Yep, I hate burglars.
March 19, 2010 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Our house was broken into. But nothing was taken. What's going on?

Our house was broken into. It's a great neighbourhood, very low crime, and we've never been broken into in the ten years we've been here. They broke in through the back door, but nothing was taken. Passports, cameras etc. are fine. We've reported it to insurance.

The thing is, our house may have looked 'neglected' - all blinds were drawn, no cars parked out front, and we haven't mown our grass in a while. And it's an old house. We don't know if this affected anything.

The police also said the same thing happened today to another house in the suburb.

Mefites, what's going on?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Was the other house also neglected-looking? How destructive or professional-seeming was the break-in point? It may have just been kids looking for places to explore and/or destroy old windows and walls and stuff.
posted by lhall at 9:25 AM on March 19, 2010

Perhaps the burglars were disturbed in the act and got the hell out of there? That's the first thing that came to mind for me.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:25 AM on March 19, 2010

Kids breaking in to a place to have sex? A pervert? Maybe traditionally valuable items haven't been stolen but how about underwear? Sorry to put the thought into your mind, but you asked!
posted by vacapinta at 9:26 AM on March 19, 2010

Sorry to question your premise, but how sure are you that nothing was taken?

Not even food? Alcohol?
posted by sallybrown at 9:30 AM on March 19, 2010

Well, an abandoned-looking house pretty much screams FUN FUN FUN to bored teenagers. Did your local news agency just do a special about bump keys, maybe? They may have immediately realized it was inhabited and hauled ass out of there so as not to get busted for trespassing.
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on March 19, 2010

Maybe they took passport numbers, CC and check account numbers, and that kind of thing for identity theft purposes
posted by Think_Long at 9:31 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

They may have stolen some of your unused checks. Flip through the pads and be sure no checks are missing. (Happened to me.)
posted by Carol Anne at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2010

Feeding off of what vacapinta said, maybe they didn't take anything but are you sure they didn't leave anything? In this day and age I'd be a little paranoid about hidden cameras in my private rooms. Have you heard about what happened to Erin Andrews? Granted, that was in a hotel. Still, a careful sweep of your bedroom and bathroom couldn't hurt!

And Think_Long has a good point: Identity theft doesn't require the removal of physical objects.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:40 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm leaning towards kids looking for a place to hang out, have sex, maybe do some drugs.

Check your fridge to see if any beer is missing. And is your pantry missing some munchies? If all the Doritoes are gone, I'm thinking stoners.

I am only half-joking about this.
posted by misha at 9:42 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's possible that the thing they were looking for (a place to live, sleep, or shower) wasn't available to them, so they moved on. If basic needs are what you're after, it may be that cameras and other goods aren't that interesting. At least until after you've slept/showered/eaten...
posted by iamkimiam at 9:42 AM on March 19, 2010

Ya, the first thing I thought of was teenagers/booze.
posted by chococat at 9:43 AM on March 19, 2010

When I was broken into years ago at Christmas, the thieves only took a broken cell phone, the bottom stack of checks in the box (but left the top pad alone, probably hoping I wouldn't notice it), ONE present from under the tree and three beers from my fridge. They also took one of my bank statement envelopes that I didn't notice for quite some time that contained my account info, a few canceled checks (with my handwriting and signature, obviously) and of course damaged the SHIT out of my back window, which they'd ripped out completely using the burglar bars welded on as grips. I have no idea to this day how they did it at 3:30 in the afternoon, but there you go.

The problems didn't start until three days later when the bank notified me I had $12,000 in hot checks all over town. It's entirely possible your identity has been stolen. If I were you, I'd contact my bank, the police, credit unions, etc. and notify your credit card people about the break-in. It's possible that whomever broke in was just up to mischief, but better safe than sorry. Monitor EVERYTHING like a hawk; it's not worth it to assume you're fine when the only way to refute charges is by presenting a police report as proof.

Identity theft is serious business. Notify everyone, including neighbors, in case the same thing happens to them.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:45 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

What Think_Long said. Update all your PINs/details etc and double check that all spare keys you may have are still where you left them.
posted by fire&wings at 9:47 AM on March 19, 2010

I really hate to say it, but the first place my mind goes is to that urban legend about the toothbrushes. So, like, check your cameras for unseemly pictures before you brush your teeth?

More realistically, though, it could be identity theft. I'd check all of my accounts if I were you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:47 AM on March 19, 2010

The same thing happened to me over New Year's. The back door was kicked in, but absolutely nothing was touched, not even the bottle of hydrocodone I left on the kitchen counter before running out the door to the airport. The only thing different was that my heat was turned up to 80 and the back door was left open. (So, in a way, they did rob me; my power bill was double what it should have been.)

The policeman said that they were probably in a hurry, looking for something they could walk out with, but didn't see anything. Or, they realized too late that since they'd had to jump a six foot wooden fence to get to my back door, and whatever they stole would have to go over the fence with them. Which doesn't explain the thermostat thing, but whatever.

I can definitely empathize with your feelings of uneasiness. In a way, it would have been better if they'd just stolen my stereo or whatever, because then I wouldn't have spent the last three months wondering what the hell that was all about. I'm sorry it happened to you!
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:48 AM on March 19, 2010

A friend had her house broken into, and nothing seemed out of place at first. Then she discovered the thief had stolen all of her underwear out of the dirty clothes hamper. But not the clean panties out of the drawer - which is why it took her a while to realize it.

Gross, apologies, but something to look for that you might not notice right away.
posted by ErikaB at 9:50 AM on March 19, 2010

My friend's house was broken into, but the burglars were quickly scared off by a neighbor's dog. Seems like a likely cause.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2010

I guess no one can really answer this question, but I agree with the commenters who say it was someone looking for a place to hang. Squatters.

Could be teenagers, could be a homeless family, a single homeless person, drug addicts, etc. But basically someone (mostly) harmless. Maybe they were hoping for an abandoned or foreclosed home that might still have power or water? Or just an empty safe place to sleep.
posted by peep at 9:53 AM on March 19, 2010

Do you have kids of your own that might know something? When my brother was about 14, one of his friends broke into our house by climbing onto the roof and prying off a skylight--to retrieve the skateboard that he had left there earlier. He had no bad intentions, he was just a dumb teenager.
posted by Jemstar at 9:54 AM on March 19, 2010

Were the TVs on the same channels that you left them?
posted by dobbs at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2010

I really hate to say it, but the first place my mind goes is to that urban legend about the toothbrushes.

I came here to say the same thing. I'd get new toothbrushes, just to be safe. Some kids could have heard the urban legend and decided it would be a hoot to pull it off.

I know that's being overly paranoid and silly, but spending a buck or two for the peace of mind would be worth it.
posted by bondcliff at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2010

My dad's apartment was broken into when I was a kid. The guy took three steaks from the freezer, drank a beer, and peed in the toilet.

If the house looks abandoned/neglected, it's possible they broke in to steal copper wiring/fixtures, and when they realized the house was inhabited, might have skedaddled, since stripping wire and such takes time and they couldn't know when you'd be home.
posted by rtha at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2010

Another place to check is your medicine cabinet. Missing anything fancy from there?
posted by Gainesvillain at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2010

You said you reported it to your insurance ... but you did report it to the police, right?

I'm not sure why it would matter to report it to your insurance if nothing was taken (seems like it's just asking to have your rates raised), but you should definitely report it to the police. It's still B&E even if nothing was taken.

My suspicion is that someone broke in and then realized the place was occupied rather than abandoned, and boogied.

Solution is probably to do more to make the house look occupied, and maybe reinforce/fix whatever way they used to break in. (The easiest improvement you can make to your house is to replace the screws that hold the strike plate in. Many are just screwed into the door frame trim; if you use 3-4" screws and get it well-attached to the jamb, it will take significantly more force -- and noise -- to kick in.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:48 AM on March 19, 2010

I'm leaning towards kids looking for a place to hang out, have sex, maybe do some drugs.

These theories seem *really* far-fetched to me. If someone was hanging around your house long enough to have sex or do drugs, there would be obvious evidence of such. Unless we're to believe they cleaned up after and put everything back the way it was.

I think the simplest explanations are the most likely:
a) They saw you didn't have what they wanted (jewelry, drugs in medicine cabinet) and left
b) they broke in, got spooked or chickened out, and left.

I really hate to say it, but the first place my mind goes is to that urban legend about the toothbrushes.

The fact that David Foster Wallace appropriated this legend for his book doesn't make it any less stupid. People's butts are dirty and full of poop. YOU WOULD SEE IT ON THE BRUSH. Not to mention the bristles would be all bent. And at the very worst, you would touch it to your teeth, it would taste gross, you'd throw it out. It's really the dumbest and most implausible "prank" in the world. NO ONE HAS EVER DONE SUCCESSFULLY THIS, EVER, BECAUSE IT'S SO DUMB.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Impossible to say (most of the theories put forth here seem to hold water). For me the things to seriously think about would be taking precautions to watch for identity fraud (good advice on that here) and think about higher security options like better locks or a motion-sensitive exterior light.
posted by nanojath at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2010

My suspicion is that someone broke in and then realized the place was occupied rather than abandoned, and boogied.

That's also very plausible.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:57 AM on March 19, 2010

Is your computer password protected? That was the first thing I thought of.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:10 AM on March 19, 2010

Yeah I was thinking they messed with your computer.
posted by sully75 at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2010

As an ex-squatter, I'd say its at least a possibility. Outside of some areas where certain security measure make obvious which are the council empty owned houses, it can be a bit of a guessing game. if you are getting moved on a lot you spend a lot of time looking for potential empty places. Occupied houses where always something we worried about a lot—we were in a vulnerable enough position anyway, without getting mixed up in that kind of trouble—but the difference between empty, but still habitable, and occupied but neglected was not always so easy to tell from outside a property. The way we would check is by looking through the windows so having blinds down would have prevented this. Even with our paranoia about all this there was still the occasional close call.

That said you are wise too take it seriously . Burglars are known to return to properties and it is equally plausible that it might be say, someone looking for a house where the owners where away for an extended period of time, say on holiday, so they could turn up with a truck and cart stuff away in bulk. Depending on where you live this might be the stronger possibility.

I used to know an (ex-) house burglar and it was clear there was some weird psychology going on, something quite obsessive, that was probably far more important than any kind of material gain, so it's fruitless to look for necessarily rational patterns or motivation . Even though he had stopped breaking into houses long before he was still obsessed by it. It made in difficult to walk down the street with him. You, or I might notice the flowers, the trees, the architecture, the people walking past, he would be keeping up a running commentary on how he would break into every building we walked past.

A large percentages of burglaries are committed by addicts who are in it for fast money and therefore likely to flee at the first sign of anything. Outside of this it is strongly associated with thrill seeking teenagers who are not likely to be predictable either. Those who do not fall into either category are no more likely to be rational.
posted by tallus at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

These theories seem *really* far-fetched to me. If someone was hanging around your house long enough to have sex or do drugs, there would be obvious evidence of such. Unless we're to believe they cleaned up after and put everything back the way it was.

Being a former teenager with somewhat ... eh ... delinquent habits, I can say that we used to do this sort of thing pretty frequently. An old friend and I used to break into homes specifically to do a few lines of coke off their coffee table or something along those lines, after which we'd clean up -- sometimes cleaning beyond any mess we may have made -- and leave. This was the sort of thing we'd do maybe twice a month or so. So, yeah, maybe not too far fetched. We did also occasionally end up in a house we believed to be abandoned, only to find evidence of people living there.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:21 PM on March 19, 2010

Our house was broken into many years ago and nothing was taken. We only had crappy electronics, so I am thinking that is why. Why steal an old black and white television? The furniture was nice and there was some good jewelery and art that one would have to look for and, when stolen, hock. SO perhaps your stuff wasn't good enough to steal? Picky thieves? We have a color TV now, but it is 20 years old, in case you were wondering.
posted by fifilaru at 3:18 PM on March 19, 2010

On the concept that they were checking the place out, and might decide to come back, do you know exactly how many spare keys you had, and are they still where they belong? It may be time to change the locks.
posted by aimedwander at 6:33 PM on March 19, 2010

The police also said the same thing happened today to another house in the suburb

I would err on the side of caution and paranoia and think that it was more than teenagers. Someone was probably scared off in the middle of the break in, and as aimedwander said they might come back since they know they can break in easily. In my experience, good neighborhoods go through series of break-ins (possible, since it happened another time before in your area), so maybe warn your neighbors, make your house look occupied (timed lights, mowed lawn, no old mail in the mailbox), and change the locks, add some loud wind-chimes, make sure your windows lock, etc. In a couple of weeks, ask your neighbors or maybe the cops would even tell you if you call, to see if more break-ins occurred.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:03 PM on March 19, 2010

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