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Ex-robber and BBC star on how to keep our homes secure

INSIDER INFO: Ex-robber, TV personality and security consultant Michael Fraser

BBC AND Channel 4 viewers are among those who have already been treated to former convict Michael Fraser's straight-talking when it comes to keeping homes and possessions safe.

Fraser used to burgle houses before deciding to go straight and has spent many years since consulting on security and presenting on TV shows such as BBC's Beat the Burglar and acting as the principal mentor on Channel 4's Going Straight.

Working with home insurers Together Mutual this summer, Fraser, along with the company, has noticed a trend in burglars using social media posts to plan where they will go in order to steal or break into homes and are compiling tips so that people take this into consideration when sharing online.

Jon Craven, CEO of Together Mutual Insurance said:

“We know from our social media research that there is a significant level of risk posed online when people travel abroad that could be affecting the security of households across the UK.

“While people may be quick to post their holiday excitement in an instant, don’t forget it’s not just the usual holiday spam that could leave you vulnerable. For example, making online customer service enquires or complaints can be a risk you may not realise.

“First and foremost, you should make yourself familiar with your social media security settings, and those of your friends who may be likely to tag you. Why not wait until you get back before you share your snaps, that way you can pick the best bits and reduce your risk?”

Fraser spoke with The Voice about how we can all give ourselves the best possible chance of not being targeted by burglars.

Q: Do you think social media has encouraged us to be less street-wise?

A: I agree 100% - this is why I've got involved in Together Mutual's safety campaign.

It's quite frightening how many people use social media to share their lives – people are putting up letters saying 'Congratulations, they’ve won this or that', or certificate they've achieved for various things and in the corner you see their home address – that is probably one of the scariest things. People will put up posts saying they’ve just got a new TV and someone else will comment and say they've got the same one in the next size up – it all makes them potential targets.

I’m an ex-burglar so I look at the logical side, and because burglars know you don’t think like that, you are potentially very vulnerable. When we post simple things, like standing in front of your new car on your driveway, you're giving away too much information. If you were a little bit more savvy and had the number plate obscured, the burglar will move on – 99% of us are giving him all the info he needs.

I did an example of how to keep safe online - I tried to befriend a complete stranger online by pretending to like Yorkshire Terrier dogs like they did and within 15 minutes I’d got enough info to know where she lived, where she worked and what time I could go and see her. I told her what I was doing afterwards.

Q: Before you went straight, did you use social media to pick your victims? If not, what did you use?

A: When I was a burglar I would go on the street, walk around and look for targets. I would look for signs that say 'Beware of the dog' - that means there’s no alarm on there. I'd also look for one lock on the door, because that tells you it's weak – if the front’s weak, you know the back is even weaker. Looking through the kitchen window I would sometimes see a calendar hanging-up which shows when they’re out. I'd look in their wheelie bin - do they shred everything or do they leave personal details visible on letters?

If you told all that to burglars now, who do their 'shopping' on the Internet, they would laugh and say 'You went on the street?!'.

Q: What are some of the common mistakes people make that unwittingly help robbers?

A: They’ll leave a window open upstairs - a small window. The patio table in the garden can be used to get up to that window - you won’t really find burglars going for the front.

Q: Does new home tech like doorbells with cameras in them that connect to your phone actually make us safer?

A: Yeah it does, but with those doorbells, they're advertised all over the TV so the burglar knows what the doorbell looks like, so if someone says 'I'm in the bath' he will know they're probably bluffing. He will go and look at the bathroom window and ask himself, 'Does it have condensation on it?'. If not, he will know you're not in a steamy bathroom but you're out of the house. I did test a lot of systems – there’s a couple of good systems that work well on your phone.

Q: Do you think young people are more lax when it comes to security or are older people the same as younger ones in their attitudes to the home and valuables?

A: Young people definitely are more lax - they don’t have that many possessions so they don’t really bother that much – it’s more the older generation that have things to protect.

Younger people who live on university campuses probably have other students pinching off them rather than being targeted by robbers.

Q: What are your top tips for safety?

A: Obscure the front window, have two locks on the front door, if you have a cage on your letterbox leave it open so the post drops to the floor instead of piling-up to indicate that you're not there, get people to come round and alter the curtains or blinds, someone who you really trust. Also, if you look at a row of parked cars, a robber will choose to take a car that has its wheels facing the road for a quick getaway instead of one with its wheels turned in towards the kerb.

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