BILLINGS, MT - As we head into the holiday season, we're all a little more aware of porch pirates and what could become of our holiday packages as they are delivered to our door.
We're also more aware of the invitation that boxes left with the garbage may send to possible burglars.
But what we may not be aware of is the information available about our home that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.
Burglars are scouting neighborhoods for easy targets and you could be next.
Consider Susan Czapiewski. She has a history of burglary convictions and was on parole when she allegedly popped up on a Clementine Lindsley’s nanny cam.
Lindley says, “You can hear her knock on the door in the video, she didn't wait very long, and then she walked in, kind of looked around, and then just started walking through the house.”
Lindley continued saying, “And then we came home I think 7-minutes later, something like that, 3-minutes later. There's a good chance we actually drove past her as we came home. “
Lindley lives in Billings, Montana where burglaries appear to be happening on a regular basis.
She says she took matters into her own hands and used her video recording and the power of social media to identify the intruder.
Her research found that Czapiewski was suspected in several other home burglaries from Montana, to Idaho, and into Spokane, Washington.
Czapiewski was eventually arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Lindley and at least one other victim in Spokane were fortunate that they had security cameras to help police identify the suspect and make an arrest. But what could they have done to minimize their exposure?
First, it's important to be aware of how easy it is for criminals to scout their targets.
Online maps offering street view allows you to explore a neighborhood from the comfort of your own home. If you haven’t done this, you should… and if you see something, you don’t want prying eyes to spot on your property, you can take steps to have that image concealed from prying eyes.
To hide your property or vehicle from google street view follow the steps below:
• Open up google maps at www.googlemaps.com and enter your address in the search bar.
• Then look to the bottom right corner of your screen. You should see a little yellow icon.
• Click and drag the person over to your address on the map.
• The page should automatically change to street view.
• Make sure that the image of your home or whatever you want blurred is centered on your screen.
• You can move the camera view by clicking and dragging the screen around.
• Then look to the very bottom right corner of the screen for a link that reads "report a problem"
• Complete the form and submit the request to blur the image in question.
Once you’ve secured your property digitally, the next step is to think about what people can see when physically driving by your home.
Here are a few more ways to prevent your home from being targeted:
• Keep your home well-lit and your doors and windows securely locked.
• Get to know your neighbors and set up a neighborhood watch.
If possible, set up some security cameras.
• Keep valuables and firearms locked away in a safe.
• Open a safety deposit box to store identifying documents.
• If you go out of town, have your neighbors pick up your mail and/or contact your post office to keep packages from being stacked up at your door. Neglected mail and uncollected newspapers are signs no one is home and hasn’t been for a while.
• Also, ask a neighbor to walk up to and back from your front door or garage. Undisturbed snow is also a sign to criminals no one is home.
• Finally, don't post too much information on social media about your whereabouts and routines especially if you're going on vacation.
If you’re unsure about crime in your community, take a few minutes to look up crime reporting data for where you live.
Many communities subscribe to crime mapping software which will help you see what crimes are being committed in your community and where.
Billings Police Lt. Brandon Wooley says this is helpful technology but says the caveat is that people have to report property crimes when they happen… and Lt. Wooley says that’s something many people don’t bother to do. “…they either don't report it because to them they feel like they're wasting law enforcement's time, or they don't think it's important enough to make the report. but we have mapping software, and we have a crime analyst and officers who pay attention to these reports. and that'll help us identify hot spots or problem areas in the community early if you do report it.”
And that information will help law enforcement better plan for deploying resources in neighborhoods to help deter criminals.