Ask LH: What Should I Do If I Get Robbed?

Ask LH: What Should I Do If I Get Robbed?

Dear Lifehacker, A friend of mine recently had his house robbed, and it got me thinking: What should I do if I get robbed? Who should I call first, and how should I go about getting made whole again? Sincerely, Home Invaded

Dear Home,

Getting robbed is a horrifying experience. It’s psychologically unsettling to see your safe sanctuary violated, and it’s in that moment that you suddenly have a lot to do that will require you to be level-headed and together. Fortunately, knowing what to do ahead of time can help make it easier if you ever find yourself in that situation.

Call the Police and Take Pictures, But Don’t Touch Anything

Ask LH: What Should I Do If I Get Robbed?

The very first thing you should do immediately after realising you’ve been robbed is to call the police. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get your stuff back. If the person who broke into your home or vehicle is still nearby, police will have a higher chance of catching them right after it happens than if you wait a day to report it.

Once you’ve discovered that your home or car has been broken into, you’ll want to gather all the information you can. If you saw the person (either in person or on a security system), try to remember any information about them including, but not limited to:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Clothing
  • Where they went

Some people are better at memorising this type of information than others, but fortunately observation and memory retention are things you can practice even if you aren’t currently being burgled. In addition to remembering info about your attacker, also be aware of your surroundings. How did they enter? What did they take? How did they leave? Were they on foot or in a car? Was there only one person? Several? Any and all information you can provide to law enforcement officers will help.

Finally, regardless of how good your memory is, take pictures. Both before and after a crime. If something is missing from your home, a photograph of your big-screen TV will help prove that it was stolen, not “stolen”. Additionally, any evidence you can provide to the police and insurance companies can help you with your claims. Don’t disturb anything in order to take photos, of course. Wait until the police arrive to move anything, but try provide evidence as close to the conditions you found your home or car in as possible.

The only thing you should never try to take pictures of is your attacker. If you’re face-to-face with the person who is trying to steal from you, let them go. Sure, a photo might make it easier to identify them, but it’s not worth your life. Always cooperate with the thief. There’s time to deal with your property later.

File Reports and Insurance Claims Immediately

Ask LH: What Should I Do If I Get Robbed?

As we stated earlier, the first thing you need to do is contact the police and file a report. Depending on how you go about this, you have a few options. If the police come to your home, you can have the officer walk you through your reporting options, which may include going down to the station.

Once you have your police report, take it to your insurance company. (If you don’t already have home and contents insurance, get it now). They will need all the information the police have to begin work on your claim. Follow the steps that an insurance company account manager took when his home was broken into:

It’s crucial to call the police first and your insurance company second, one right after the other. The claims representative required the report number that the police offer had provided me. He asked where the point of entry was for the burglar, so I told him the burglar busted down my back door. He asked if I needed emergency repairs, and I told him I did.

After that, he asked what was stolen and requested an initial itemised list. Even though I couldn’t provide an exact list, this was helpful for setting up my file. He also asked for the same details I had provided the police officer. After this was completed, the representative let me know he would be sending a claims adjuster to my home to investigate the insurance claim in person.

Later on, you’ll probably have an adjuster come out to take a look at your home. At this point, you should be prepared to explain your income situation and provide as much proof as possible of anything you own that was stolen. If you have any receipts or titles from big-ticket items, have them available when they get to your home.

Audit and Repair Your Security

Ask LH: What Should I Do If I Get Robbed?

Your personal property has been invaded. This is a very emotional time (and we’ll get to that), but you also want to ensure that you aren’t hit again. The first step is to identify the point of entry and close the hole immediately. Were your doors unlocked? Start locking them. Window broken? Either get it replaced soon or board it up so no one can get in a second time.

Once you’ve fixed the way that the person got in, check any other potential weaknesses. Most burglars will come through the front door, a first-floor window and the back door. Check to ensure these places are all locked and secured. If you’re still worried someone might break in again, reinforce the weakness with security cameras. You can also make a very simple security system with just a webcam (and hide your valuables).

Finally, let your neighbours know. Whether the robber will attempt to break in to your home again or move on to theirs, the more eyes looking out for the perpetrator, the better. Not only could this help catch the thief if the police haven’t already, but most thieves will pursue the easiest targets. A neighbourhood with watchful residents who frequently check out each others homes is more difficult to steal from than a lethargic neighbourhood.

Give Yourself Time to Handle the Emotions (And Don’t Be a Hero)

Once you’ve talked to the police, filed your insurance claims and secured your home, it’s time to rest. Your sense of security has been compromised, and it’s OK to feel a little messed up for a while. While not all employers will be willing or able to give you time off, ask your manager if you can take a personal day to get everything sorted and to de-stress.

Don’t use that time to be a hero though. Some people may be tempted to try to solve the crime themselves. For years we’ve been exposed to shows like CSI, NCIS, The Wire, Bones, Dexter, Sherlock, Castle, Law and Order and countless others. It would be a lie to say that many of us don’t find the thought of solving a crime at least a little exciting.

However, if you come up with any new information regarding a crime committed against you, take it to the police. If you try to approach the criminal or get your stuff back on your own, you could complicate the case against your attacker, delay your insurance claim, or potentially find yourself on the wrong end of your own criminal charges. As tempting as it may be to crack the case yourself, leave it to the professionals.

Cheers Lifehacker

Photo by 28704869, woodleywonderworks.


  • A shout out to the large number of grammar, spelling and usage Nazis on here:

    Isn’t this article mostly about burglary, not robbery?

  • I got broken into one time, lucky for me all I had in the entire house was an old chair, a side table and an ashtray because I had yet to actually move in yet……..I would have loved to see the look on that burglars face.

    • @boogoose – it’s fairly common for people to be burgled just after they’ve moved in.

      From a smart criminal’s point of view: big moving truck advertises what’s going on, tired people not familiar with the peculiarities of securing their new home, a security system may not be installed or operational yet, and all your juicy toys are in easy-to-remove boxes often with labels saying what they are!

      I’m glad that you got lucky, and I hope it showed you what you needed to secure so that they never try that again!

      BTW – did the chair, table and ashtray survive the burglary?

  • As a CCTV trainer and system designer, there’s a couple of points I’d like to add.

    Most security systems are more about deterrence than about catching somebody. If your house or business looks tougher to get into than the neighbour’s, then a potential burglar is much more likely to move on to easier pickings. I’d much rather stop somebody at the street than try to catch them after they’ve ransacked my home.

    Eric’s point in this article about making sure the neighbours are aware is extremely important too. If they know what your alarm system sounds like, or if your dog is barking at an unusual hour, or if that car parked across the street isn’t normally there, or just if you’ve been burgled recently, they’ll be much more aware for their own security and hence more aware of yours. Best part? All you have to pay for this service is the odd beer, free BBQ, or just to reciprocate the favour of watching out for them!

    If you do get a CCTV or monitored security system, please be aware that the best systems in the world rely on your power to remain active. If your electrical switchboard is easy to access and doesn’t have a lock on it, your system is going down. A simple Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) on your security system can give you that extra edge, just in case.

  • Just to set expectations for those who haven’t been burgled – unless it was a home invasion, or an incident where someone got hurt, the police are not going to turn up to fingerprint your place.
    I don’t know what fantasy land the author lives in, maybe police in America are all about feelings, but here in Aus/NZ, basically their view is that you were too dumb to secure your own place, and as long as no one got hurt, it’s just a tough but harmless lesson on how the world works.
    It sure as hell isn’t like on the TV, where a whole team of specialists are combing through the place, so if that’s what you are expecting from our finest, it’s time to get realistic.

    A robbery on the other hand, will get their interest, as this is a violence based crime, instead of a mere property theft. And I know this sounds obvious, but don’t go saying “I’ve seen your face, the police are going to get you” as it can easily turn a robbery into a murder.
    You’d think this would be obvious, but there are plenty of police reports that show that a simple rape/robbery/carjacking turned into something deadly because the victim just couldn’t keep their mouth shut.

    Bill Watterson, as always, puts it succinctly:×450.jpg

    • Police told me after a break-in, that unless you’re “a pretty young woman”, they’re not going to bother fingerprinting.

      When I had a major break-in (which I suspect was due to a nasty neighbour), the most irritating thing to me was that someone had sat on my bed, and calmly had a cigarette while they went through the contents of my cupboards. Other than that, I had everything insured, no one was hurt and I was far less upset than the friend who was with me as I discovered the burglary.

  • I thought I better set straight a couple of points that are totally ridiculous and wrong. I can’t speak for other states but in South Australia, if your house gets broken into, police will always turn up and do an assessment of the scene. They will look to see if there are any areas suitable for Crime Scene officers to attend and to dust for fingerprints, tool-marks on points of entry etc. If they believe there is some evidence available, Crime Scene will be contacted to do their thing.
    The comment unless “you’re a pretty young woman, they’re not going to bother fingerprinting” is completely ridiculous. If it was said, then I’m sure it was a one-off by some dickhead cowboy coppers and certainly not the norm at all.

    • You must get broken into an awful lot, if you’re speaking on behalf of South Australia.
      And I’ve never heard of a SOCO turning up to a simple B&E, so SA must be doing policing their own inscrutable way..

  • Well I just have copper friends and I asked them how it all works. This is the way it’s been done here for years. No house break is simple and crooks can leave prints behind so of course it should be investigated. If other states aren’t doing this, what the hell are the coppers doing?

  • My house got the burglar treatment about 8 years back. No it’s not pleasant by any means. But the police did a great job. Assessed the scene and dusted for prints all within 24hrs. Not to mention I had some observant friends who noted an unfamiliar car in the driveway. They got a hit on the prints 3 weeks later and the car described belonged to the guy who’d done a spate of thefts in the area.
    Sadly we didn’t get anything back, but insurance covered it. What made the theft odd was the guy was an alcoholic to the point of drinking metho. Yet he didn’t touch a drop of wine or spirits on display in a cabinet, some worth more than the stuff he ended up taking. Plus he stole a lamb roast out of the freezer. A lamb roast? Man who does that? Still I can at least laugh about that.

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