I was a ‘cat burglar’ — how to keep your home safe during the holidays

I was a ‘cat burglar’ — how to keep your home safe during the holidays

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‘Tis the season for breaking and entering.

A reformed cat burglar who successfully stole more than a million dollars in valuables from 70 houses is warning homeowners about how easily their property can become a theft target — especially during the holiday season.

Break-ins typically surge during the holidays, especially in New Jersey — with jewelry and computers among the most common items taken, according to data from home service company Porch.

Especially shocking is how quickly a thief can identify their next target before swiftly carrying out these devastating crimes.

“As far as prep work, I wouldn’t say there was more than five minutes, max, per house,” convicted felon Jen Gomez, 40, of Jacksonville, Florida, told The Post. “I knew what I was looking for.”

Former cat burglar Jen Gomez is sharing ways that homeowners should be prepared this holiday season. Courtesy of Jennifer Gomez

As a thief in northeast Florida from 2006-2010, Gomez used landscapes, greenery, and fences to help cover her tracks — especially on rainy days.

The ease with which Gomez stole a court-estimated $1.1 million in jewelry and more — she thinks it’s actually closer to $2 million — is jarring for homeowners to hear. Worst of all, she was only caught after an accomplice got busted in a separate police operation.

Gomez broke and climbed through windows, used phony license plates, took food out of refrigerators to distract pets, and dressed incognito — often in medical scrubs — to appear as if she belonged in the neighborhood while also covering her fingerprints.

It worked. Gomez blended in so well that a local once unsuspectingly offered to help her load a stolen safe into her car.

The neighbor thought Gomez was a student home from college who was helping her mom and forgot the alarm code.

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Don’t let this happen to you — these are Gomez’s tips to keep your home safe this holiday season.

Break-ins typically surge during the holidays, especially in New Jersey — with jewelry and computers among the most common items taken, research has found. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Don’t keep a small safe in the house

Gomez often encountered homes that kept downsized safes inside of closet areas — but this represents a false sense of security.

“They think everything’s alright in the closet because it’s in a safe and I can’t get into it,” she explained.

“But the safes are also small, and I can literally pick it up and just walk right out with it. It defeats the whole purpose because then I had a guy who was also a crook and he knew how to break into the safes. I would just pay him and that was it.”

Don’t store important belongings together

Since burglars typically operate in mere minutes, they don’t often give deep scrutiny to obscure areas of the home, Gomez said. She would initially target master bedrooms — jewelry was commonly in plain sight — followed by areas like studies or offices.

In these rooms, the most important belongings were commonly stored together, making it easy for a big take, the longtime perp found.

“I know a lot of homeowners, especially a lot of wealthy people, they always keep money for an emergency in their home. It’s always just right there with passports, birth certificates, and social security cards,” Gomez said.

“They don’t ever seem to hide it, it’s always in a drawer, or in an envelope in a closet. It’s always very accessible.”

Get these two security items

Gomez said surveillance systems are one of the best ways to deter a burglar. Getty Images/iStockphoto

To avoid triggering alarm systems, Gomez would shatter a window to climb through rather than open it.

But there was one piece of security she found to be her kryptonite: cost-efficient glass break sensors.

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“That right there, when I heard that, I would just automatically run away,” she said. “There wasn’t much I could do at that point to go in and still look for things. I didn’t have a lot of time.”

Although they weren’t around during her crime spree, Gomez added that doorbell cameras are an extremely efficient burglar deterrent as well.

“Most burglars do not want to be seen. If they feel like they’ve been seen, they’re going to leave…I completely would stay away from anything that had some sort of surveillance,” she said.

Work from home if you can

Of course, when Gomez embarked on her stealing stints, usually between 8 and 11 a.m., it was before the work-from-home era took off. She admitted that hybrid work would have thrown a wrench into her B&E formula — and that it’s become a saving grace for homeowners.

“Seeing cars was a big deterrent,” Gomez said of knowing the likelihood of a person being home.

“Even if this person was not home and they actually go to work every day, it’s very likely I’m going to see a car in the next neighbor’s driveway…Honestly, if I would have tried all this nowadays, it would have been much more difficult.”

Assume the unassuming

Gomez said she often appeared to blend into the neighborhood, which aided in her success. Instagram/@jenjen_gomez

Gomez attributed much of her success to playing the part of someone who belonged in the area.

She would often pretend to be a dog walker or a senior aide who was at the wrong home. (Before breaking in, she would knock on doors and windows to ensure the house was empty.)

“Back then, they didn’t have Instacart, DoorDash, Uber and all that stuff. It wasn’t as common to have someone walking up to your door. Now, it is very common with all these delivery services,” she reasoned.

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“If there is a stranger, regardless of what they look like, just be aware and keep your eyes open because there’s, you know, maybe a 25% chance that they’re looking for something [to steal].”

How to protect your home during the holidays

Gomez noted a major Achilles heel during the holiday season that can easily lead to theft.

“A lot of people leave their blinds [open] because they want their decorations to be seen, and it’s nice and homey,” Gomez said.

“Just a simple thing like closing all your blinds when you leave is a huge thing, I would get so much information as to where bedrooms were, if you had presents out, if someone was home, if you had an animal, if the alarm was even set or not.”

She encourages homeowners to think beyond the front of the house as well.

“Just because you have a fence doesn’t mean somebody’s not going to walk back there and still get all of this information,” she shared.

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