What I learned from being burglarized
I may have lost valuables, but I gained valuable lessons.
November 12, 2012
By: Carolyn Sennett
It seemed like an ordinary Friday morning.
I woke up and wandered out to my living room to turn on my laptop. That’s funny, I thought, where is my laptop? Then I turned around and discovered my plasma television was missing. I looked at the kitchen table where I left my wallet and saw it, too, was gone. I had been burglarized!
As I called 911, a flood of feelings washed over me. I was frightened and panicked, and the seriousness of the situation quickly hit me. Someone cut my window screen with a knife, removed it from the opened window and entered my condo — and it all happened while I was sleeping.
According to FBI reports, approximately 30 percent of all burglaries are committed without force through unlocked doors or windows. In the latest data available from the FBI, one burglary with an average loss of $2,119 occurs every 14.6 seconds in the U.S.
Reading that, I realized I had just become a statistic. As a writer and marketer for Erie Insurance, I have written about safety and insurance coverage many times. But it was different now; it was personal.
A burglary is not only a property crime, but also a crime against a person. I had trouble sleeping and became more sensitive to noises at night. If I heard something, I would get up and look out the windows. Even though I did nothing wrong, I blamed myself for leaving the windows open. Then I remembered, regardless of the circumstances, no one has the right to commit a crime like that.
In those first few hours and days after the burglary, there were so many details to sort out. Concerned about identity theft, I reported my missing wallet to my bank, requested account number changes for credit cards, updated passwords and put a 90-day fraud alert on my credit.
I also immediately called Historic Square Agency in Erie, Pa., and talked to Customer Service Representative Connie Palmer about my insurance coverage. I told her what happened and, within a few hours, Erie Insurance Claims Adjuster Greg Emke called to schedule an appointment at my home that afternoon. Greg didn’t realize that I worked for ERIE until we sat down to review what happened. As far as he was concerned, I was one of the many Customers who needed his help that day. Just one week after the burglary, I had the claims settlement and the check.
Theft is covered under most standard home, condo, manufactured home and renter’s insurance policies, but there are limits for expensive items like jewelry, guns, silverware and furs. So if your valuables exceed a standard policy limit of $2,500, for example, you may be underinsured. It’s important to know the value of your belongings and to talk to your Agent about coverage. To insure jewelry and other expensive items properly, you may want to consider purchasing additional coverage. If you rent, you should keep in mind that a landlord’s insurance policy won’t typically cover your belongings if they are stolen. But you can get a renter’s policy for only a few dollars a month.
Fortunately, in my case, I had an adequate amount of coverage. All told, my claim was more than $1,300, and my deductable was $250. It was a big comfort knowing that I was covered and could replace the things that were stolen.
I learned a lot through this ordeal about staying safe. Here’s what I did and what I’d encourage you to do, too:
- Join or form a Neighborhood Watch group. The program operates as a partnership between residents and law enforcement to improve safety and prevent crime.
- Add lights to your property. Safety experts say lighting may reduce burglary and vandalism by 50 percent.
- Back up your computer or laptop. It’s your best defense to protect your data.
- Test your home security system. My security alarm company tested my system and added a panic button. I now use my alarm system routinely and sleep easier knowing it’s activated every night. With an alarm system, you may also qualify for a home insurance discount.
- Try a wireless driveway alert system. Sold at most hardware stores for about $20, the motion detectors are battery operated and will warn you that visitors are on the way to your door.
- Install additional window locks. A ventilating lock, for example, on a double hung window limits the opening to a few inches. An intruder would not be able to open the window beyond that.
- Register your electronic equipment. Product registration comes in handy if you have to prove that you owned the stolen item and you’re without the serial number.
- Use a personal property or a home inventory form to capture necessary information, including the value of your belongings and serial numbers of electronic equipment.
- Take photos of your belongings. Digital photos of your high value items will help identify them if they’re recovered and help document a claim.
- Be cautious with engraving. I recently engraved my TV and laptop but ERIE’s safety experts say it may do little to discourage a thief. Because so many people are selling their own engraved items at yard sales or donating them to charity, there is no longer a stigma against buying them. Engraving could also depreciate the value of your things if you ever want to sell them. For instance, an engraved iPad may sell for up to 30 percent less.
- Consider installing a monitoring application for your laptop, tablets or phones. Apps like Prey can be activated remotely and report the location of a stolen device.
- Consider adding Identity Recovery Coverage to your homeowners policy. For just $20 a year, ERIE’s coverage can help you restore your name and credit. After this experience, I added it to my policy.
A break in the case
Life was returning to normal when I received an unexpected email from a Good Samaritan claiming to know the man who stole my laptop. The police intervened, and my laptop was recovered—a huge relief.
Recently, I received a subpoena for a preliminary hearing to testify in a criminal case. Although the rest of my belongings have not been recovered, the police charged the man who had my laptop with receiving stolen merchandise.
I hope justice will be served in this unfolding case. But even more importantly, I hope my story makes you think about your own personal safety.
Stay safe, my friends.
Know the facts
Check out the Eriesense article Are you inviting burglars into your home? This piece includes tips from a reformed burglar about how to protect your home.