Saturday, September 3, 2011

The fickle finger of fate strikes again

Yesterday morning I spent a couple hours in the south bay area opening a home safe after a successful burglary of the client's residence. The burglars didn't get in to the safe, but they did attempt to carry the safe out of the house. Weighing less than two hundred pounds, I was surprised that the intrepid thieves hadn't succeeded, as the safe was not bolted down.

After opening it, I was further surprised to find that this cheap imported safe, that probably retailed for less than $500, contained jewelry and other contents valued at over $150,000. Even this lightweight box had survived intact and done it's job. Too bad it hadn't done the whole job that it was intended to do.

The history of this safe is interesting and also typical. The users were having trouble opening it for a long time. It had a four-number combination lock as well as a secondary key-operated lock. It was located in a cramped, dark portion of an attic crawl space, a rather inconvenient, but hidden location. Unfortunately, inconvenience and the difficulty that the users had been experiencing operating the safe combined to make the users somewhat apathetic about using the safe (to the point that they accidently discarded the card containing the working combination numbers) and stopped locking the combination lock and relied solely on the key. They also stopped using the safe as often. So... they took to stashing some of the more often-used pieces of jewelry in a drawer in the bedroom. These items were valued at a little more than $100K and were easily found and taken by the thieves that had given up on the safe. In fact, the combination was actually scrambled and the combination lock was secured by the actions of the burglars.

When I asked the client why she had not purchased a bigger and better safe, one that was more appropriate to the value of what she was trying to protect, she said that "the bigger, better, higher-quality safes were too expensive." I asked: "Was more expensive than replacing or doing without the jewelry that disappeared from her bedroom drawer?"

Although my client was pleased with my work and the price for opening and returning her safe to useful service, she was a little annoyed at having her security shortcomings pointed out. I told her that, as a security professional, it was my job to do just that, embarrassing as it may be to her. Often, the perceived cost of protecting something, before the fact, seems much less in the aftermath of a loss.

$10K spent for a larger, quality, burglary-rated safe that might have been kept in a more convenient location, i.e. actually used every day, and that was roomy enough to store ALL of her precious valuables, would not have fallen out of use and certainly couldn't have been carried off by a group of intrepid, well-equipped thieves, much less opened by them on site. $10K spent back then would have prevented the loss, as well as her embarrassment and annoyance at my concerned questions. It surprised me that her response was to be further annoyed at my suggestion that she still had assets to protect. Would she be upgrading her safe or continuing with her current plan, despite her recent loss?

The most ironic part of this story is that she wasn't insured for the loss, not that the insurance company would have paid off if she was covered. In cases of high value assets, insurance underwriters can and do stipulate appropriate levels of protection as a requirement of issuing the policy. My client's inexpensive home safe would not have passed muster.

The depressing part of my job is that I meet folks who have been traumatized by a loss that, with the wealth and resources they obviously have, could have been prevented. They have been victimized and even though I am helping them cope with this tragedy, I am a reminder of what could have been done and wasn't. The most painful lesson is the one learned the hard way.

© 2011 by Ken Doyle - The Safecracker
Telephone: 1 (415) 519-3401 
ADVANCED Safe & Vault
San Francisco Bay Area

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