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Worldwide trends and crime statistics have shown us that there are four common categories of burglars, namely the Opportunists, Smashers, Prowlers and lastly, the Professionals.

Each of these titles describes the modus operandi employed by that burglar and by being acutely aware of their behaviours, you will give yourself a better opportunity to prevent these crimes from occurring. Let’s have a look at each category in turn.

Firstly, the Opportunist; the name pretty much says it all. This could be a first time offender or a seasoned criminal, who sees an opportunity and takes advantage of the situation. An example of this shows a person sitting at a bar counter, he has his wallet and cell phone in front of him, and he gets distracted by a girl in a short skirt and turns his head for a second. When he turns back, his wallet is missing. Another example is the person looking for opportunities such as you leaving your car door or your house door open and he/she decides to take the opportunity to steal and if necessary, overpower you. Many seasoned opportunists will take jobs that allow them to seize opportunities from unsuspecting or complacent victims, such as mail or newspaper delivery or garden work.

Although most people are very vigilant in locking the doors and security gates to their homes, they often forget the value of the items in their garden, garage or on their patio. One must remember that a bicycle, toolbox, lawnmower or a Weber Barbeque could fetch more reward at a pawnshop than the amount of cash you have in your wallet.

Our second category of burglar is known as a Smasher, and as the name suggests, employs the act of smashing or breaking in order to gain access to reward. We have all read about instances described as “smash and grab” or in other parts of the world, “smash and dash”.

This type of burglar could be also be categorized under the term opportunist, in that he sees a random opportunity to smash a window and steal, however, the propensity among smashers, is to plan their crime and position themselves in areas where they are able to commit their offence and escape easily. Thus, it is more of a planned assault than an opportunity.

Smashers may also work alone or in groups, where you will have a spotter and a smasher in different positions. For example, they may stand on street corners one block apart watching for vulnerability. The spotter will report the position of a valuable item on your car seat and using a cell phone, will pass this information on to the smasher who will position himself for the assault, keeping in mind that the more people there are, the easier they will blend in to the crowd. Their reward is generally one or two valuable items, such as a handbag, wallet, cell phone or laptop which also means that they are not weighed down in their getaway.

Smashers do not only target cars, but also businesses and residential homes. He/she may see a home that looks as if the occupants are away, after looking for a few days or a few hours and they will find a window or door away from public view and break in by smashing a door or window.

Our third category of burglar is known as a Prowler; they are the next step up from a smasher and often employ more creative methods of entry and will often drive around with crowbars and scissor jacks in their car boots along with other articles that may be used to subdue home/business occupants such as weapons, duct tape, large tie wraps, rope etc. They are also inherently more dangerous than our previous two categories, as while they may still use the smash tactics to gain entrance; they are not about to dash.

They will generally take their time inside a home or business deciding on what to take and should there be people there, these inhabitants would often be threatened, tied up and may, or may not be assaulted, sexually assaulted or even murdered.

Prowlers may also employ deceptive or perfidious means to gain entry to premises, and may pretend to be delivery personnel, police officials or municipal artisans or repairmen. Their vehicles will often be disguised and they will be wearing the uniform that the victim would expect to see on a legitimate service provider.

Prowlers are also synonymous with research and will generally know in detail, the distance between the victim’s premises and law enforcement offices as well as the response times of the police and security reaction forces. Another important thing is that they often know the normal response time of security companies and where they park their cars in each neighbourhood.

Often prowlers work in teams. One or two will break in and pillage, leaving items stacked at the door. A further two or three will wait in a car somewhere in the neighbourhood. When the burglars have gathered all the valuable items, the car pulls up; they quickly load the vehicle and drive away.

Our final category, the Professional, can be divided into two sub-categories, namely snipers and locusts.

The sniper is generally someone with a specific and rare talent which makes him an integral part of a theft team. Teams using a sniper will often employ him for his ability to open safes, deactivate home/car alarms, to break into and steal cars without causing damage and possibly also for his talent in gathering crime intelligence and vulnerability information. Thus, snipers are used specifically for his part of the crime within a crime ring.

An important thing to remember is that snipers often make use of paid informants working in legitimate jobs, such as insurance companies, car alarm fitment centres and security companies and therefore, it is imperative that you, as a client of these companies, be selective as to the information that you give when making use of their services. Why an insurance company? You may ask; your insurance company has detailed knowledge of your home detail, your security detail, as well as the detail of all your valuable items. Thus, be cautious as to the information you give when someone phones you from your insurance company.

Our second sub-category of professional burglars is one known as Locusts; like their insect namesake, these criminals will strip your home or business bare and like Snipers, they tend to operate as part of a larger ring and make use of informants.

Many people, when going away on holiday, will inform their insurance company, phone and stop their newspaper delivery or inform the members on their street home owners group. We can never know the intention of anyone privy to this vital information and thus, it is vital that we only share this information with trusted individuals.

The result of indiscriminate information is that a “furniture removal” truck pulls up in the middle of your holiday and men in legitimate uniforms will get out and strip your house clean. In one instance, they even took all the plumbing fittings.

So how do we prevent being victims? Be vigilant, trust only those you know well and keep security information private. Secondly, you may want to invest in a cost effective security Threat, Risk and Vulnerability assessment which will assist you in knowing where your vulnerabilities are in your security and how to mitigate them.

For an affordable Threat Risk and Vulnerability assessment, call Sentinel Risk Management at +27(0)82 953 1594 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can also visit our facebook page at for more articles and be sure to visit our website at

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