It’s everyone’s nightmare. You find out someone has broken into your home. You panic at the thought someone might want to hurt you, that they’ve gone through your personal stuff, and violated your privacy. They’ve broken your windows and furniture, stolen your valuables, and maybe even taken or hurt your pets. Even after the police come, you can’t think straight or shake a sense of vulnerability after a home burglary.
It’s an awful scenario you never want to encounter, but by anticipating and understanding the steps you should take when someone has broken into your home, you might worry a little less about it happening – and hopefully regain peace of mind quickly if it does.
1. Keep Yourself Safe During a Home Burglary
If someone breaks into your home, security experts recommend several quick steps that might save your life. These tips obviously won’t apply to every scenario every time, and cannot guarantee protection against harm, but might prove very helpful to remember.
If you’re home:
- Plan ahead. Make sure everyone in your family knows what to do if a home break-in occurs, and plan escape routes if possible. Keep your car keys in the bedroom.
- Be quiet. There’s a very good chance the criminal thinks the home is empty, so don’t alert the criminal to your presence.
- Lock your bedroom door and call 911.
- Avoid grabbing a weapon unless you are trained in its use. It could be used against you or confuse matters when the police arrive.
- Escape if you can, and if not, barricade yourself inside the room you’re in. Be sure the 911 operator knows your location.
- Set off your car panic alarm. This may frighten the intruder and cause them to leave the house.
- Wait for the police.
If you return home to find an intruder was there:
- Don’t panic.
- Don’t touch anything.
- Call police.
- Wait outside your house in your locked car or with a neighbor until the police arrive.
2. Work with the Police and Document Everything
Always report break-ins immediately, even if you’re not sure if anything was taken. This will improve your chances of recovering items, and your insurance company will ask for a police report or case number.
Once the home is safe to enter and the police have collected evidence, you will need to compile a list of all damaged and missing items. Look for missing electronics, jewelry, cameras, guns, musical instruments, and anything else of value.
Pro Tip: Take photos of all of your valuables and keep track of receipts or other documentation for recovery and insurance purposes in advance.
Before you start cleaning up, use your cell phone camera to document damage or areas where someone has ransacked your dressers or cabinets.
If any heirlooms or items of sentimental value are missing, you might not want to count on the police alone to do all your legwork. Check pawn shops, Craigslist, and other local resources for valuables, particularly things that can be sold easily, like instruments, cameras, and jewelry.
Don’t forget pets!
Hopefully your pets made it through the break-in unscathed.
- Be sure pets are all accounted for and safe as soon as you can enter the home.
- Pets may be scared or skittish, and might even growl or hiss at you. That’s totally normal, and they should calm down within a few hours.
- Check for injuries, and particularly with dogs, watch for signs of poisoning or overeating. Some burglars come prepared with food to distract a dog, or will dump out food for the dogs to eat.
3. Contact Your Insurance Company
After you call the police, be sure to call your homeowners insurance company right away so they can open a case on the incident. They will send a claims adjuster to investigate the case.
When you file a claim, you will need to provide the following information:
- An itemized list of everything that was either stolen or damaged (don’t forget to list your security system, doors, windows or other property that was damaged or destroyed)
- Exact (preferable) or estimated value for each item missing or damaged
- Police reports
- Photos taken after the crime occurred showing damages
- Any receipts, serial numbers, photo documentation, or other information verifying ownership and condition
- Hospital, doctor, or veterinary records if anyone was injured
Because the claims process can take several weeks or months, if you can provide all of this information up front you can reduce the overall time for the claim to be settled.
You’ll also want to discuss your current policy with your insurance agent and understand if or how the break-in may affect your rates going forward.
4. Step Up Your Home Security Game
After you’ve taken the initial safety and recovery steps post-home break-in, you might want to consider implementing new home security measures to reduce your chances of another break-in.
- Replace wooden exterior doors with solid core metal doors. A flimsy door is more attractive to a would-be burglar than a window in the door since breaking glass calls attention to them. Choose a sturdy door that’s harder to kick in, and don’t neglect the door frame.
- Lock all points of entry to your home at all times. Lock both front and back doors at all times, even while at home. Lock all windows; if you must have them open, use bars or screw locks to prevent them from being opened wide enough for someone to enter.
- Increase visibility around your home. Install motion-sensor flood lights. Leave your porch light on all night to reduce shadowy areas around the front of the house. Trim bushes and trees near windows and entryways so thieves can’t hide.
- Use alarms and security systems. Install a home security system with an audible alarm, or pay for a home security service. Most would-be burglars will take off if they hear an alarm. Consider a smart security camera that records everyone that comes to the door and allow you to interact with your phone. Depending on your homeowners insurance company, you might be able to receive a discount on these security systems.
Check out our article on preventing home break-ins for more ideas on how to keep yourself safe in the future.