Well, thanks to Google thieves are having an easier time plotting to get into your house,
The burglar had brought his own power tools to cut through the shingles before dropping into the attic, and then going through the drywall. Toronto police and security specialists say brazen break-ins like this rooftop caper are dramatically on the rise, and are being perpetrated by increasingly sophisticated thieves who are targeting middle-class to high-income neighbourhoods. And its clear the break-ins have been meticulously planned.
Mike Fenton, director of consulting and client support with Paragon Security Ltd., deals with the type of high-end clientele being targeted, and he says theres been a marked increase in second-story break-ins, via vents, skylights or holes cut into the roof. We used to have one incident like this every five years, Mr. Fenton says. Now one happens every three months.
Technology specifically sites such as Google Earth have made the thieves jobs a whole lot easier. Derek Humble, a 20-year security expert whose company Nemesis Security Co. handles some of the citys wealthiest residents, says computer-savvy crooks can use a satellites eye view to scrutinize rooftop access and perimeters. They can come in close enough to see what youve got in terms of skylights, and roof vents, balconies and second-floor windows and doors, Mr. Humble says. So these days they dont even have to walk around the neighbourhood to pick their target out.
The escalation in this kind of residential burglary comes at a time when such crimes have actually dropped. According to Police Constable Tony Vella, there have been 6,207 break-ins in 2012, compared to 6,679 in 2011, a decline of 7.1 per cent. He agrees, however, that the modus operandi of urban thieves is becoming increasingly high-tech.
And he warns that there will be a spike over the holidays. Its the prime time of the year for thieves who know homes will be full of gifts and possibly money. They also know many families will be away visiting family or on trips.
For security reasons, most homeowners asked not to be identified. But the stories are legion, with one single woman (her thief entered through a second-floor skylight two weeks ago) saying police told her there had been four break-ins within two blocks of her home in one week. In her case, she went out to a movie at 6 p.m. and came home to a driveway full of security and police cars. He or she had to have been Spider-Man to get in there. We have no idea how they got up to the roof, maybe they had a ladder. But he smashed the glass and dropped in. Im angry and I feel violated. These people have no fear. Theyre willing to try anything, she said. I thought I lived in Fort Knox. But these days no matter how secure you think you are, youre not.
Helga Stephenson, whose St. Clair-Avenue Road-area condo was broken into recently, says she wishes she had been made aware of the rash of similar crimes in her area by some kind of police outreach. I had no idea this kind of thing was going on all around me, says Ms. Stephenson, chief executive officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema [HTML_REMOVED] Television, who lost $100,000 worth of jewellery.
It would have been nice to have been given some kind of heads up. I live on the main floor of a condominium with a 24-hour concierge, so I just assumed I was safe. After my place was broken into through a window in the back, I found out the unit above me had also been hit. Ive come to the conclusion that this is a big wake-up call for all of us.
Mr. Fenton points out that thieves are also using social media to help them pinpoint when a homeowner is out and a house is vulnerable. Whatever you do, dont post on Twitter or Facebook that youre on a beach sipping a pina colada.
Both Mr. Fenton and Mr. Humble say prime targets include the tony enclaves of Forest Hill, Rosedale, Hoggs Hollow, Lawrence Park and other pockets of North Toronto.
A week ago, Avante Security Inc. sent an alert to its clientele, warning them of an alarming increase in the number of break-in attempts and vandalism in the city. The company cited half a dozen examples including a home in the Bayview and York Mills area that was entered by removing a roof vent. George Rossolatos, co-chief executive officer of Avante, says another home in the Forest Hill area had the roof cut open.
Not only are the burglars acrobatic, Mr. Fenton notes, theyre fast and strong. Even if they trip an alarm, these guys can be in and out in under four minutes. I heard of a guy in Rosedale who was seen jumping from rooftop to rooftop with a 40-pound safe. Its like To Catch a Thief meets Cirque de Soleil.
Mr. Humble says another tactic is to pull up to the front of a house in a taxi. They knock and ask if youve ordered a taxi. If youre home and say no, they drive off. If no one answers, they go around the back, break in and grab their stash. Then they use the homeowners luggage to take it out the front door. If youre a neighbour, youre not going to think anything of it.
Good security is expensive, but there is one low-cost deterrent that Mr. Fenton adds is worth its weight in gold: tight-knit neighbourhoods. People need to be looking out for each other especially this time of year.