by: Torie Wells Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With the holidays right around the corner, many families are planning to go away and leave their homes unattended, increasing the opportunities for burglars.
Fontavius Hardin and his mother, Kim, invited Channel 9 into their home a month after police said someone uninvited broke in through the window and stole games and expensive shoes.
"He didn't just take my shoes, he took my trust in people," Fontavius Hardin said.
"I really do feel violated," said Kim Hardin.
Police made an arrest in that break in, but months earlier someone broke in through the door.
That case is still open.
"Why would they target my home? What are they looking at? What are they looking for," Kim Hardin asked.
DOCUMENT: Understanding decisions to burglarize from the offender's perspective
A man who said he's turned his life around said he was willing to explain how some burglars pick their targets. Eyewitness News is calling him "James."
"I always looked for a house that was secluded, the end house at the end of the street," James said.
He said he'd look for homes on a cul-de-sac or dead end or that backed up to woods -- something with coverage.
"You don't want to be seen. You don't anyone to call the police," James said.
He said he avoided homes with signs someone was home like a car in the driveway and looked instead for clues that he could get in and out without being caught.
"When I see a lot of mail in the box, I know that you're gone," he said.
He told me he stuck to neighborhoods he knew. Security systems didn't necessarily deter him, but dogs, he said, always worked.
"That had happened on several occasions where the dog was barking and I just didn't go in that house," he said.
He says the biggest defense can be an observant neighbor.
"She's visible. She can see what's going on. If I pull up, she can easily get my tag number. She can give a description of what I look like," James said.
"We have caught many bad guys just because neighbors know the victims are out of town and when they see a car in the driveway they call 911," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Detective Daniel Cunius.
Cunius works to solve burglary crimes. He also studied the issue.
He's familiar with a recent University of North Carolina at Charlotte study that asked more than 400 burglars why they chose certain homes.
Most said they look for homes without people around.
They look to see if there's added security like dogs, cameras and alarms and 60 percent surveyed said they'd look for a different home if there was an alarm.
"The bad guy wants an easy way in and if they have to work for it they'd rather go next door," Cunius said.
The study also found 51 percent of those surveyed committed burglaries to get drugs while 37 percent needed money often to support an addiction.
James said that's why he stole. Now that he's clean, he has regrets and hopes to helps others.
"I gave up crime, I changed my life, gave it to God," he said. "I'm working hard to give back."
The Hardins now have a security system.
She said she's changed her habits and schedule so she's less predictable, but that still hasn't fixed what the burglar's took away.
The study also looked at male versus female burglars.
It found men tended to plan burglaries beforehand and were more likely to gather information about a target.
Women tended to be more impulsive with spur of the moment crimes.
The study was funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation.
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