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Be Prepared

Neighborhood watch groups can help identify possible burglars.

© iStockphoto.com/alptraum

The police aren't the only ones using stake-outs. Although many burglars are opportunistic and simply look for the nearest empty home that holds promise of undetected entry and high return, others do their homework, investing hours staking out neighborhoods or houses. They note how many people live in each house, when people come and go, what cars are usually in the driveways and typical traffic patterns. These careful planners aim to identify just the right house for just the right time.

Observant neighborhoods and unified neighborhood watch teams should take note of strange cars with unknown passengers that keep returning to the area. Call police; they should assess the situation.

Another way burglars come prepared is by bringing their tour de force of the trade: the bump key. Little known to those outside the locksmith and burglary trades, the bump key is a master key normally used by locksmiths to help those who have locked themselves out of their own premises. Some say they open up to 90 percent of traditional locks [source: Hundley].

The bump key is a bigger threat today than ever. Internet videos, intended to teach locksmiths, teach anyone how to make bump keys. Worse yet: Burglars can purchase bump keys on the Web.

The good news is that homeowners can work with locksmiths to install locks that can't be picked using standard bump keys, but can still be opened by a trained locksmith. Electronic keypad locks, too, seem to be favorites among those trying to evade bump-key bandits.

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