Odd people coming to the side door
August 19, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Why are all these sketchy people going to my house's side door?

I live in a declining neighborhood in a Queen Anne style (Victorian) type house in Texas, similar to this one and it's pretty close to the ghetto area of town.

Lately I've had a series of sketchy people coming up to the side door, which is next to the dirt driveway and is only used to put out trash (we don't even go in and out through there). Person #1 was a guy at 10 am on a Thursday offering to mow the yard for $10. Person #2 was an older guy walking through the neighborhood asking for money. Person #3 appeared tonight after dark asking for money; she looked ghetto and had some story about a car breakdown that didn't add up.

The thing that's weird about this is that all deliveries and neighbors use the front door exclusively. None of them have ever gone to the side door. And for good reason. We've got a bigass front porch, even bigger than the example shown, with a nice sidewalk leading up to it.

But no, the sketchy people all use the side door exclusively and don't use the front porch. I don't like this as the side porch is 4 x 4 feet in size, it is somewhat obscured from the street, and it is not illuminated at night.

What is the psychology going on here that compels these people to use the side door? I'm trying to figure out if there is a modus operandi for house casing (why the side door?) or if there's a self-esteem problem going on here. I feel stupid asking this question but it's just weird.
posted by rolypolyman to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Simple. The side door looks more "used" than the front door, because it's near the driveway and is probably not as well-maintained. The front door might look like a useless "showpiece" to people unfamiliar with the house. People will knock on the door that they think will bring them more immediate results.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:19 PM on August 19, 2007

I would guess that people who go door to door asking for work and/or money probably get the cops called on them significantly more frequently than the cops are called on you or me.

And I would therefore guess that they probably want to minimize the amount of time that the whole neighborhood sees them, thus minimizing the chance that a member of that neighborhood calls the cops on them.
posted by Flunkie at 8:21 PM on August 19, 2007

I think that Flunkie response makes a lot of sense, but you could find out for sure by simply asking the next person who solicits you for money at your side door.

Also, if you've ever given money to anyone who's asked via the side door, maybe the word got spread?
posted by mezzanayne at 8:27 PM on August 19, 2007

It may be a coincidence, but I really wonder if maybe you should have a light with a motion sensor installed on that door. Nothing blinding that will bug the neighbors, but SOMETHING that indicates that you are beefing up security to anyone who may have been scouting you, and will create a safer environment in general for you if random people keep showing up there.
posted by hermitosis at 8:40 PM on August 19, 2007

I agree with the light with a motion sensor, and a way to see who 's at the door. If you don't know them , don't answer...
posted by HuronBob at 8:43 PM on August 19, 2007

Perhaps this is a lingering instance of the old custom that the house's owners, honored visitors, guests, etc., got to use the front door but servants, workmen, deliveries, beggars, etc., had to use a different entrance?
posted by hattifattener at 8:43 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't like this as the side porch is 4 x 4 feet in size, it is somewhat obscured from the street, and it is not illuminated at night.

Perhaps they are casing your house for a burglary, and you happened to actually be home to answer the door. It sounds like the better door to go in if you find it unlocked.
posted by procrastination at 8:44 PM on August 19, 2007

I agree with procrastination. They're casing the place; if you didn't answer the door and they didn't hear anyone inside, they'd break in. It's a common modus operandi. The requests for money and offers to mow your yard are just a pretense.
posted by jayder at 8:46 PM on August 19, 2007

Pretext, I should have said.
posted by jayder at 8:49 PM on August 19, 2007

"Pretense" is perfectly suited for your intended meaning.
posted by Flunkie at 8:50 PM on August 19, 2007

Thirding the 'casing the place' response.
posted by pompomtom at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2007

I agree with procrastination as well. They may be knocking on the door, and if no one is home, they try to get in the door that is most hidden. You answer, so they give you a story and try to get money off you, and maybe try to look in to see where the goodies are. Get a motion sensor, make that door more secure, and don't open the door for people you don't know. (Raised in the ghetto, knew people who did this.)
posted by The Deej at 8:54 PM on August 19, 2007

Here's an off-the-wall suggestion: Maybe there's a "hobo sign" that you haven't noticed somewhere nearby?
posted by thebrokedown at 9:03 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another Mefite's experience having their house cased before it was robbed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:07 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, they are certainly casing the place, or at the very least trying to get a view of the side and perhaps back of the house looking for something easy to steal like a bbq grill or tools.

Definitely invest in a motion sensor and make sure your door is secure. It also wouldn't hurt to consider some sort of monitored alarm system.
posted by wfrgms at 9:07 PM on August 19, 2007

posted by rolypolyman the side porch...is somewhat obscured from the street, and it is not illuminated at night.

This is exactly why they're knocking on the door--as others have said, they're casing your house for a burglary. They check to see if you're home, and if you're not, they'll break in through this door since it's somewhat obscured from the street, and not illuminated at night.

You might think about installing a BRIGHT light over this door, and informing your neighbors and the police you're being cased for a burglary. And think about getting a big dog.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:18 PM on August 19, 2007

Another thing is, and this is related to Flunkie's point, maybe it's the done thing in the are for panhandlers and people seeking yard work jobs to come to the side door, rather than right up front like a legitimate (equal) visitor. Maybe it's a status thing? (Tradesman's entrance?)

If you want to stop them I suggest putting up a notice "Please go around to the front door --->" or something to that effect, in addition to the extra security. Any legitimate (however odd) visitor will obey your sign, especially if they want something from you. Conversely, people sniffing about your side door for any length of time will look considerably more suspicious, and will know they look more suspicious.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:32 PM on August 19, 2007

I have actually witnessed this "casing" process in action: One Sunday morning in late 2006, I was sitting at my computer by a window which overlooks the street (probably reading Metafilter) and I saw a dude I didn't recognize knocking and ringing the bell of a house across the street. What caught my eye was that he'd knock and ring the bell, then turn around and scan the street very suspiciously, as if wondering if anyone was observing him, then he'd knock again. He walked away from the house, past the house next door, as if looking to see if the people next door were home. Then he walked back to the house where he had been knocking and ringing, and disappeared into my neighbors' backyard. I called the police and said there appeared to be a burglary in progress. The dispatcher said a car was on the way; but before the car got there, the guy trundled out the front door of the house with his arms laden with stuff. He began walking away. I followed him in my car, keeping him in view while talking on the cell phone with the police dispatcher. A few blocks away, the police came to my location, and they took the guy down. The police told me that he said he had just bought the stuff off a guy on the street for fifteen bucks. The best part --- not only did they nail him on this burglary, but using his fingerprints, they linked him to another burglary just a few days earlier. He recently pled guilty and got a four-year sentence.

If my neighbors had been home when he was ringing their bell, I'm sure he would have had some cockamamie story for why he was ringing it.
posted by jayder at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2007 [8 favorites]

Keep a camera within arm's reach of the side door. The next time someone knocks on it, take a picture of them (without asking first). If they know you have their picture, they're probably less likely to try to break into your house, because you can instantly produce a picture of a likely culprit, or at least someone who's likely to know the culprit. (Of course, make sure you have a backup copy that's stored offsite. This could be as simple as e-mailing it to yourself.)

Alternately, you could mount a hidden camera, but if they don't know you can show the police exactly what they look like, they may risk breaking into your house anyway.
posted by oaf at 9:38 PM on August 19, 2007

posted by oaf at 9:39 PM on August 19, 2007

So, all the legitimate foot traffic somehow knows to go to the front door, while all the sketchy folks are going to the side door?

N-thing casing the place. A thief almost always goes through the side or back. Less eyes on them. If you have any basement-level windows, I'd put bars on them. As for the door itself... Motion-detected floodlights are a good start.

And look into getting some kind of home-owner's insurance. It's a sad state of affairs, but the truth is you'd have to secure the place like a prison before you could have any reasonable expectation of security. There are just too many ways for someone to easily break into a home. The other problem is that the more security measures you put up, the more you're advertising the fact that you have something worth stealing inside.

Also FYI: the best time to rob a place is around 10 in the morning. You can't count on 9am because you could have a situation where someone drives the other to work and then goes back home. 11am is no good because you've only got a few minutes before the early-lunch crowd starts arriving. Noon is straight-out. 1-2pm you've got mailmen to worry about. 3pm is another good hour. Then you have to wait several hours until after everyone comes back from work. Figure most people are home by 8pm, so that'd be the next time to check. After 9pm you'll start arousing suspicion by the lateness in the hour.

Of course, some people don't give a flying fuck if you're home. If you've got those kinds of people in your neighborhood... move.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:44 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

install a sign and the light or put boxes in front of that door.

you could then put your door under a mild to medium current if there is absolutely no reason for anyone to go there instead of the front door. something that will deliver a good buzz but not really harm. heat works well, too.

also - I agree with the previous poster who advised you to check your outer walls, the curb, etc for graffiti hobo marks.
posted by krautland at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2007

I agree with the burglary theory. Maybe because I have been having such bad luck with thing like this lately, but I honestly think that you have a group of individuals that want in your house. They are most likely mapping out who is home when. They are hoping that at some point, you don't answer the door. The fact that three individuals have came to that same door tells me that they are pretty desperate. But maybe they are getting the picture that this is not a good house to break into. We hope so.

You need to get some security cameras installed and make sure they are visible. Put them on the side of the house, and make sure it is high enough where it cannot easily be reached. You may also want to go down to the police station and file a report with them. They can't do anything right now, but if you can give them all the information you remember, you will leave with a report number in case something does come up.

Be safe.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 10:28 PM on August 19, 2007

Yep. A motion detector is in order. Make sure you position it high enough that an averaged height person can't reach it and shift the sensor away from the door. That's been the MO with robberies around here, lately.

Obviously keep your doors and windows locked, and don't leave valuables in plain sight. Keep your cell phone upstairs with you at night so that you will have the ability to call for help if your phone lines aren't working or are cut.

Trim down any shrubs, etc. that might be helping to obscure the side entrance and easily accessible windows. Don't keep anything that can be moved easily outside (no ladders, step stools, lawn furniture that can be used to stand on, etc.)

Look into a deadbolt if you don't already have one (you know - the bite in the ass ones that require a key to get in and out of). Yeah, you need to keep the key a good 5-6' from the door itself on a hook in case you need an emergency egress, but it's better than somebody breaking glass, grabbing a close key and letting themselves in.

If you have an alarm, USE IT. You can also look into adding a glass break detector to your present system if you don't have one.

If all else fails. BIG DOG! The bigger the bark, the better.

I'd also give your police department a heads up about what's going on. They may be able to do more frequent drive bys to keep an eye on things.

I don't know if you have a Community Policing division, but if you do, they will usually come to your house free of charge, inspect it and give you a list of areas that need safety improvement. It might also send a message to any transients watching the house that you're beefing up security measures.

Good luck and be safe.
posted by dancinglamb at 10:39 PM on August 19, 2007

Nthing that your house is getting cased. Next time someone knocks on that door, particularly after dark, shout "get the @#%^$ out of here", and sound like you have a gun. Notice that opening the door is not listed as one of these steps.
posted by yohko at 12:03 AM on August 20, 2007

If they were casing, why would they stand there and the door be opened to them? Wouldn't the ideal thing to do to case whether someone was actually be in the house, would be to ring the doorbell and then run off to see if anyone answers?
posted by vanoakenfold at 2:47 AM on August 20, 2007

Wouldn't the ideal thing to do to case whether someone was actually be in the house, would be to ring the doorbell and then run off to see if anyone answers?

Because that would immediately make the occupants suspicious. Many people probably fall for the innocuous requests for money.
posted by grouse at 3:18 AM on August 20, 2007

Wouldn't the ideal thing to do to case whether someone was actually be in the house, would be to ring the doorbell and then run off to see if anyone answers?

Who opens the door without looking through the peephole first?
posted by oaf at 3:43 AM on August 20, 2007

Vanoakenfold, these probably aren't jewel thieves or cat burglars, and I doubt they think much in terms of risk limitation.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:37 AM on August 20, 2007

Next time one calls don't answer, but stay silent. See if they make an attempt. Then start videoing with your cell/camera while calling the cops.
posted by lemonfridge at 4:47 AM on August 20, 2007

Did you just move recently?

This used to happen to me frequently in my old house. Turned out the prior tenant was a dealer.
posted by sephira at 5:32 AM on August 20, 2007

While there are many suggestions for preventing a burglary, it sounds like you might just get one anyway. As a former shady-area resident I suggest trying to get some renter's/homeowner's insurance and well documenting your possessions.

Someone will try, and someone will smash'n'grab and get small valuables. The cops will never recover them; your best protection is insurance.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:41 AM on August 20, 2007

Do those "Protected by Smith & Wesson" stickers do any good?

Or do they just get burglars excited that, if they break in, they get to steal a Smith & Wesson...?
posted by altcountryman at 6:42 AM on August 20, 2007

"If they were casing, why would they stand there and the door be opened to them?"

So that they could see inside.

At my previous address, I had sketchy callers with nonsensical stories pretty regularly (at the front door). I'd answer the door, and they'd be trying to rubberneck past me—it was comically obvious (I never got broken into, knock wood). I also had guys offering to mow the lawn, and these guys seemed legit to me.

If you have moved recently, I'd go along with the possibility that your house was once a dealer's house. There's a house in my neighborhood that was a dealer's house/lab some years ago. Burned out and unoccupied for years, but hopeful buyers would still cruise past it as much as four years later (there was some hilarious/pathetic graffiti in back).
posted by adamrice at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2007

Was your house ever broken into apartments and used as a rooming house? I live in a grand old victorian in a neighborhood where a lot of the bigger homes were broken up into smaller living spaces. My house was formerly 3-4 apts and I get sketchy people every once in awhile asking if there is room to rent or for other various things.

I would put up a "no solicitations" sign.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2007

The next time someone knocks on it, take a picture of them (without asking first). If they know you have their picture, they're probably less likely to try to break into your house, because you can instantly produce a picture of a likely culprit, or at least someone who's likely to know the culprit. (Of course, make sure you have a backup copy that's stored offsite. This could be as simple as e-mailing it to yourself.)

Or maybe they'll beat the shit out of you right then to get the camera away. A confrontational action against a person who you have just opened the (somewhat concealed and poorly lit) door to is a bad plan. Don't do this.

You might put up a fake security camera for the same effect. Or possibly even better effect, if they decide they don't want to be captured on camera.
posted by phearlez at 9:44 AM on August 20, 2007

My old apartment building was cased in the same way. Some kid wandered from unit to unit looking for "donations" for children in Burma. This was in the middle of the day (I was a student and happened to be home). I thought it was weird, but never really mentioned it. About a week later at the same time (I think on the same day of the week) 3 of the units in my building were broken into and robbed. My guess was that they were checking to see what times people were home during the day.

Could be why it's happened to you more than once. Maybe they're being thorough?
posted by pictureyellow at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2007

Or maybe they'll beat the shit out of you right then to get the camera away.

Probably not, and you can have a (real) hidden camera as well. Taking their picture is a good idea, not a bad one. An obviously fake security camera isn't going to help.
posted by oaf at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2007

I agree that all the burglary set-up answers are perfectly possible, even plausible, but I like hattifattener's answer; all the depression-era stories of beggars I've read always seem to involve going to the back or side entrance where, in those days in the south, a cook or servant might be expected to open up the door of an obviously prosperous house.
posted by jamjam at 12:51 PM on August 20, 2007

Regardless, now's the time to get that motion-sensitive light. They sell adapters that will make a regular light motion sensitive. You should also be able to rig it so that the motion sensor activates a loud radio or cd of a barking dog. Make sure your windows and doors are secure, and make sure anything really valuable to you is well-hidden or locked up tight. It's easy to buy some hardcover books, and hollow out a couple for stashing stuff.
Burglary Prevention Tips
posted by theora55 at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2007

Here is a very informative blog with fantastic home security advice. I'd like to specifically point out the October 21, 2006 entry "5 Ways to Maximize Home Window Security".

I'll agree with the other folks here.. these people are most likely casing the house. It's time to beef up your security!
posted by Sufi at 3:22 PM on August 20, 2007

My guess was that they were checking to see what times people were home during the day.

Thing is that it doesn't really matter, in that there's nothing you can do about it. You've either got someone at home (nearly) all the time (taking care of children, for instance, or working from home), or you're a target.

You don't have to go door-to-door to find out all you need to know about a home's inhabitants. Just wait in a car parked a few hundred feet away and watch. Go Saturday, Sunday, Monday and one other day in the week. You'll see everyone. Weekdays, 8am and 6pm are the best time (for obvious reasons), but you should come back at noon to see what happens at lunch.

If you're broke enough to steal, you've probably got a lot of time on your hands to begin with. You spend a week in a car and learn every person that lived on a block, their habits, their cars (good for lookouts to alert burglaries-in-process).

How Long You're Out / Level of Security = How Much Can Be Stolen

A great security system and a stay-at-home mom just means a snatch-and-grab job. You still have broken windows to clean up, broken door jambs to repair, and stolen valuables to replace (usually small, easily pawnable stuff like electronics or jewelry). The cost to your emotional sanity will be far more dear, however, because you'll be up every night for the next few months wondering how to turn your home into a fortress.

If you're dumb, you'll install wireless cameras and sound sensors and motion detectors and floodlights and get a big dog and maybe a gun or two.

If you're smart, you'll learn to do what the rich do: they pass the buck to the next guy with deeper wallets. That nice man is called Mr. Insurance Company.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:37 AM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Actually, you do both. You do everything you can to reasonably protect yourself from crime and you insure yourself.
posted by Justinian at 10:08 AM on August 21, 2007

My point, Justinian, is that the more you do to "reasonably protect yourself," the more paranoid and unhappy you get.

Close your door and lock it. Don't flash lots of money. Don't feel the need to have the absolute-most-nicest home with brand-spankin' paint and an Audi in the driveway. Install new locks if you're a renter, make sure you've got floodlights and call it a day. That and insurance and you're all set.

You start getting into the whole, "best I possibly can" mentality, it leads to a huge, never-ending feedback loop that will rob you of more time, happiness and in the end, money, than a burglar could ever take from you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2007

A call to the police when they knock on the door is a very good idea. Having the police in the area will discourage similar behavior, it makes the police aware of a potential problem and if the police find the panhandler he/she can be encourged to stop knocking on doors.
posted by prjo at 7:32 PM on August 21, 2007

« Older My dad takes good pictures - now what?   |   Unidentified Furniture Object: Huge reclining... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.