Safe Haven: Physical Security at Home and Beyond


Staying aware of potential vulnerabilities can help you prevent threats to your property and yourself.

When reality TV star Kim Kardashian West was robbed at gunpoint in Paris in the fall of 2016 and had jewelry worth millions stolen, it was a singular, shocking celebrity account — but not without broader lessons to heed. Larry Lynch, Northern Trust’s global physical security manager, says the incident is an important reminder for high-net-worth individuals and their families to be vigilant about their physical security.

“Sometimes people are so concerned about cybersecurity that they lose sight of physical security,” says Lynch.

To be sure, cybersecurity remains a major issue to monitor as you protect yourself online. But there are plenty of threats offline, too, which is why Lynch works with Northern Trust advisors and clients to ensure that physical security remains a concern that is front and center.

Alert, not alarmed

Though there was a small uptick in violent crimes in 2015, property crime, such as burglaries and theft, is on the decline overall. But that does not mean it does not happen. And unfortunately, affluent individuals could be targets of these crimes by drawing attention to themselves.

The “Bling Ring,” a group of teenagers and young adults, broke into a slew of celebrity homes in the Los Angeles area and made off with $3 million worth of jewelry and designer clothing between October 2008 and August 2009. Among the victims were Orlando Bloom, Brian Austin Greene, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Just a couple of years earlier, another group of thieves also hit the home of country music celebrities Tim McGraw and Faith Hill; however, this case was an isolated incident unrelated to the string of burglaries committed by the “Bling Ring.”

Keeping a low profile can keep you out of the limelight, says Lynch, and so does being aware of your surroundings.

“A well-informed person is much better off than a less-informed person,” Lynch says. “I don’t want people to be alarmed, but I want them to be aware.” Continue to wear the jewelry you love, but not in areas where theft is known to be a problem.

Surveillance is key

Not only should you be mindful of what you are wearing, but you also need to keep tabs on your environment. Thieves can gain entry into your home in a variety of ways, but one of the most vulnerable spots is the entrance itself, says Lynch, who formerly served as a Secret Service agent. It is easy for burglars to sneak into the garage as you are coming and going. Once inside, things could get dangerous fast.

That is why Lynch recommends good lighting around all entrances. It can serve as a deterrent, but if a burglar is undaunted, a well-illuminated property still makes it easier to spot a potential intruder and call for help.

In addition, he suggests a 911-programmed key fob that you can hold in your hand. With one push of a button, you can summon the police. When in danger, you may not have the time or your wits about you to use your phone to make the call.

5 Ways to Keep Safe When You Are Traveling

Security is not just an issue when you are at home. You also need to be on your guard when you are on the road.

  1. The ‘no taxi’ rule: Instead of relying on taxis or public transportation, high-net-worth individuals should opt for a private car and driver arranged by their hotel. “This is especially true when coming from the airport, when you have your luggage and you’re just getting your bearings,” says Larry Lynch, Northern Trust’s global physical security manager.

  2. Keep it at home: Do not travel with your entire jewelry chest. Select one or two costume jewelry pieces that can be worn with multiple outfits. “That way if you lose it, you won’t care,” Lynch says.

  3. Do not be so social: It is hard to stay off social media, but remember not to overtly broadcast when you are traveling abroad. That could make your home vulnerable to a break-in if people know that no one is there.

  4. When in Rome: Do not advertise that you are a tourist. “If you’re in Europe, buy some black clothes,” Lynch suggests. “And don’t wear T-shirts. T-shirts say, ‘I’m an American.’”

  5. Right in the middle: In hotels, try to stay between the third and fifth floor, Lynch advises. Being too close to the lobby could make you a target in the case of a terrorist attack, while being too high up puts you out of reach of fire engine ladders.

Maintain up-to-date technology

Home security systems have made big advances in recent years. Today’s systems are connected to smartphones and have a direct line to a dispatcher — and their capabilities are growing. Make sure you are investing in the latest systems so you have access to cutting-edge equipment.

“You really want to make sure that whichever company you’re working with is keeping abreast of technology,” Lynch points out. “You want a wireless, battery backup system, so if an intruder cuts your power, you’re still protected.”

Additionally, Lynch suggests downloading new geotracking apps that can monitor your location within a certain radius.

“Let’s say you’re walking down the street and there’s a robbery in progress, or a terrorist incident a few blocks away,” Lynch explains. “Geotracks will alert you so you can avoid the area.”

But beware that the same technology can backfire if you are not careful.

As more people move toward smart homes, with appliances such as refrigerators and ovens that are internet-enabled, their systems are more vulnerable to hacking. The security protocols on these smart appliances are not as strict as those on laptops, mobile phones or tablets. Thieves can gain access to the rest of your system through these appliances and possibly disable your home alarm system if it is on the same network. It is essential to ensure the software for all your internet-enabled systems is up-to-date. Do not overlook reminders to update these systems.

Perform routine background checks

Your physical security is also at risk from people who are already inside your home, namely your household help.

“It’s important to know who these people are,” Lynch says. “These are people who have access to desk drawers, jewelry, checkbooks.”

If you are working with an agency to employ housekeepers, gardeners, nannies and drivers, ask if they are performing background checks. Avoid agencies that do not take this precaution. At the very least, says Lynch, you should do a quick internet search on anyone who works inside your home.

In an age when so much of life is virtual, it is easy to forget about protecting your physical space as well. A few small precautions can keep you, your family, your belongings and your home safe.