IF you've escaped to the sun or your rural hideaway for the bank holiday weekend, don't rest too easily -- your chances of returning to a burgled home are a lot higher than they were this time last year. In some parts of the country, the number of burglaries has almost tripled over the last year. So is it time to burglar-proof your home?
Before you do so, check if your home is in a burglary blackspot. We examined the latest statistics from the Central Statistics Office to find out which areas have become more prone to burglaries in recent months.
If you live in Louth, Roscommon, Longford, Wexford, north Cork, Kilkenny, Carlow, Laois or Offaly or have a holiday home there, be on the alert. In the first three months of 2012, burglaries in those counties increased at a much faster rate than anywhere else in Ireland.
The biggest jump was in Louth, where 353 burglaries were recorded in the first three months of this year -- almost double the 189 recorded in the first three months of 2011. In Roscommon and Longford, burglaries shot up by over 70 per cent. The number of break-ins in Wexford and north Cork increased by about 60 per cent. In Kilkenny and Carlow, burglaries jumped by 53 per cent. In Laois and Offaly meanwhile, break-ins were up 45 per cent.
Some towns have been hit particularly hard. The number of burglaries in Cobh, Co Cork, in the first three months of this year was almost triple what it was over the same months last year. In Togher, on the outskirts of Cork city, the number of burglaries has more than doubled.
Its higher population means that most burglaries take place in Dublin -- and again, some parts of the capital have seen a bigger increase in break-ins over the last year than others.
In the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) Northern Garda division, which includes Coolock, Howth, Malahide and Swords, burglaries increased by almost 40 per cent in the first three months of this year. Burglaries jumped by almost a fifth in the DMR Southern Garda division (which includes Crumlin, Rathfarnham, Rathmines and Terenure) and in DMR South Central (Irishtown and Kilmainham). In Balbriggan, the number of burglaries was up by almost 50 per cent. There were 188 burglaries in Donnybrook in the first three months of this year -- almost 40 per cent more than the same time last year. There were 459 burglaries in Tallaght in the first three months of this year -- a 35 per cent increase on last year. Burglaries in Coolock increased by about a third.
Only a handful of counties saw burglaries fall in the first three months of this year. The biggest drop was in Donegal, followed by Limerick, Cavan, Monaghan and Galway.
If you own a property in one of these counties, don't get too lackadaisical about security, however, as houses continue to get broken into there -- and many burglars are opportunistic.
It's not just your address that increases your chances of being broken into -- so too does the type of property you live in. Terraced houses are the least likely properties to be burgled, according to AA Ireland. If you live in a bungalow, however, you're particularly vulnerable to a break-in. Bungalows are broken into 15 per cent more often than semi-detached or detached houses, says the AA.
Ghost estates are also prime targets. "Housing estates which are only partially completed or occupied are targeted more often than estates that are fully completed or occupied," said Miriam O'Neill of AA Ireland.
"Telephone wires leading to the targeted homes are cut and the alarm bell is pulled from the wall and dropped into a bucket of water so it cannot be heard by neighbours or passers-by. This allows the intruders to break in to multiple homes in the one go as they are uninterrupted. Gangs are increasingly using small children to gain entry through smaller windows or openings."
A fancy car in your driveway could also increase your chances of getting broken into.
"If someone wants to steal your car, by far the easiest way to do that is to break into your house and steal the keys," said Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs with the AA. "Long gone are the days when you could hotwire a new car and steal it. As a result, thieves are breaking into houses to steal car keys." The exception to this, however, is a car worth €50,000 or more, such as a BMW, Mercedes or Porsche.
"It has been known for high-value cars to be literally lifted out of people's driveways and then brought to warehouses where they're stripped down to their components and shipped abroad," said Faughan.
If you live in an area where burglaries are on the increase, make sure you have adequate home insurance. You should also ensure you meet the conditions of your home insurance policy, such as by fitting adequate locks on your doors -- otherwise, your insurer could refuse to cough up should you make a claim after a burglary.
A spate of burglaries in your area could push up the cost of your insurance.
"If an insurer saw a trend of burglary claims, this would result in the cost of home insurance for the area going up," said Jonathan Hehir, managing director of the online insurer, esure.ie
Let's say you are 60 years old and you live in a three-bed semi-detached house that would cost €250,000 to rebuild. You have contents worth €25,000 in the house and you have smoke detectors -- although you don't have an alarm. If you live in Dalkey or Dundrum, the cheapest home insurance quote you'll get is €297, according to esure.ie However, if you live in Tallaght, the cheapest quote you'll get is €401.
If you find the cost of your home insurance has spiked and you suspect a spate of burglaries is behind the increase, shop around.
"Just because one insurer has a bad experience in an area does not mean they all have," said Hehir.
"Increasing security will always reduce your insurance premium. A property with an alarm will get a lower premium but understand the implications of having an alarm discount on your policy: the alarm must be on when no-one is in the house."
A good alarm will set you back from €500 to €700.
Getting your alarm monitored could also reduce your home insurance premium -- but the cost of the monitoring service could easily dwarf any insurance discount.
For example, if you sign up to an annual contract with eircom PhoneWatch, you could pay as much as €25.25 a month (€303 a year) to get your alarm monitored. But the insurance discount for having a monitored alarm is usually only 5 per cent. If your home insurance premium is €400, a 5 per cent discount will only save you €20 -- a tiny fraction of what you'll pay to get your alarm monitored each year.
Any steps you take to secure your home should pay off. The average value of belongings stolen from homes during a burglary is about €1,900, according to eircom PhoneWatch. Add a high-end car to that and you could easily be kissing goodbye to tens of thousands.