How to Stop Thieves

Don't be a victim. Stop thieves with these simple how to tips.

Buy tough locks

“A determined thief with an angle grinder and enough time can cut through nearly any lock,” says Master Lock's Justin Matuszek. “But more often, the thief has a bolt cutter and is trying to work fast.” He says the thicker a lock's shackle and the less it's exposed, the more secure the lock is from bolt cutters. And the kind of locking mechanism makes a difference in how easily a lock can be picked.

“A locking mechanism with ball bearings provides a higher level of security,” says Matuszek. “It’s harder to pry open than a lock with levers because there's more material engaged with the shackle.”

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Chain your ladder

An unlocked extension ladder stored outside can help a thief break into your house. Secure it to your shed or garage with a specialized hook, or run a welded eye bolt through one of the studs and lock your ladder to it with a chain or cable lock. It will at least slow down someone who might want to grab your ladder and go.

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How to manage a passel of padlocks

To avoid a confusing jangle of keys, buy padlocks that are “keyed alike,” which means they share the same key. Or you can buy locks that come with a master key, which means different keys open different locks but one master key opens them all. You can also have existing locks keyed alike for $5 to $10 per lock (depending on the type) at a home center, hardware store or locksmith. Or, for about $15, you can buy a kit and do it yourself. Type “rekeying a padlock” into your search engine, or visit changealock.com for more information.

An Easy Way to Remember a Combination

You can write your combination down somewhere handy without giving it away by using this trick. Just add a specific digit to each number. For example, if your combination is 44 77 34, add 7 to each number so you end up writing down 51 84 41. As long as you remember the secret digit, you'll remember your combination.

Jeff Pappas,
Field Editor

Jeff Pappas, Field Editor
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The best chain has hexagonal links

A heavy-duty hardened steel chain with hexagonal links will stop nearly every thief with a bolt cutter. Hexagonal links (or square or trapezoidal) make it impossible for bolt cutters to get a grip. You may be tempted to buy chain by the foot at the hardware store, but it's designed for lifting and towing, not theft resistance. Even the thick stuff is likely to have round links, and frankly, if a hardware store clerk can cut the chain easily, a thief can too.

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Cheap chain and cable cut easily

A $20 bolt cutter is plenty powerful enough to cut easily through chains, cables and padlocks up to 3/8 in. thick. We used a common 24-in. bolt cutter to see how long it would take to snip through hardware store chain and cable. The chain was a piece of cake. The cable took a bit longer because it didn't sever as cleanly as solid metal.

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Cuff your bike

As a retired police officer, I discovered an easy and very secure way to lock up a bicycle: handcuffs. You can lock two bikes up with one set or literally cuff the frame of your bike to most anything. The cuff key is small and easy to carry, and standard, good steel cuffs can be obtained easily and cost about the same as a cumbersome bike lock.

Kelly F. Scott,
Field Editor

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Use the shortest chain possible

Don't use an overly long chain or cable to lock your stuff. Slack in a chain makes it easy for a thief to pry off the chain or smash the lock.

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Use the smallest U-lock possible to lock bikes

A U-lock is lighter than most chains and stronger than most cables, and it can be attached to your bike, so you don't need to carry it. Just make sure it's not oversized for your bike. Otherwise, a thief can insert a crowbar and pry it apart. Also, a square U-lock (as opposed to the traditional round version) renders bolt cutters useless.

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Make some noise

Want to know how to stop thieves from stealing larger items such as motorcycles and trailers? Use audible alarms on cable locks. Also use alarms on gate latches and shed and garage doors. Alarms are available with many options, including movement sensors you can mount on a door and angle to cover the windows, too. There are many DIY alarms available including battery operated, ultrasonic (key fob) and solar operated.

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Add an eye bolt to your concrete projects

When you're pouring new steps, a driveway, a patio or a footing for some other project, embed an eye bolt in the concrete. Place it so it won't interfere with daily foot or vehicle traffic, but also where it's accessible to serve as a secure anchor for hooking up your trailer, generator, motorcycle, grills, bikes and other items. You can find stainless steel and galvanized eye bolts at home centers and marine suppliers (used for dock building). If you don't want to sink a permanent concrete pier, you can buy screw-in ground anchoring products instead.

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Secure sheds with screws

Your locked shed seems secure, but a cagey thief can bypass the lock by using a screwdriver to remove hinges and other hardware with exposed screw heads. Stop thieves by using Allen head, Torx head or hex-head cap screws instead of standard Phillips head screws. You can also order tamper-proof security screws that require special removal tools that an opportunistic thief is unlikely to have. Prices start at about 25¢ a screw, depending on the type and size. You'll also need to buy the special bit or tool. Visit marshallshardware.com or tufnutworks.com, or type “security screws” or “tamperproof screws” into your search engine.

Bike Locks Work for Trailers Too

I've found that bicycle cable locks work the best to protect my trailer. I put a cable lock through the “spoke” holes of the trailer wheel, then through the spring. In really dicey areas, I put cable locks on both wheels. This prevents theft of the wheels and the trailer.

Dave Jones,
Field Editor

Dave Jones, Field Editor
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Throw away wimpy screws that come with your hasp

Many hasps come with tiny screws that take all of 10 seconds to pry off. Replace those screws with beefier screws, or buy a security hasp with nuts and bolts that can't be pried off easily.

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Secure shed door hinges

Shed doors usually swing out, so the hinge pins are accessible from outside; all a thief has to do is pop out the pins and remove the door. To stop this, buy a security hinge with tamper-proof pins and a locking tab at a home center. Or, you can retrofit an existing hinge by removing the center screws on both sides, inserting a finish screw through one side and allowing it to protrude about 1/4 in. Drill out the receiving hole slightly so that when the door is closed, the finish screw head engages the other hinge. That way, even if the hinge pin is removed, the door can't be taken off.

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Use more than one type of lock

Make a thief work harder to try to steal your motorcycle, trailer or bike by providing multiple levels of security, such as a disc lock used in combination with a brake lock with an alarm, as well as a U-lock anchored to something solid.

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Make a trailer hard to steal

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Burglarproof your alloy wheels

Many late-model vehicles come with alloy wheels and low-profile tires (there’s a shorter distance between the rim and the tread). Because the rim rides so close to the pavement, shops are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of bent alloy wheels. Since new factory wheels cost upward of $300 each, vehicle owners usually opt for a used wheel from a recycling yard. And that’s creating a shortage of used alloy wheels.

And the result is ... you guessed it. Alloy wheel theft is on the rise. Police reports show that thieves can strip all four wheels from a vehicle in about five minutes.

If you have alloy wheels, install locking lug nuts to deter the crooks. Locking lug nuts aren’t foolproof, but it takes a special socket to remove them, and that slows down the thieves.

You can buy a set of four locking nuts from any auto parts store. Remove one lug nut from each wheel and install a locking nut in its place. If you want more security, add two per wheel.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Drill/driver, cordless
  • Drill bit set

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Padlocks
  • Chains
  • Eye bolts
  • Storage hooks
  • Bike handcuffs
  • U-lock
  • Lock alarm
  • Concrete
  • Security screws