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Home security expert and former Royal Marine Commando discusses personal safeguarding

September 2020

Richard Christian of BluSkills is a former Royal Marine Commando and now runs his own security services business. Pulling on his years at the top of the military, Richard discusses personal and home security and what to be aware of. Equally how estate agents, vendors and purchasers all merge together and if you are security conscious, how to go about securing your home and ensure your family are safe.

 

Full Transcript below:

Alex: So welcome to the Alex Goldstein Property show and  this time we are talking with a very high profile security expert Richard Christian from BluSkills who is a former Royal Marine Commando and now has his own security business, which helps private individuals and indeed companies and those in the public eye. Richard, great to have you on board today.

Richard: Hi Alex thanks very much for having me. I’m not sure about high profile maybe not yet but working on it.

Alex: I’m glad to hear, I’m glad to hear it but it’s very much a hot topic at the moment and I think there is an increasing  mindfulness out there in the in the public domain of personal security and certainly when it comes to banking and finances and it just seems to be in the media more and more and certainly when you integrate that into the property sector. I certainly from what I see in my role I dare say. Will be very interesting to hear your thoughts when we overlay it from your perspective that I think there are a number of shortcomings or areas that people just don’t think about when it comes to property. I mean what’s quite interesting at the moment given the lockdown and the way that technologies come about is the whole sort of virtual tour and you can now look in online and have a viewing round of property but I think there are risks involved with that but what’s your take on it all.

Richard: Well that’s right Alex it’s why it’s so good to speak to you as I think you’re a very security-minded individual. What we’re seeing is tech moving at a very fast pace that’s allowing people to use fantastic new features but often the implications of those  features and services are overlooked the ease of them is appealing to people  but the security considerations and the security implications may be coming a little bit behind that so in terms of virtual tours is a fantastic selling tool for estate agents but for the person selling the home there’s probably no real security implication perceived. However if the home doesn’t sell they should be aware that that video could still remain in the public domain if it isn’t removed and for someone buying I think they should be looking at ensuring that if there was a video tour done then it’s a timely removal by the by the agents. And they should be mindful that people may have recorded that video and people have used it for electronic surveillance if they were interested in the property. And they’ve done the kind of electronic surveillance of the property. They may have recorded that video. They may have it stored. They may have been able to work out plans of the layouts of the building and observe any security measures that are in place. So there’s a lot of information given there, and you have to be mindful of that.

Alex: Yeah hugely so. I think from my perspective on the property side of things virtual tours are, almost you could argue, a bit of a gimmick at the moment and of course you’ve got a sort of camera drone footage going through your property. Obviously, it’s a security risk because if there’s any sort of valuables. Or it’s notification where the main alarm panel is or any alarm sensors for example are as well. But equally, and this is the one of the big things I always say is, as soon as information goes online, whether it’s a virtual tour or it’s imagery. It’s stored, it’s archived and it’s the whole spider’s web effect that you have no control of that information. It very quickly gets dispersed and if you’ve got a virtual tour of a property circulating around. I say websites generally again you can run into issues down the line if someone does an historic search for example.

Richard: That’s right and I’d say it’s important to think about anything that you’re putting onto the internet into the electronic ether is to think that you’ve put that out there and then that’s permanently going to stay out there. Now there are things that you can do to reduce how easily it is how easy it is to find that information and data a later date and third parties play a big part in that but I would say approaching the mindset that that information is out there for good and are you happy with that.

Alex: No, indeed. I mean when it comes to actually buying a property how should one and how do you actually evaluate the security of a property and what should people actually look out for at the end of the day?

Richard: So from my perspective and probably because I’m kind of security minded and because we provide these services, I would I would advise people, certainly your type of client Alex, to be looking at conducting a pre-purchase security assessment and I would say that much as you would do a home buying survey or a detailed survey to find out the state of the physical property, the foundations, the windows, etc. and what the associated costs might be, I’d say it’s probably wise to do that pre-purchase regarding security as well. You may be buying a property where you’re going to have to spend a great deal of money investing in security measures post-purchase and it’s good to bear that in mind when you when you come to purchase the property. I would say for an individual who doesn’t want to go down that route and wants to do it themselves, there’s a number of things that they can do. I would say firstly, look at the electronic footprint for the property. So as you’ve mentioned virtual tours and what images are available for the property. What links are there to the property? So companies house, what businesses are linked to it? So that’s the electronic side of life and then we look to the kind of the physical side of life. So we work from the outside in when we look at properties. Is there a boundary in place or is access to the site open? Are the gates to the property to restrict vehicle access? So access control is one of the key phases. Then we work through towards the outside of the property looking at any other measures there. So a layered security approach. Are there other gates? Is there planting which screens from view or planting which obstructs? So you know your real thorn bushes and things like that. Yeah what kind of vulnerable points are there. And then we’re looking at the outside of the property and cameras, CCTV. You know does that give a good view of the of the property? Does it cover vulnerable points? And then through to basics kind of the real basics which is do we have good solid locks on doors? Locks on windows? Have we got door contact sensors? And then inside which are the impassive infrared motion detectors linked to your armed systems. And then finally we’ll be looking at things like creating different zones within the house and detecting movement throughout the house so should someone get into your home, they’ve bypassed all your security measures, can you trace their movements around the home and slow them down until the police can get there? And when you trace them, they may have had to go through at break windows and therefore to bypass the locks. But we’re introducing other elements, so we’ll have internal locks on doors and that just slows them down. So certainly doors to key areas, people coming through windows we  can we keep them in rooms rather than allowing them access to stairwells. So we’re restricting them going up through the property. So let’s say you’re in the property that buys you time, you can lock yourself in your room ring the police and hopefully they’re going to get there way before the burglar can get access to your valuables or worst case scenario to you.

Alex: Right and when you look to a point if you’re doing this yourself and you’re looking to select a security company, whether it’s alarms or CCTV what sort of things, should one look for?

Richard: I think this is probably one of the biggest areas people don’t necessarily pay enough attention to, this area when you think a security company is going to come to your home they’re going to know your home and your security intimately. Whether you engage with them or whether you decide not to, so I think one of the first things that we’re going to look at is reputation have you have come about that company, what’s their online reputation? But then also who can we speak to? How can we verify the level of service that they’ve given? How long have they been established? All those kind of background things. We should be looking for them to be accredited so what that’ll mean is that they’re working to a quality management standard so they’re going to give high levels of service and they’re also going to have good processes and procedures in place as recommended. Through things like British standards and also that they’re working to those kinds of British standards. We’re then looking for things like good measures to have in place so engage with them and see the staff and the installers and the people that they’re employing. Have they done background checks on those people which they should have done working in the security industry? And then finally we can look at things like the financials of the business. So go to sites like Companies House. Check the directors. Who are they? Are they entitled to be directors? They’re not struck off? And check the financials.

Alex: Interesting point as well I know you’ve mentioned companies house and especially if it applies to if you’ve got your own business as well and again, I think a lot of people sort of forget that you can register the company at your accountants and I think a lot of people sort of inadvertently fall into the trap of registering their business at their home and again it just forms another layer of information whereby those looking for phishing, scamming or indeed worse, can use that information to their advantage.

Richard: That’s right. Yes, the thing with online data is in isolation it probably doesn’t give too much away. It’s the compounding effect of lots of different sources of information that can be pulled together. So as you rightly allude to, people do register businesses  to their home address. I think that’s a decision that that needs to be made based on levels of risk. Kind of what type of business is it. Is it customer facing or is it just something that you might use for your property for example. But yes, a Company’s House very searchable feature is very high on Google so if you’re looking for a Director, it’ll it will link you to your home address very very quickly. We’ve also seen that with electoral roles as well they provide exactly the same information. The public ones are searchable with a little bit of information given up but unfortunately removing yourself from things like the electoral role causes other implications around things like finance where they use the electoral information to confirm your identity. But yes it may be wise to disassociate your business from your home. The last thing you want is a disgruntled customer turning up at your gate or your home and challenging you face to face.

Alex: No, no I quite agree. I mean I think the other hot area is there I say social media because again I think a lot of people are unaware of the implications of  anything that they put onto social media, photos for example and videos, and that those have all got sort of  metadata behind the scenes which again provides another avenue to source information.

Richard: A very good point. Social media is a fantastic platform. I think when you look at higher profile figures, they’ve got a kind of love-hate relationship with it. It’s a maybe a necessary evil. A lot of images and videos contain  metadata as you’ve rightly pointed out, which can include things like location. So you may innocently snap a photo of, I don’t know, a new watch or present or some part of your home and that will contain location data depending on the settings that you’ve got on your on your mobile phone and I’d say occupants of homes are probably more  likely to be conscious about what they’re posting but what I am seeing a lot of is photos posted on social media by contractors so people who visited your  home doing work there and they take pictures  pictures of work they’ve done for their portfolio without permission. Which could subsequently compromise you. I think if you are using social media and you are posting images just, I’d urge you to consider what’s captured in the image. What’s in the background? What might be present that you haven’t noticed immediately? Are you taking a picture of a room that shows that you do or do not have security there? Does it show that your windows are insecure? Does it give a criminal motivation? That seems to be a strong amount of high-profile people putting pictures of high-value items on and that just that just creates motivation. You’re just telling people you’ve got things that they could steal and that they could make money.

Alex: Well now indeed and I know the obvious  one because they’re so easy and accessible is of course mobile phones but I have to say a lot of the modern digital cameras as well also store the location metadata and other information behind the scenes, such as your name and other items for that image and people take that and then they also put that online unwittingly. And equally I have seen like you, contractors. those in the property sector again just taking what they feel is something low-key. An image or a feature of a property and put it out to  say well look what we’ve seen today but again as you say, they’ve unwittingly released additional information into the ether of the Internet and again that’s all searchable. And it just provides another level of information. I think again people need to  be aware and mindful of that. So I mean when you start, when you first move into a property, there are the basics that one should do regarding security. Just talk everyone through that and what the next steps thereafter as well should be.

Richard: I mean it can vary. It depends if you’ve  had a security  survey done  prior to moving in. Then you’ll have a list of tasks that you need to undertake. And what I would suggest that there’s various things you can do, and I would look to quickly establish a baseline which is the pattern of life in your area. What does normal look like? You’re new to that area so you don’t really understand what’s going on. By tuning into the environment you’ll be able to quickly establish what normal looks like so anything suspicious or out of place will be flagged to you. People often forget that crime isn’t just the action happening. Someone doesn’t just break into a house, usually there’s a period before that the target selection and then also the  the surveillance phase. Where people will, no matter how short, will spend a period of time surveilling your home prior to breaking to make sure you’re not there. To see what security’s in place and to see how they how they’re going to undertake the  the crime. So establishing that baseline will give you a chance of spotting suspicious things early. I would say one that people often don’t do is changing the locks to your home. Very very simple, not high cost but when you buy a home how do you know that you have all the keys to that house? It’s not necessarily like a car where there’s a finite number of keys and you can track them. Neighbours may have keys; estate agents may still retain some keys. It’s hard to know where those keys are so simply changing your locks gives you control. And putting very good locks on is a great start. Changing alarm codes or gate access codes and things like that. People, contractors, you don’t know who’s got access to those. So that’s a great place to start. And then I’d say ensuring the basics are in place. So have you got locks on your windows? Have you got restrictors for downside downstairs windows to limit how much the windows can open? Are your door locks to the highest standard? Do you have access control to the site? So that’s a big one. Just controlling who can come onto your premise when you’re not there. And high value items. Simple things like making sure that high value items aren’t in sight. So cars is a big one at the moment people are targeting. People simply based on the vehicles that they’re driving. If you leave those on your driveway, you leave yourself open to being targeted.

Alex: Yeah, it’s a very valid point and that’s partly where I suppose garages are making a bit of a comeback because you can hide it all and keep it out of sight.  A garage is a very useful tool. Exactly though when you talked about external people coming on site. I mean when you say for example, have contractors in, whether it’s for security means or it’s the builders or whoever, it’s going to be what most measures should you think about or put in place.

Richard: I think it’s very interesting when you think of your home. It’s quite a secure environment simply because people don’t really know a great deal about it. It’s hard to get a lot of information. A lot of the stuff we’re talking about is just building up that information picture and anytime you have contractors into your home, you expose more information. More than would be openly available. So it’s very important when you get contractors in to consider who is doing the work. Are they reputable? Do they could have good policy and procedure in place? Are they vetting and screening the people who are working for them? How are you controlling access? Are you giving them a key to your home when you’re not there, which is obviously high risk. Are you giving them access codes? Are you supervising them while they’re there? And we would strongly recommend that you restrict access in your home. Allow them to only work in the areas that’s necessary and that you that you supervise them. You monitor what they’re up to. High-value items make sure that they’re not on display. Just temptation can get the better of people and also things like recording who’s attended the site so you get the company in, you just have to do a simple sign-in with their names and their dates so that you can trace back should an event happen and supply to the police names and addresses of people who’ve been to your property so they can eliminate them.

Alex: Yeah I think it’s a certainly a very valid point that last one and certainly I suppose when estate agents show people around property, there’s various measures you can, I suppose, put in place up to a point but at the end of the day from an estate agent’s perspective it’s just a few phone calls sometimes with an individual but I suppose it’s thereafter with regard as we previously talked about. The images and the rights to those and the virtual tours and where those have gone and it’s this sort of legacy, if you will. What should one consider or/and indeed estate agents consider with that data and how to also vet people?

Estate agents play a huge part in safety and security and I guess when people are selling a home, they’re probably less concerned. It’s probably people buying a home that are inheriting any potential problems or information control. From there I’d say with when you’re engaging with an estate agent, you should be looking for someone who’s aware. So when you when you speak to them and you speak about how they’re going to promote the property, you should also ask how they’re going to control that information. What’s their process for removing that information? So when we do security assessments and surveys, we’re doing an online trawl and regularly we’ll find legacy images on third-party websites, so not the estate agents directly necessarily but the third-party websites are still left on there and on our clients behalf we’ll speak with them and we’ll get them to remove those images and that legacy data. From an estate agent point of view, as I mentioned, they’ve got a big part to play and I think there’s a lot that they can do and you should be asking them what their policy and procedures are and I know you’re very swept up with this Alex but that qualifying leads is a huge one for me. Especially when you move to the higher end stuff and there was a great piece of research done by a company called Perpetuity Research and one of the offenders that was interviewed in there a convicted burglar was quite candid about how he would visit high-end properties that were for sale on the market, pretend to be interested in purchasing and then go back months later and burgle them. So qualifying those leads, confirming the identity of the people who are going to visit the property, credit checks. I mean it’s in their interests as well. Why waste time with people who can’t and won’t buy the property as well as put your clients or the new purchaser at risk.

Alex: Indeed and it’s a very very fine balance because sometimes, certainly with the higher end properties, people, as you’ve just said, should be private and restricting what information you give. You fall into GDPR which most of the agents fully comply with as well and again it’s just getting that. It’s just striking that balance but I think it’s very much an evolving frontier and a lot of agents say, indeed myself, can sign up to all the various governing bodies and there’s ways and means to go about these things but I have to say I always play on this, it comes back to its experience. At the end of the day, you know there’s a sort of a sixth sense as an agent when you’re speaking with someone and just how they’re answering or not answering sometimes relevant questions or are they forthcoming with information, you can instantly tell and I have to say it’s becoming more and more at the front of agents minds that if you’re not quite getting the right answer or not quite that right feel, then you put a stop on proceedings and you don’t allow people around. Equally just going back momentarily to the virtual tour side of things, agents are now, not necessarily putting those on the website. They’re using that as a tool so that if a buyer is mindful of the virus situation or they’re at the other end of the country or abroad, they can view it online via a shared computer screen if you will with the estate agent. And again that helps retain that element of control which I think more and more agents are aware of.

Richard: That’s right and  I know from speaking to you as well you’re seeing a great increase in people wanting to sell homes off the market out of the public eye completely. I thoroughly understand why people would want to do that especially when you get to the higher levels I know it’s not necessarily pertinent to the general market, but I know with bigger, more expensive homes I can understand that people really want to maintain privacy of that that home.

Alex: I know. very much so. And in some circumstances because it’s  a rare or a more unusual property, you can apply a bit more of a premium for that and it’s offering the exclusive. So it’s almost a win-win situation by trying to sell something off market. You can get a higher value but equally as you said not everyone wants their property and their name all emblazoned in lights and again it’s just having that insight and a sensible judgment call on it all.

Alex: Richard it’s been really useful to talk everything through with you and if people want to get in touch and talk through their security measures and go through things in a bit more detail, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Richard: I’ll say the simple way is to visit our website and get in touch with the website. So it’s www.bluskills.co.uk or you can drop us a line on 0333 3056615.

Alex: That is super Richard. Really appreciate your time and insight and look forward to speaking with you soon.

Richard: Thanks Alex. Great to speak to you.

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