds, so even if your errands are quick, a thief can be quicker.

Don’t Keep Valuables in the Master Bedroom

Thieves want to be in and out as quickly as possible. According to Shaw, that means the first place (and sometimes the only place) thieves will check is the master bedroom. “That’s the first place thieves go, because that’s where the jewelry, smart phones and other electronics are kept,” says Shaw. Consider keeping your valuables in other rooms, such as the kitchen, living room, or children’s playrooms. Rooms that are in the middle of the house or are difficult to get to are especially good choices.

Mind Your Garbage

“People love to flaunt what they have. They toss the box from a new flat screen out on the curb and even throw bills and statements in the trash. That’s asking to have your identity stolen and tells thieves you’ve got great electronics inside they can sell,” Shaw says. There are steps you can take to make your garbage less conspicuous to thieves. When you get a cool new electronic, flatten the boxes and bury them in the trash or take them to a public dumpster—don’t put large boxes next to your trash or on your curb. When you order a large appliance such as a nice washer and dryer, tell the delivery people to take away the large and bulky packaging when they leave. If you get sensitive documents in the mail, make sure to shred the before throwing them away.

Scatter Cameras

A security camera at your front door is great for seeing who’s approaching or ringing your doorbell, but don’t stop there. It’s a good idea to also put cameras in your backyard, covering your back door. Shaw says, “I went to a guy’s house yesterday – his $5 million mansion – and he had [security cameras] only on the front of his house. What burglar is only going to go to the front?” Not only does Shaw recommend putting cameras in the back of your home, but he also says you should consider putting motion-sensor lights around the perimeter of your home. That way, if a thief approaches in under-lit areas, the lights will turn on and give the cameras a better shot.

As a homeowner, little things can go a long way in deterring burglars. The biggest thing is not to underestimate thieves. Shaw says, “Robbers love it when homeowners forget to do the easy little things that make their jobs easy.” Do the little things: remember to lock your doors and windows, always arm your security system, and don’t flaunt personal information to strangers. Don’t tempt thieves with careless home security, and you’ll probably be in good shape.

Photo courtesy of WhoIsWalterShaw.com.

Written by Hillary Johnston

A proud mother of four, Hillary is passionate about safety education. She holds a degree in Public Health and Disaster Management. Learn more

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