Living out in the country often means much more privacy than in an urban or suburban household. If your house is out of view of your neighbors, curtains can remain open and you can go about your business without any questions asked. Most of the time, being out of the prying eyes of busybody neighbors is a huge benefit to rural life.
That lack of visibility, combined with an opioid crisis in many of the most rural populations, leads to a lot of opportunistic petty theft and burglary. On the rural email bulletin in my town, there’s a notice at least once a week that a house was burglarized. Thankfully, the attempts aren’t often sophisticated and they’re usually desperate attempts at a quick buck than well-though-out break ins.
It’s always quick theft of small items. Inside the house, the medicine cabinet has been rifled through, and any small electronics that were in sight have been taken. Gas cans and chainsaws are often taken, too.
How does it happen so often? Persistence and a plausible excuse to come to your door.
Some excuses are more plausible than others. When a middle-aged man comes to your door selling packs of M&Ms, he won’t make it more than a few houses before someone takes his license plate and notifies the police. A search of that man’s home then turns up a pile of stolen items.
Other techniques are more subtle.
It’s not uncommon for repair men to get lost looking for a house, especially on poorly signed rural routes. These days, you can order a magnetic car door sign and put it on any truck or van to pose as a repair man. “Tony’s Appliance Repair” can drive up to your door, knock and if you happen to answer, they just must have the wrong house.
To seem more plausible, all they need is the name of one of your neighbors, which is easy enough to find by looking at a neighbor’s mailbox or peaking at the address label.
If it’s a repair shop you’ve never herd of, make sure you check with your neighbor and see that they actually needed a repair. Better still, without letting them in, mention that your fridge is acting up and ask for a card. If they stutter and don’t have a number or a card to give you, make sure you take down a good description and a license plate number.
Every animal owner knows it’s heartbreaking to lose a pet, and we tend to have a lot of sympathy for others whose beloved dog has gone wandering. In reality, if someone is at your door looking for their lost dog, it should be one of your neighbors, not someone you’ve never met.
Take their name and number and let them know you’ll call if you see their pet. Quietly note their plate number for yourself. The next day, you can give them a call and see if they’ve found their pet. If they were really looking for their dog, you can offer sympathy and condolences, but if they were casing your house, you’ll likely get a fake number and checking up is a good idea.
Accusations of Stolen Items
This method is a bit more aggressive than the other two. With lost pets and repair men, they’re hoping you’re not home when they come to your door. Our neighborhood recently had a group of people going door to door looking for empty houses, but also targeting elderly citizens home alone.
The first person would knock, and if someone that looked “vulnerable” answered they’d say that their computer or phone was stolen and that they’d tracked it to this address. The burglar would be aggressive and confrontational, demanding to come in and look for the stolen item.
If you let them in, or they pushed their way in, they’d lead you on a wild goose chase through your house, digging through your things and keeping you flustered with accusations. All the while, another person or two entered the house and quietly took any visible valuables while you were arguing with the first person.
This happened to a number of elderly people in our community, most of whom did not know they’d been robbed until they heard a story about the burglars being caught in the local newspaper. They finally hit the wrong house, where the elderly woman was not home alone, and her son came to her aid and confronted them.
By far, the best counter measure is to know your neighbors and your neighborhood. Strong communities help stop crime together. In addition to a strong community, a few well-placed trail cameras are a good second line of defense.
Place at least two cameras on your property. One that’s obvious — that lets the person know you’ve got their picture if they come to your door. That’s a great deterrent, but an obvious trail cam can be disabled given enough time. A second camera, hidden from view in a tree or up under the eves, is a good double insurance policy.
What other ways do thieves case rural homes? Share your thoughts in the section below: