Protect Your Home from Contractor Burglaries and Theft

When you think of burglars, you're probably thinking of opportunistic strangers with flashlights and masks, not the friendly, helpful professional with a name tag who installed your new dishwasher. But what if you're inviting a potential thief right into your home -- and even paying him or her to do so?

While the majority of contractors are trustworthy and wouldn't dream of risking their professional reputation with a theft or burglary, the fact is that contractor burglaries happen. Construction and repair professionals working on projects will have hours, days, weeks, or even months with significant access to your home. They may have a copy of your key. They may be left alone in your home to survey your valuables.

Unfortunately, statistics show that 3.3 percent of homes under construction will suffer a break in or theft. That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to about 1 in 33 homes contractors are working on that will be burglarized or have some sort of theft.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect your home and valuables while working with a contractor. While it's important to work with a contractor you trust, you can also get extra reassurance by using a home security system, keeping children safe, and of course, storing and locking away valuables that might catch the eye of an unscrupulous contractor.

Hire a Trustworthy Contractor

You can take steps to protect your home, valuables, and family while a contractor is visiting, but the bottom line is you're opening your house up to a stranger, and there will always be some level of vulnerability in that. Be sure you're thoroughly researching contractors, subcontractors, and employees that will be working on your home.

Before hiring a contractor, do your research. Look for an established company with a trusted reputation. A strong presence on the Better Business Bureau and review websites is a good sign. Ask friends, neighbors, and coworkers for recommendations and ask about their experience. Be sure to call at least three references.

You should also only hire contractors that are licensed, bonded, and insured in states where these are a requirement. Not only will meeting these requirements protect you in case of a theft, they will point to professionals who may be more trustworthy than those who are willing to complete work outside of the law and other industry standard protections for consumers.

Store and Lock Away Valuables

Any time you have a stranger in your home, it's essential that you keep valuables out of sight and stored securely. Ideally, you'll use a safe that is not easily seen or accessed by contractors. It's best if they have no indication that you own valuables at all. If you don't own a safe, make sure that valuables are stored out of sight or in places where a thief wouldn't think to look and where a contractor doesn't have access. Or better yet, store them temporarily in a storage unit or with a trusted family member or friend.

Easy to store (and steal) valuables can include small items like jewelry, firearms, or cash. But keep in mind that your personal information, like your social security number or banking information, can also be very valuable. Consider installing a file cabinet with a lock.

Even if you're not able to securely store valuable items, they should be kept out of sight. Often, home professionals turned burglars won't steal items while they're actively working in your home. Rather, they'll notice items of value and then return after the job is done to burglarize your home. Remove the temptation by making sure your valuables aren't stored out in the open.

Before storing items, take photos of them. In case it goes missing, you'll be able to share the photos with the police and insurance company.

Use a Home Security System

Home security systems are typically used to keep burglars out, and that protection flies out the window if you're opening the door and inviting contractors in. But a home security system's features can still keep you and your valuables safe when working with contractors.

Even if you're not currently occupying the home, make sure you're using a home security system. You may not use it during the day when contractors are actively working on your home, but it can be turned on when they leave, protecting your home against theft and burglary at night.

Home owners can also use home automation technology and next generation door locks to give contractors access codes rather than keys. This eliminates the risk of handing out copies of your house key only to have a dishonest contractor make their own copy and return to burglarize your home with a key in hand. Note: some dishonest contractors will even sell keys to others who may want to burglarize your home.

Install and use home security cameras. Consider mentioning cameras to contractors to let them know their actions are being recorded. Of course, if they're hidden, you shouldn't point out where they are. But out of respect for the professionals working in your home, make sure you approach the subject carefully. Avoid taking an accusatory tone with contractors who are likely to be honest whether you're watching on video or not.

Be Onsite as Much as Possible

If possible, be onsite while contractors are in your home. While most home owners won't hover over a contractor to make sure a theft doesn't occur, the concern that you could walk in at any time may deter theft. If that's not possible, make surprise visits whenever you can. This sends a message that you could show up at any time.

Change Your Locks

After construction or remodeling of your home is done, go ahead and change your locks. If you've passed out your key at any point, there is always the possibility that it has been copied and that there are multiple copies of your key floating around out there. Changing locks is inexpensive, and you'll sleep better at night knowing that you and anyone else you trust to hold a key are the only ones who can easily open your front door.

Keep Children Safe

Construction can be chaos with children, and safety is always a concern when you have strangers in your home. You may be more focused on the tools and parts left behind by contractors, but it's also important to consider child safety around strangers. While no one wants to think about inviting someone that might harm children into their home, it can happen, and families should practice safety.

While contractors are working, give kids a safe, separate place to play in an area where a visiting contractor would be noticed. Tell children to stay out of their way, not to talk to strangers, and to never accept gifts or leave with contractors, even if they're friendly and the children are familiar with them from having them in their home. If children are curious about the construction zone, allow them to carefully explore it, but only with your supervision. It's also a good idea to check for a history of sexual offenses before hiring a contractor or allowing subcontractors or other workers into your home.

If a Theft or Burglary Happens

If you suspect (or know) that a contractor or other home professional has stolen from you, you can take action. If you're working with a company, contact them and share your concerns -- then press for a resolution. Companies may be able to work with employees to have the items returned, or reimburse you for the value.

Contractors and companies should also be able to file a claim with insurance to recover any losses you've experienced. If you're not able to file a claim with the contractor's insurance, consider using your home owner's insurance policy. You'll also need to file a report with the police department, which is typically required for insurance claims.

The bottom line: most contractors are trustworthy, but it's smart to protect yourself any time you have strangers in your home. Secure your valuables, use your home security system, and make it difficult for contractors to turn into burglars.

Photo by Flickr user jdhancock