Improved household security has beaten old-fashioned opportunist burglars, claims experts say. These have been replaced by sophisticated criminals, who are organised. They carry out detailed surveillance, target individual homes or groups of homes, and exploit technology to maximise the haul and minimise the risks.
Police and insurers are urging the public to be on the look out for a worrying new trend known as the “sticker scam”. After carrying out surveillance, transparent stickers, advertising, say, a bogus locksmith, are left on letterboxes to mark up the best prospects. The gang returns the next day and makes a clean sweep of those households targeted.
Darren Hull, household manager at Direct Line, one of the UK’s biggest insurers, said: “They display a high degree of professionalism. They know precisely what they are doing before they go in and are out for the greatest reward for the smallest risk.”
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The soaring price of gold is partly being blamed. A decade ago gold sold for less than £250 an ounce, but today trades for £761. The gangs go in specifically looking for gold and jewellery and use a metal detector to locate the items.
They carry cash for gold envelopes in their pockets and have runners to take the letters straight to a post box.
“They know what they are looking for and the metal detector lets them locate it in record time,” added Hull.
“Posting it off straight away means if they get stopped in the street they have nothing to incriminate them. Similarly, if the police raid their homes, they will not find anything,” said Hull, who also works for Direct Line’s Privilege subsidiary, which specialises in homes with higher levels of wealth.
Adrian Webb, a spokesman for Esure, added: “Gangs are targeting higher value homes. It is much more sinister with criminals doing their homework and effectively treating a spate of break-ins as a major project, planning everything in advance.
“The world of crime has moved into a modern era. Second-hand DVD players and other electronics have little resale value so these are no longer of any interest. Gold is their target and a decent haul can mean big money. These operations are planned and slick.”
Burglaries down, insurance costs up
The actual number of burglaries has been falling, as households have increased security by installing good window and door locks, burglar alarms and setting up neighbourhood watch schemes.
Nevertheless burglaries remain the single largest cause of home insurance claims, said AA Insurance Services, one of the nation’s biggest brokers. Burglary claims reached 165,000 in the first nine months of last year, according to the Association of British Insurers and are expected to top 220,000 for the whole of 2013, when stats for the final quarter are collated later this month.
At the AA, burglary claims account for 16pc of household payouts, compared with the next largest category, which is storms and floods at 14pc and 13pc relating to burst pipes.
More worrying, the average cost of claims is rising. At Esure, compensation payouts for the average burglary rose by 29pc over the past three years, with its biggest claims topping £100,000.
The average burglary claim at the AA is £1,752, with its highest value claim reaching £67,562.
Even if your home is not hit, you may still pay a high price for this criminal activity, through eye-watering increases to your premium.
Ian Crowder of the AA said break-ins near your home could add around 10pc to your premium.
“All homes are assessed for risk when setting premiums. Unfortunately, if your road or postcode suffers a spate of burglaries, then its risk profile may change and it could end up costing you more,” he said.
Esure said in a worst-case scenario, premiums could more than double if your road is hit by a synchronised crime attack.
In this scenario, the annual premium for a four-bedroom, semi-detached home in a road normally rated as low risk, might climb from £135 to £298 after it is re-rated as high risk.
Mr Webb said: “All homes are assessed individually, so it would come down to individual risk. But a local crime wave can make a difference to premiums.” Insurers are warning homebuyers to increase vigilance of their own properties and those of their neighbours if they want to avoid higher insurance costs.
Mr Hull said: “Be on the look out for any change in activity in your road, such as the arrival of teams of fly-droppers. By gently leaning on the front door, as they push the leaflets through the letter box, they can see which homes have good locks, and which are only secured with a Yale. They then put a transparent sticker on the letter box as a signal to their accomplices which home owners fail to spot when they return in the dark.”